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Sevens Special
About 7s Special Introduction Seven and Fifteens Basic guide
History of Sevens Melrose and Middlesex Hong Kong Taupiri
7s in USA Seven Styles Attack Deffense
Kickoffs and DropOuts Set Scrums Lineouts Set Plays
Kicking Drills for Sevens Three-week practice A 7s program
Fitness & Training Fitness Testing Selection Analyisis Using Videotape
Americanizing Sevens Bibliography Acknowledgements Profile

Set Plays

"There's a rare pleasure for the players and the spectators in a well-executed move." -- Jim Greenwood

Virtually all the coaches with whom I spoke indicated that their teams did in fact call plays from set pieces, although, perhaps more often than not, the quality ball received by the backs was such that the called play was not executable. In addition, Australia's Bob Dwyer notes that he will rule out many of the plays he runs in 15s because of the way he likes to play the sevens game:

Virtually all our 15-a-side plays are designed to flatten the opposition defense out and limit their lines of run and go past them: you just run at one another and (zoom!)

You can't afford to do that in sevens because of the difficulty of maintaining possession at the breakdown and the better advantage to keeping the ball away from the tackler.

The taped interview isn't really a good format for capturing the nuances of set plays, so I wasn't able to get, for example, each coach's "favorite play." Based on years of experience, however, I've put together a description of a wide variety of plays that will work from set pieces.

Almost certainly, no one team will want to have all of them in their bag of tricks; it's best to pick a small number and know how to run them properly. Furthermore, for every play that's listed here, there are many more that each coach or player could devise on their own that would be worthy of inclusion in any team's repertoire. The only limiting factor is imagination.

When to run plays

The typical fly half in sevens is a real creator, and it's been my experience that it takes a while to convince this player of the value of set plays over just "reading the game." Actually, we must be reading the game in all situations, but

o if the ball comes out the way you expect it to, and

o if the opposition react the way you expect them to,

then a planned play in which the attackers all know what their role is, but where the defenders are playing the expected defense, will, if soundly thought out and practiced, put the odds in the attackers' favor.

My advice is to make a call (not necessarily call a play, but make a call) at every set piece; the call may be something as simple as "let's have it out," or it may be an actual play; thought and communication are the issues. If the ball or the defenders don't lend themselves to the execution of that call (or if they present you with a gift), by all means, read the situation and play to what it tells you: you'd be foolish not to.

When awarded a penalty play, if we're ready and they're not, the best course of action may well be to put the ball in play quickly and attack. If, however, they're ready defensively to mark us, then perhaps we ought to orchestrate a ploy to break down their defense.

Numbering system

Following in the footsteps of former Eagle coach Ron Mayes, whose numbering system greatly simplified communication among all backs in the US by unifying terminology, I have come up with a modified system of numbering players in sevens.

Since there are only seven players, and since we often design plays that involve the forwards, the players are numbered from 1 to 7 by their position:

1. Weak-side prop (or front jumper at line-out)

2. Hooker

3. Strong-side prop (or back jumper at line-out)

4. Scrum half

5. Fly half

6. Center

7. Wing

This numbering system is diagrammed in Figure B7-1.

Plays from Scrums and Lineouts

Unless designated in their descriptions, the plays below are suitable for use from either scrums or lineouts.

Loop and Hit Plays

Both loop and hit plays are variations on the same theme: in my terminology, for example, "5 Loop 6" or "Hit 65," for example, both represent the fly half passing the ball and running around the center to receive the ball again.

In the standard "loop" variation, the ball carrier keeps the ball until the looping player gets to the outside and makes the pass there (keeping the ball and running if a gap presents itself).

The hit plays are simply a specialized variation of the loop play in which the player being looped physically commits the defender. Almost simultaneously a) the ball carrier's outside shoulder drives into the defender and b) the ball carrier pops the ball up for the looping player coming around the outside either to burst into a gap or act as a link player to put the ball out towards free space.

