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7s in USA Seven Styles Attack Deffense
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Kicking in Sevens

It is common, when watching teams play sevens for the first time, to see them be badly hurt by 15-a-side kicking decisions: high kicks to the blind side, for example, although they sometimes work, more often produce a counterattack that results directly in a try for what began as the defending team.

Conversely, the mark of many a team that advances to the "first stage of sevens' knowledge" is often the total avoidance of kicking.

Whereas foolish kicking can often result in disastrous consequences, eliminating the kick can lead, at least, to many missed opportunities. At most the opponents will score tries from pressure that could have been relieved with a kick.

Chris Bass has some good insights on the kicking options in his book, where he states that

kicking in sevens is very much frowned upon, yet it can be a highly effective attacking and defensive weapon at all levels of the game. Having just stressed the importance of possession, it may sound strange to suggest that tactical kicking can be extremely useful, but a well-placed, well-timed kick can, and often does, prove a match-winner.

The risk of kicking away good ball is a high one, and nothing is more galling than to see bad kicking in sevens. But an inspired kick into empty space which is recovered by the kicking side can turn out to be as useful an attacking ploy as any. Similarly, a long raking kick to relieve pressure can be an ideal defensive measure.

He lists ten situations in which kicking is justified:

  1. A kick to kill time.

  2. A kick to end the game.

  3. A kick to relieve pressure.

  4. A kick down the narrow side.

  5. A kick to relieve a stalemate (force something to happen).

  6. A kick for touch (wind advantage; good jumpers)

  7. A kick to make use of conditions (wind, rain).

  8. A grub or chip kick if opponents come up fast and without a sweeper.

  9. A grub or chip kick that forces the opposition to turn and chase back

  10. A kick against a favored opponent to upset its rhythm and composure.

Most of these options will be dealt with in the discussion that follows, which breaks kicks down by whether they're used as attacking or defensive options.

Attacking kicks. "Kick to speed" is often a sound philosophy. If the opponents are playing without a sweeper, and we've got a speed mismatch against them, a long kick will force the defenders to turn and run, and allow our speedster to get between the defenders and the ball; with any kind of bounce and hand and/or foot control, we should score a try.

To kick to speed, put in a long, low, line drive type kick, whose direction of bounce will be determined early, rather than a high kick that won't bounce for a long time, and then could go in any direction. Make it a foot race to a known location.

One situation occurs when we're attacking and facing a 2 on 2 situation near the touchline, with both attackers closely marked; a kick ahead for the winger to run down is very difficult to defend.

We don't even need a speed advantage on them if we're moving forward and they're coming up hard without a sweeper: a grub kick through their line should be ours. This is a particularly inviting situation within the defenders' 22; if they're all charging hard and have no one in position to go back, it's almost a sure try.

One situation which may well turn into precisely this scenario (charging opponents) comes when the opponents have kicked long to us, and try to pressure with all seven players up. A kick behind the defenders, if well placed, should be ours.

Another situation that lends itself to an attacking kick is a scrum half break to the right near the right touchline; either the hooker or scrum half will probably be putting pressure on, and the attacking scrum half may well be able to put in a kick and follow it up before either that defender has turned or the wing can come across from the other side of the field.

Mike Williams describes the above as a defensive kick to relieve pressure in one's own 22, and it certainly will do that, but it can be an excellent attacking kick as well; Fiji scored an excellent try in the 1988 Sydney Sevens from just such a situation.

Jim Telfer feels that, from a scrum, a properly executed kick will even beat a sweeper defense:

Quite often, even with the best sweeper in the world, if you've got a good standoff, fast standoff, and if he comes right up to his opposite number and chips it over before [the sweeper gets into position], you can't do much about it; it's a race.

Andrew Ker [Kelso and Scotland] does that well. He kicks it so that the sweeper is getting [to the ball] probably at the same time as he [Ker] is, but his own men have been sent in to get there as well. It can turn into a try from almost anywhere inside the opposition half. If you do it any further out, there's a greater element of risk.

John Maxwell notes that often returning a kick with another is a good option:

Sometimes a kick from a kick is most successful. You kick it to me and I kick it straight back: you may be playing with 2 or 3 short, so that's not a bad option . . .

Defensive kicks.

Although we all talk about the importance of not losing possession in sevens (and therefore the official line to discourage kicking), possession under pressure, unless cleared quickly, can often result in a turnover, whether it be at a tackle, a knock-on, an interception, etc.

In situations where we feel that we're losing control, the best option is often to kick it and regroup.

Furthermore, if we're going backwards under pressure, the kick should most likely be to touch: if we're going backward under pressure, it's going to be very hard to chase the ball downfield with any real authority; in this situation the defenders are quite likely to beat us to it.

We may consciously decide before a given game that we're more or less prepared to kick to touch in certain situations, depending on our perception of the match-ups at the lineouts, but in any real pressure situation, even without any lineout strength, we should probably get the ball to touch. Even if we know the ball will be lost, we will at least have regrouped into an organized team.

Under pressure with a strong wind at our backs, we may decide to kick long and keep the ball in play (especially if they're without a sweeper), counting on regrouping defensively as we approach the ball.

