Seven-a-side Rugby : Fewer Rucks, fewer Mauls, more Rugby!
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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

Drills for Sevens Players

Repeated actions are stored as habits. If the repeated actions aren't fundamentally sound, then what comes out in a game can't be sound. What comes out will be bad habits."

-- Chuck Knox

"Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily." -- Johann Christoph von Schiller

The drills described below are designed to help players do correctly those things that need to be done in all sevens' games.

Although the drills are designed specifically to be incorporated into a seven-a-side rugby practice, many are applicable to fifteens as well.

Furthermore, many standard "all-purpose" rugby drills to enhance skills such as handling, tackling, etc., can and should be incorporated into sevens practices.

I. Practicing Play in the Open Field

A. Handling drills: Unopposed

General passing drills

Simple handling drills are as vital in sevens as they are in fifteens.

Most any fundamental handling drills you use in fifteens will work in sevens, and these should be incorporated into your practices to complement the drills described below.

Long passes

One interesting exercise is to spread the players (perhaps four to a ball) so that they're at least 10 yards apart, a situation that occurs in sevens far more than in 15s. Just have them pass the ball among them while they jog up and down the field. The accuracy of their passing will be tested far more than in drills with shorter passes and, in particular, differences between right- and left-handed skills will become evident. This drill should be repeated regularly until players are comfortable making the basic "long" pass.

Hopefully, pointing out their deficiencies to your players

will make them work to improve themselves in this area.

Another drill that tests and develops even longer passes follows: five players cover across the field between the 15-m lines,

3 are located in a front line, one near the 15 m. line at each side of the field and one in the middle. The 4th and 5th players are in the second line in the gaps between the first line players.

If we number the players by their distance from the touch line 1,2,3,4, and 5, then the passing sequence is 1 to 3 (20 m.) back to 4 coming in from behind (10 m.), to 2 (20 m.), back to 3 (10 m.), to 5 (20 m.), back to 4 (10 m.), etc.

(see Figure C1-1)

The sequence continues, but 2 and 4 vary the way they enter the line (i.e. whether as fillers or actually coming at speed to get through a gap). Given the distance between the three players, the long passes put a severe strain on the passing expertise of the players. The opportunity to make passes of this length occurs frequently enough in sevens that they need to be practiced.

Standard drills such as switches and loops can be worked from the spread formation as well.

Overhand passes

Because offsides play occurs much less frequently in sevens than in fifteens, defenders often invade the attacking passing lanes. One way to clear the ball from these defenders is to pass the ball over their heads. This can be done using techniques employed in basketball and American football.

One way to drill this skill is in groups of four, passing the ball across the field. Have the 3rd player in the line become a defender, trying to stop the pass between 2 and 4.

Have 2 get the ball to 4 by passing it above the head (and often outstretched arms) of 3; this is illustrated in Figure C1-2.

American football pass

One drill with four players is to move the ball across the field, realign the support players steep and deep behind the ball carrier, and have the ball carrier stop and make a long football pass back to a player that has called for the ball: note, a player that has called for the ball.

If the ball reaches the end player, the player inside the receiver loops, receives the ball, and a football pass is returned to the other side. Etc. One thing this drill will do is establish the limit of a player's competency with the football pass, and players should be encouraged not to stretch that limit.

If you work on the football pass, make sure you emphasize

when its use is appropriate and the inherent dangers if done incorrectly (see Chapter B2).

"Deep Support"

As described earlier, the game situation is: one player makes a break, one defender closes in, one attacker is in support many yards away, all other 11 players are taking a rest. The support player shouts "deep left," "deep right," "right behind you," etc.: this shout brings with it a promise to the ball carrier: "Just heave the ball somewhere near where I'm telling you I am, and I'll do the rest." It works.

This drill is best done in groups of 2 or 3. One player with the ball sprints up the field; the support player(s) follow 20 yards or more behind calling for the ball; make sure the player with the ball runs hard and that the support players really shout out their location. The players have got to take the drill seriously in the practice if they expect to use it successfully in games.

Drills for Seven Players in the Open Field

The Swivel Line: Concepts

The concept of the swivel line has been covered in an earlier chapter. I usually spend at least 20 minutes of every practice running unopposed variations of the swivel line, or situations that originate with it. Using the swivel to start an unopposed length of the field drill using seven people, many variations are possible:

1. Send the seven people down the field executing the swivel line and nothing else. Simply watch that the player that passes the ball drops behind -- and stays behind -- the player that has received the ball. Note that the support player that steps back, and THEN across, will be more quickly into a position to support a ball sent back into the "support area" behind the ball carrier.