The advantage of the hit plays is that they commit one defender to the ball carrier; conversely, however, they also commit that ball carrier to the defender. With the loop, the ball carrier can wait until the last minute and, if the defense messes up the slide, has the option of taking the ball to the inside to get through a gap. Also, in the loop play, the pass will generally come across the passer's body from inside to out, giving the player the ball at the end of the loop rather than part-way through it; thus the ball carrier keeps the ball longer and can delay the point of decision.

All the variations of the hit play can be run with the loop; the decision points and the timing are different, however.

The loop is a "safer" play than the hit, in that it can be aborted more easily; nevertheless, I tend to coach the hit plays more often; by committing the ball carrier's defender, we take away the slide defense and make things for difficult for the defenders.

The hit plays are ploys, however, that a coach like Bob Dwyer would probably not like, as they are intended to put the defending backs under immediate pressure.

The Hit Plays

Hit 65. This play is shown in Figure B7-2. The center takes the ball from the fly half and runs right at the opposite center. The fly half delays a bit, keeping the defending fly half to the inside, and then loops the center taking the ball into an area where the defending wing must cover the attacking fly half and wing.

Note that the play will only work if the attacking center commits the defending center; otherwise the defenders will simply use the standard fly -half center slide against the loop.

Furthermore, the fly half must, after receiving the ball from the center, decide immediately whether to run or pass; taking two steps and then deciding to pass generally condemns the play to failure; the wing gets into position to block or even intercept the pass, and the defending fly half gets the angle to effectively assist in covering the play.

A long raking kick can be an option on this play if the defending wing comes in hard on the fly half and prevents the fly half from both passing and getting into the gap.

The hit play becomes more difficult to run if the defenders are flying up, although sometimes a steeper alignment will work.

Dummy Hit 65, 2 In. If the defending fly half is able to follow the attacking fly half into the gap and stop the overlap then we will call this play. The fly half will actually leave a little earlier to insure that the defending fly half follows; the hooker (especially if we're underbinding) breaks out of the scrum early and gets in a position of deep support on the inside of the center, flying through the gap as the center makes contact with the defender. See Figure B7-3.

Note that in this body position -- outside shoulder into the defender, the center is in a position to pop the ball up for the fly half coming around to the outside or to the hooker coming through on the inside.

Another variation of the play -- if your props can break out of the scrum quickly enough, is for the prop to crash through the inside gap.

If you're playing with two power props and a speedy hooker, the Dummy Hit 65 2 In will work best when the gap is wide open and the hooker can sprint for the line; if the opposition manage to get some opposition to the gap, the Dummy Hit 65 3 In becomes a power play for the prop to burst through a -- hopefully poorly positioned -- tackle.

Of course, the Dummy Hit 65 4 In (scrum half) is also a possibility, but with the attacking scrum half often on the floor after the ball is cleared from the base of the scrum, it's probably easier to use one of the forwards; from a lineout it becomes a more viable options. Note that, once you're familiar with them, the "Dummy Hit" plays need not be called; they can become an automatic option every time the Hit 65 is run.

Hit 76. If you have a strong wing and a fast center, the Hit 76 will put the center into space with -- hopefully -- only cover defense to worry about. Another variation of this play, the Miss 6 Hit 76, will work better against hard charging defenses.

There are many other variations of the hit play, some of which you can plan, and some of which just happen. Just one that comes to mind, that will work well with a scrum on the right side of the field, with the backs left, is the Hit 42: the scrum half breaks to the blind side, running into the opposition defender (usually the scrum half or hooker), and pops to the hooker going around the outside.

Double Switches (XX)

The XX plays use two changes of direction to set up a play that in the end, works like a hit play.

XX675 (double switch out). My notation for this play is simply XX675, although it's more commonly called by its more descriptive name "double switch out." The center and wing switch at a distance far enough from the defenders so that the defending center and wing stay at home. Now the wing has the ball, and heads right at the defending center. The play quickly becomes a variation of the hit plays described above, as the wing takes on the center with the outside shoulder and puts the fly half into the outside area where, if the play has worked, the attacking fly half and center have a 2 on 1 with the defending wing.

The center needs to make a point of getting back and to the outside, in a position to effectively finish off the 2 on 1. Otherwise, we may have a situation where the center ends up in front of the fly half and out of the play.