Against a more-skilled team: Chris Bass's point #10 may be worth considering if you're really up against it:

If an opposing team clearly has superior handling ability combined with an excellent defence and are therefore the favourites to win, it is well worth considering the adoption of a plan designed to upset its rhythm and composure. This could well be a "kick and chase" form of attack, in which each player is committed to a great deal of attacking along the ground.

Most coaches, at all levels, officially frown at kicking. What their teams actually do, however, does not always reflect their coach's expressed preferences.

For example, on his notes next to a question I had written about kicking, New Zealand's Pete Thorburn had jotted "sweet FA" (slang for "never").

Australia's Bob Dwyer claims that

I don't want to kick the ball. It's a bit like taking the easy way out. Seriously, we're not here to win, we're just here to play, and then if we play well, we'll win. We're not here so we can say "I guess we played [poorly], but we won."

Despite these two coaches' statements, in the 1989 Hong Kong final between New Zealand and Australia, there were a total of 18 kicks, 10 by New Zealand, and 8 by Australia (for whatever it's worth, New Zealand's kicks were mostly defensive, whereas Australia scored both its tries on kicks -- in a 24-10 loss).

Kitione Tuibua is not too concerned if his Fiji team kicks to touch, but does not want them to play the "kick and chase" game:

getting the ball into touch, we might have a chance of getting the ball back -- their lineout, we might have a chance of getting it -- but by kick and chase, the ball doesn't go out, and [you may lose the ball].

Anyone that has seen Fiji play, however, would have to reckon that they've scored more kick and chase tries than any other international team, by far.

Kicking in International Sevens: A Statistical Summary

To satisfy my curiosity, I charted the number, and to a questionable level of precision, the quality, of kicks made in several international games between 1986 and 1989.

Specifically, I examined games falling into two categories:

a) all Hong Kong and Sydney finals between 1986 and 1989 (8 games), and

b) all taped Eagles' games at Hong Kong and Sydney in 1988 and 1989 (14 games).

The procedure was: record every time a player put a foot to a ball, except a) kickoffs and dropouts, b) penalty kicks taken with a tap, and c) kicks called back because the ref was playing a preceding infringement. I gave every kick a rating of either "++", "+", "0", "-", or "--", based on the following criteria:

++: kicking team scores directly from the kick.

--: receiving team scores directly from the kick.

+: kicking team maintains possession from the kick, or is awarded a penalty kick, scrum or lineout from the kick (e.g. receiving team knocks on, takes ball to touch, etc.)

-: receiving team maintains possession from the kick, or is awarded a penalty kick, scrum or lineout from the kick

0: where none of the above criteria apply (e.g. kick ends half, or game, other miscellaneous situation).

Note that these criteria -- for better or for worse -- penalize teams that, for whatever reason, intentionally kick to touch, or to gain territorial advantage at the expense of possession.

The following data summarize the results (note that in order to be able to compare data, everything has been calculated "per 14 minutes," rather than per game, as all finals were 20 minutes, etc.

Net points is calculated by assuming 2 points for each "++" kick, 1 point for each "+" kick, -1 point for each "-" kick, and -2 points for each "--" kick.

Kicking Statistics, Hong Kong and Sydney Finals, 1986-89

Total games: 8

# kicks /14 minutes Percent of kicks rated: Pts/kick

W-L Average Median ++ + 0 - --

Winner (8-0) 3.76 4 19 30 7 44 0 0.232 Loser (0-8) 3.06 3 11 20 9 51 9 -0.257

Kicking Statistics, Eagle games, Sydney and Hong Kong, 1988-89

Total games: 15

# kicks /14 minutes Percent of kicks rated: Pts/kick

W-L Average Median ++ + 0 - --

Eagles (9-6) 1.93 1 0 21 3 72 3 -0.586 Opponents (6-9) 3.87 4 9 48 3 38 3 +0.206

If we look just at the ++ and -- situations (i.e.:

++. Kicking team scores try directly from kick,

--. Receiving team scores try directly from kick),

we see the following:

Tot #kicks ++ --

Finals' Winner 43 8 0

Finals' Loser 35 7 3

Eagles' 29 0 1

Opponents 58 5 2

Comments: The above data can be used to come up with some interesting conclusions.

Most teams averaged between 3 and 4 kicks per game, with the Eagles' averaging half that number.

If we judge teams by the more subjective criteria of the first table, it seems as though the percentage of good kicks and bad kicks is fairly even.

If we look at tries scored directly from their own kicks, then most teams come out favorably: based on 165 kicks in 23 games, there were 20 tries scored by attackers on their own kicks, and only 6 by the defenders. Only the Eagles (0 and 1) show a deficit.

Eagles: It is obvious that the Eagles kick far less than the other teams charted. In fact, the median number of kicks is 1 (in half their games, the Eagles did not kick at all).

Secondly, the Eagles don't make good decisions with the kicks they make, and their opponents do (because of the opponents' better kicking decisions or because of deficiencies in the Eagles' defense?)

Note that, despite the fact that they won 9 of the 15 games charted, the Eagles' kicking score (avg points/kick) is significantly poorer than that of the losers of the championship matches, and that of their opponents is nearly the equivalent of the winners.

The message is that the Eagles' kicking game (offensively and defensively) needs improvement. Whether this is related to our known weakness at the kicking game in 15s, or whether this is a specific sevens' weakness due to the lack of frequent kicking in domestic sevens (or a combination of both) is not clear -- that we need to improve, however, is.

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