2. By forcing the ball carriers to put the ball between their legs every time you blow the whistle, you will be able to drum the concept of the swivel line into your players' heads. Don't worry about doing this too often if they're not doing it right: they'll get so fed up that eventually they'll learn, if just to move on to another exercise.

3. Indicate with the whistle when a player is considered to be in trouble. To encourage communication, at the whistle, an option player (first choice in most situations will be the swivel player, but in real life it needn't be that player) is required to shout for the ball.

As it is being passed to the option player, another player (right or left) calls for the direction into which the ball is to be moved from pressure by this option player.

Ball Carrier Meets Opposition

The next several lengths may simply be aimed at discussing, and practicing, what happens when a player meets opposition (see the chapter on Attack in the Open Field for more detail).

4. One option is to ask your big, strong props to simulate taking on an attacker, and have the support players drive off them into an imagined gap in the enemy defense. Rather than have the support player follow to the side on which the ball carrier has presented the ball, however, let the support player call the side: this player is, after all, the person that can best see where the gaps are.

5. If the ball carrier can pass the ball, but no gap presents itself, work on getting the first support player into the "pocket" (described earlier). Taking the pass from the ball carrier, the support player distributes it towards the side of the field most likely to yield to attacking play.

Note that in this situation, no maul has formed, and the defenders can be in the passing lanes. If this is the case, the first support player should exercise option 6, below.

6. If the ball carrier is held, standing, so that the ball cannot be passed, or if there is no gap thru which to run and the defenders are clogging up the passing lanes, the first support player needs to go to the ball carrier immediately to support. The supporter will be looking to free the ball to put it into play, whether this means securing it immediately or clearing off a defender to allow the ball carrier to play the ball.

Explain that communication in this situation is extremely important: both the swivel player and the player on the other side of the ball may be converging on the ball carrier; the first player to shout "ball!" should be allowed to secure.

At this point, the second supporter can either go through a gap or assume the pocket position for redistribution (note that in this case, a maul has been formed, and all defenders must be behind the offsides line, thus providing some breathing space in which to resume your attack: discuss and exercise each option).

7. If we have an option player in position behind the ball carrier, and the ball carrier is taken to the ground, have the ball carrier -- upon an agreed upon verbal signal ("yes!" will do just fine) -- simply put the ball backwards, either with a pass, or failing the control to do that, by pushing the ball along the ground. The "yes!" is information that there is no enemy in that area.

As this is happening, of course, all supporters (i.e.. 5 players) are working like hell to get behind the swivel player to re-initiate the attack.

8. Use two defenders: have the first defender "stand up" the attacker, and the second come around to kill the ball. Once we determine that the ball has been killed, we'll drive the maul forward (once one of our support players joins the group it will be a maul), so that if the ball doesn't come out and the entire pile ends up on the ground, the referee will award us the put-in at the next scrum.

9. Force the team to swivel backwards for an entire length of the field, to get the feel of what going backwards in the swivel is like. Of course, in a game, you'd need to break off the swivel if it went backwards too long, but practicing it backwards for some length of time can teach players to use it without panicking.

After doing this one length backwards, teach the players ways to break off the swivel and start going forward again: either a) clear the ball to the swivel player who then has the responsibility of getting it moving forward again, or b) crash (take on a defender with a player in support).

Ball Carrier Makes a Break

The next several drills incorporate breaks made in the open field (maybe, but not necessarily, from swivel situations.

10. Work the ball around in a swivel line drill, and have one of the end players break a long run down the sideline, and imagine that a defender is catching up. If the defender is alone, and the nearest player in support is ours, then we have created a 2 on 1 situation. Finish it off in the standard manner.

11. The same situation. The defender is closing in, and the first player in support, although a teammate of the ball carrier, is several yards behind. The ball carrier now must physically stop -- or even stop and run backwards (remember, eventually there will be a 2 on 1, so there's no need to force a premature tackle) -- and wait for support to get close enough to be put away.

12. A similar situation. In this case, however, the cover defense has managed to get several people to the breakdown and no gap near the ball is available. In this case, the ball-carrier stops and immediately feeds the ball back to the first support player, who either re-initiates the swivel or works the ball to space, perhaps as in 11. (Note that, in all these cases, the first support player, with the best view of the field, should be taking the initiative by talking the ball carrier through the situation.)