XX675 is shown in Figure B7-4.

XX562 (or XX563 or XX564) (double switch in). Similarly, the fly half and center switch, with the fly half trying to draw the center out; the designated forward then switches with the center, either going through a gap in the defense or working the ball out towards open space on the outside (if the defending center has "cracked down."

45 Option Switch

Best worked from a scrum, and going left to right, the scrum half comes across the backfield and either switches with the fly half, or, more typically, dummy switches and puts the center through a gap between the fly half and center. If there is enough time, the scrum half can switch/dummy switch with the center as well. Given a gap, the scrum half can take the ball upfield.

56 Dummy Switch, 5 Loop 7

In this play, the fly half dummy switches with the center, passes to the wing, and continues to run across the field, looping around the wing, taking the ball on the wing's outside.

The timing is critical: if the fly half gives the ball too early, the defending center can move out and slide with the wing or loop round to get the attacking fly half. If the fly half gives the ball too late, the defending center can follow through and marginally late tackle the fly half with no call from the referee (as happened to the US against Hong Kong in 1989). If the timing is right, however, the play can produce a try (as it did for the Kiwis against the Eagles at Sydney in 1988).

The loop can be run in its standard or "hit" form; my experience is that the standard loop is preferable because if the defending wing messes up the slide, the attacking wing is through.

63 Out Crash

As the ball is spun from the scrum (or the lineout) to the open side, the inside prop follows across behind the backline and crashes outside the center into a gap caused by the wing drawing the defending wing further out. 62 Out Crash and 64 Out Crash are variations. Note that these can be run identically to the hit plays described above.

Plays from scrums: other alignments

The above plays have been based on the assumption of a standard formation: the fly half standing slightly to the open side of the scrum or lineout, and the center and wing a few yards outside in a relatively flat formation at the lineout, slightly steeper at the scrum.

There are many other formations available, however, and many variations that can be run from these formations.

Split backs. Since there are only 3 backs, it is possible to put all backs to the same side of the scrum even when the ball is at midfield, and many teams choose to do this. The All-Blacks, for example, tend to align their backs to the left when the ball is at midfield, and try to open up the set scrum to the right with a tight head lead, to give the scrum half a break into space to score in the right corner.

Conversely, with only three backs, the midfield width available to run a split backfield is much greater in sevens than in 15s. If we get the match-ups right, the use of a split backfield can create favorable one-on-one situations for us almost immediately.

Split, 5 Center. The backs can be split in more than one way. The most traditional, however, is for the fly half to stand behind the scrum, and take the ball either left or right and link up with the center or wing. Alternately, the ball can go from the scrum half directly to the center or wing.

Split, 7 Center. One formation that the Eagles used in Hong Kong in 1987, from which we scored a try against Argentina in a scrimmage match, and a try against Tonga in the round robin, was from a formation called the "Split, 7 Center," or just "Split 7." The wing stands directly behind the scrum, and the ball is delivered to either the fly half or center, standing at the right and left of the scrum, respectively. The player that receives the ball moves up and infield with it, eventually moving it out to the wing, who has moved to the open side and is supported by either the scrum half (if going right) or hooker (left).

If the defenders are marking the players by position (wing on wing, etc.), then the fly half (or center) and wing will run a simple switch play early on so that the wing is now marked by the fly half, whom the wing will try to beat one-on-one. If the defenders are standing with the fly half behind the scrum and the wing marking the fly half, then our fly half takes on their wing in a "hit" fashion, getting the wing running against their fly half.

Against Argentina, fly half Charlie Wilkinson got the ball, committed the defender opposite him, put wing Barry Williams into space where he was eventually run down by the cover defense; he turned infield briefly, and put scrum half Mike Saunders, who was supporting, away for a try in the corner.

The split, 7 center formation and two options are shown in Figure B7-5.

There are as yet many uncharted opportunities from the split backfield; these are left as an exercise for the reader.

Backs wide, fly half behind scrum

This is a common formation, especially since the hooker, either by design or by accident, occasionally strikes the ball several yards behind the scrum.

One advantage of this formation is, of course, that the fly half can go to either side, and if the defense is charging all three backs at the open side of the scrum, the blind side becomes a high percentage option.

Strike 5 (deep strike to fly half). Kelso (Scotland) work a variation from the deep strike from which I have seen them score tries on 4 separate occasions, and that can be incorporated into any team's set of options, whether as a set play or just as an automatic response to a given situation.

The backs are to the right, with the fly half either directly behind the scrum, or very slightly to its right. The ball is struck deep, to the point where it's easier for the fly half to get it than the scrum half. The scrum half immediately runs to a position to the left of (and of course, behind) the ball. If the defending scrum half takes the attacking scrum half, the fly half heads to the gap at the left of the scrum. If the scrum half decides to pressure the fly half, the fly half passes to the scrum half, unmarked, to the left.

The defending fly half can help stop this play by defensive coordination with the scrum half, but is often intent on pressuring the attackers on the open side and this helps make the play work.

The options are diagrammed in Figure B7-6.

Backs spread, wing behind scrum

If we put our wing, instead of our fly half, directly behind the scrum and give the wing the ball to run to the side away from support, we are putting the wing in a one-on-one situation. If this is a favorable situation for us, either because of a speed advantage, or open-field maneuverability, ala Barry Williams, then it should be an option we explore.

Wing right or wing left.

This formation takes the one above to its logical conclusion; don't bother to hide the wing, whom you will position out to one side of the scrum, with the fly half and center on the other; this is obviously designed to let the wing go one on one with a defender.

Still more alignments. Both Mike Williams and J.C.S. Bass, in their books, suggest other alignments: in one case, the wing lines up deep between the fly half and center. From that position the wing can come in between them, or to the outside of the center or inside of the wing. Another suggestion is to line up all three outside backs directly behind each other, as in an "I" formation.

Plays from Lineouts

As noted earlier, most of the above plays can be run from either scrums or lineouts. The following are plays that can only be done from lineouts.

If we're using our scrum half to act as both the thrower in and distributor at the lineout, then we have our hooker at our disposal as a back (we'll call them scrum half and hooker; more generically they are a thrower in/link player and an extra back). We can line the hooker up as an open-side back and either create a 4 on 3 or force the defenders to mark us 4 on 4, and run plays based on this backfield alignment.

Another variation is to put the hooker in the blind-side wing formation, and run variations of the 15-a-side "6-In," "6-Out" plays for the blind side wing filling in the open side.

In, Out. The hooker comes in between either the fly half and center, or center and wing. Can be run as a crash or a fill play, depending on the defense.

In Late, Out Late. The hooker waits until (in the case of "In Late") the center has received the ball, and then fills in the fly half/center gap. For this play to work, the first pass (fly half to center) must be delayed to get the defending fly half onto the attacking fly half, or the defending fly half will slide and close up the gap.

62 Reverse. The ball moves out to the center, who steps towards the open side, then turns and fires a football pass back to the blind side where the hooker is positioned. The hooker links up with the props and attacks that side of the field.

Defense Against Set Plays

There are, of course, ways to defense all the set plays described above. They can be deduced once the play itself is understood, and they are left as exercises for the reader.

Penalty Plays

Penalty plays in sevens are easy to design; often variations of your 15-a-side plays will work just fine. The key is just to have a couple of plays that you know how to run confidently.

I will give only three examples of set plays, all of which I know to work. They are given just as examples of a virtually infinite number of plays that you can design that will work as well or better. Come up with a couple, work on them in practice, and try them out in games. Once you get them to work, start adding refinements and new options to the plays you have; try to perfect them. This will probably pay you more dividends than simply adding more and more plays.

Double Post. A specialty of Tempe's Salty Thompson, this play has been directly responsible for more than 10 tries, from the club level to the national level, in the past 3 years.

Diagrammed in Figure B7-7, the execution of the play is as follows:

The half backs stand about 15 yards apart with the scrum half and the ball at the mark (the distance can vary, but if it gets too great, the scrum half may want to start the play a few yards behind the mark itself).