13. As in 12. American Football Pass. Sometimes the defense struggles so hard to cover a break down a sideline that the other side of the field is left completely unguarded. The best offense in this case is to move the ball as quickly as possible to that side of the field. If there are defenders in the passing lanes, the best way to do it is with an American football pass.

The usual scenario is: player makes break, cover defense arrives, player passes back to supporter, who -- hearing teammates call for the ball on the other side of the field -- sends the ball across with a well-executed football pass. Have the players imagine this scenario and practice the play exactly as outlined above. It will work in games!

14. Deep Support. Have a player make a break, and simulate the following situation: one defender has run the ball carrier down from behind, one attacker has followed, albeit 10-20 (or more) yards away; all other players are catching their breath. Have the support player shout for the ball, and the ball carrier put the ball back in the general direction of the sound. (The support player's call indicates that the entire area is vacant.)

Players Control Situations

Having led the players through all the above options, get them to imagine the defense in front of them and act out their offensive reaction accordingly. Don't forget to work in lots of natural open-field moves such as switches and dummy switches (you might even run a length of the field in which only switch passes are allowed), loops and dummy loops, etc., are stressed.

If you let the players, after all the above guidance from you, work unopposed on their own, you can gage how well they've responded (and how naturally talented and resourceful they are) by watching them "do their own thing."

Note that all the above drills will probably be enhanced with 2 or 3 defenders along to help the 7 players with the ball, but almost all will work just fine as unopposed drills.

B. Handling drills: Opposed

Putting supporter through gaps

If we can get a player in possession, held in a standing position, to feed the ball to a support player running at speed through a gap, we achieve continuity at the breakdown and keep our team driving forward with the ball. The next couple of drills are no different from those you might run in 15s, but we specifically want to work on the mismatch that occurs when a big player takes on little player.

3 on 1 on 1 on 1 (etc.)

(Tackle bags can be used in this drill.)

Get two (or more) groups of three, with a power prop in each group, and have the prop (staying in control of the situation) take on a defender, followed by a support player bursting through, off the ball, into an imaginary gap.

We can coach the big players in various techniques of staying on their feet (fending off defenders with a stiff arm, driving into them and stepping back to set up (to keep the defenders from using the attacker's own momentum to bring the attacker to ground), driving up and forward with the shoulders and using the elbows, etc.).

We will also want the support players to wait and make sure that the ball carrier is free to pass the ball, and then run to the daylight they have seen. Remembering that the support players can see the gaps better than the ball carrier, they should be dictating to which side the ball is passed.

We'll work this drill specifically for the big strong players (normally props), because they're the only players that we really want to initiate contact.

An alternate drill involving the other players is to have the same numbers of players, as above, but with the defenders on their knees. Even a tiny player can put someone through a gap with a pass if the defender is hanging on to the player's ankles.

3 on 2 on 2

In this drill, the attackers will be instructed to have one of the 3 run for the gap between the two players. The attackers' reaction is based on how the defenders play the ball carrier. Our first goal is to use this situation to put someone through on a burst; secondarily we'd call for the ball back to attack on the outside.

Games

Cross-field 2 on 1

Although we have all practiced the 2 on 1 to death, it remains an important exercise. The variation described here simulates a situation found in both fifteens and sevens, more commonly in the latter.

Pick two good ball handlers with average speed and let the fastest player on your team be the defender. Begin with a 25-yard width (e.g. the touch lines are the goal and the 22); if the attackers score incessantly, narrow the field correspondingly (at 10 yards wide, the drill should be difficult for even highly skilled attackers).

The game is two-hand touch, and the object is for the two attackers to score a try 75 yards away, against a single defender.

It may surprise you how frequently the attackers fail to score. By repeating the drill several times, you can often improve the attackers' decision making; add options such as looping, switching, etc., to the standard back and forth decisions that they'll tend to make, and you'll help increase their probability of success.

The drill also should impress on the fast defender that what nature has provided not only brings rewards but also carries responsibilities with it: i.e. keep chasing, no matter how far away you must start, and no matter how many times the ball is passed away from you.

If your experience mimics mine, your slower players will want to challenge two faster players by being that one defender. Although one pass will put your flyers away, it's surprising how often the slower player can put tremendous early pressure on to force a bad pass (which is what a slow player will have to do in similar game situations).

You can help the defender in this drill by adding a second defender half way down the length of the field in case the first defender gets beat.

Cross-field 3 on 2

Similar in concept to that described above, this game can be played either between the goal and the 22 (25 yards), or between the 22 and the half-way line (30 yards).