One prop and a support player line up directly behind each half back; the wing stands at some distance from the other six players.

The scrum half taps through the mark. At that time, the scrum half and the fly half run at each other (the fly half's line slightly behind that of the scrum half). The four players behind run straight at the goal line. (Note that the distance they stand behind the halfbacks is that which will get them to the line from which the kick was taken just as the other halfback arrives.)

Some options from this play:

1. Scrum half gives ball to fly half.

1a. Fly half gives ball to prop crashing on outside.

1b. Fly half dummies prop, switches with hooker.

1c. Fly half keeps ball and runs.

2. Scrum half does not give ball to fly half.

2a. Scrum half give ball to prop crashing on outside.

2b. Scrum half dummies prop, switches with center.

2c. Scrum half keeps ball and runs.

2d. Scrum half passes to wing.

2e. Scrum half kicks ahead to wing (if defending wing is pressuring).

In 1987, Bethlehem scored the winning try against Quad Cities in the national club sevens tournament when scrum half Frank DiFelice kept the ball. In 1988, in Hong Kong, Tommy Smith's football pass to wing Barry Williams produced the winning try for the Eagles against Spain. In the 1988 National All-Star Sevens in Tucson, the East scored a try when scrum half Chris Petrakes switched with center Alec Montgomery: three different options, three tries.

A fourth option, starting with a fly half/hooker switch, got the US an 80-yard gain against Wales in its 1989 upset victory.

Good success rates with plays that work is one reason to consider using a planned play rather than just putting the ball into play.

Unitas. Developed as sort of an afterthought at the end of a practice in Hong Kong in 1987, and named after legendary NFL quarterback Johnny Unitas, this play won't cause many ripples domestically, but it causes a sensation in non-football playing countries (and has resulted in tries at Hong Kong, Melrose, and in Spain's Benidorm Sevens).

The hooker lines up with the ball on the ground, in the position of a football center (remembering that on a free kick the ball must stay off the ground), with the scrum half in the shotgun formation. To the inside, lined up in an "I formation," are two "running backs": they might be a prop and the center.

The quarterback (er, scrum half) shouts out all kinds of American things like "Blue 49 Oklahoma, Ready! . . . " On the ready, all the players clap their hands and go into a three point stance, with the deep running back going in motion and lining up on the weak side of the quarterback.

The center (uh, hooker) snaps the ball on a specified count, both the running backs come through for fake handoffs, and then the quarterback turns and fires a long football pass to the prop on the other side of the field, who is immediately looped by the wing.


1) the initiating players re-form behind the ball for a possible return pass from the wing.

2) Once we have shown the play, one variation is for the quarterback to stand as if about to heave the pass and have the ball plucked out, Statue of Liberty style, by one of the "running backs," followed by pre-planned support play.

3) Left as an exercise.

The Unitas variations are shown in Figure B7-8.

Domestically, these plays may be more trouble than they're worth. Abroad, they're greatly appreciated. And it helps that they work.

Double Switch. A play that scored several tries for the Eagles in Hong Kong in 1986 was the simple double switch play shown in Figure B7-9. the scrum half taps the ball and comes to the open side and switches with the fly half. The fly half then has the option of switching with a prop or giving it to the hooker to attack on the weak side with support. If the prop gets the ball on the switch, the options are a) move it to the open side, b) switch with the center, or c) crash and put someone through a gap.

Resurrected in 1989, the play scored the Eagles' second try in their 15-12 victory over Wales. The options chosen were: both scrum half/fly half (Tommy Smith and Charlie Wilkinson) and fly half/prop (Charlie and Jimmy Wilkinson) switches were made, Jimmy Wilkinson passed outside to center Gary Hein, who made a great pass back inside to scrum half Tommy Smith, who had correctly read the inside gap, went through and scored.

I can vouch that all of the plays described in this chapter have worked well for teams that I have coached, probably because we practiced them to death. They certainly, however, barely scratch the surface of the universe of possible plays; any other well-thought out plays should bring you lots of success if they are understood and practiced -- thoroughly, and against all kinds of defensive options.

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