Again, 3 on 2 drills are quite common, with the object normally being to show the attackers the many ways they can beat 2 defenders. Without lessening the importance of that objective, I will try to convince the 2 defenders how often they can stop 3 attackers. Communication, sliding on D, communication, pressure when the attack has broken down, and communication are the keys.

You can make a game out of it by always giving the 3 the ball, giving the 2 a point when they force the 3 into a turnover (tag, forward pass, touch, etc.), and the 3 a point for scoring a try. Praise good decisions on the part of both attackers and defenders.

Etc.: 4 on 3, 5 on 4, 7 on 5, etc.

The above drill can be extended to larger number of people, as the situation calls for; you'll be surprised how often 7 fail to score against 5 (for these drills, you can play 4 v 3 cross field between the 22 and the half-way line, 5 v 4 cross field between the half-way line and the goal, and 7 v 5 on a full field).

"No turnover" drill: 3 on 3 tackle

This is an excellent drill for evaluating players' decision making skills in close-quarter ball-handling situations.

The game is live, between two teams of 3 players (try to keep the sides even and varied, e.g. one big prop, one ball handling specialist, and one speedster per team).

One team is given the ball, and continues to get the ball at every breakdown, for a space of one minute (with occasional judicious stopping of the clock, e.g. at scores).

The team with the ball receives a score of a point for scoring a try. At any turnover situation (knock on, touch, lost ball, breakdown at which a scrum would have been awarded to the defenders, etc.), the team with the ball loses a point. If the defenders pick off the ball and score DIRECTLY from the turnover (remember, at a breakdown the ball goes back to the attackers so that we don't allow the defenders to regroup), the attackers are penalized two points. If there's a breakdown at which the attackers would have been awarded the scrum, they get the ball back with no penalty.

At the end of the minute, the opponents get the ball, under the same guidelines. The team with the most points (or the fewest negative points) are the winners. With several teams, mini-tournaments can be held, etc.

Twenty Passes to Score

This is one of my personal favorites -- a high work rate drill that helps you pick out the good decision makers under fatigue.

The game is normally played 7 on 7, although it can be played with smaller numbers on a correspondingly narrower pitch.

The rules are simple: a team cannot score until it has completed 20 passes. If there is a breakdown at which they would have regained possession (penalty, scrum), counting continues where it left off; otherwise, at each change of possession, start at 1.

The tendency, unless it's discouraged, may be for players to complete their 20 passes while backing up, and then try to attack. That is not the idea of the drill.

The game of sevens is often marked by quick movement of the ball, a quick burst through or around the defenders, followed by a try. By the time the teams have regrouped for a kick off (or whatever you've chosen to restart play), a lot of potential practice time has been lost.

The drill's intent is to simulate the "create the opening and take the break" nature of sevens, and then force the attacking team to regroup and do it again -- and it also gives the defending team another chance to regroup and stop them.

One seven-minute period of this game can be quite physically demanding; with some good continuity on the part of the attackers, there may even be a try scored.


C. Kicking and defense vs. the kick

It's difficult to practice kicking in a live situation, because if the defenders know you're working on the kick, they'll be much more conscious of defending against it than they would be in a game situation.

One drill that can work is to play a game of 2 on 2, say in a 25-yard area, with your two fastest players against your two best defenders. They may find that, trying to run the ball, they're continually shut down, but when they put in a long, low line drive kick (the longer the better), the defenders can do very little about the attackers' superior speed.

Kicking to speed has become a vital part of sevens, and it's crucial that, once they beat the defender to the ball, the speedsters can either pick the ball up at speed or continue to move it forward with their feet. This can even be practiced unopposed. Speed is too valuable a resource to waste by knocking on sure tries.

Small number games (2 on 2 or 3 on 3, for example) will also help practicing defense against the kick by the defenders near the ball.

Gradually increase the numbers; by the time there is a 4 on 4 or 5 on 5 game, the end defenders can begin to help cover the kick from the opposite side.

Build up to 7 on 7, and work on more than one defensive option against the kick, e.g.: a) 6 up + a slide defense, or b) 7 up with the end players covering.

When you want to work on kicking, you may have to encourage your attackers to use the kick whenever it's indicated, even if they would rather keep the ball in their hands. Although you might agree with the ball handling option in many game situations, teams that don't practice kicking in practice have a very hard time dealing with it in a game situation.

(One way to encourage kicking in a practice game might be to award 3 points for a try scored from a kick, and 1 for a try scored by handling.)

As mentioned in an earlier chapter, when kicking to speed the long, low kick is preferable to a high kick; work on using this type of kick accurately.

II. Practicing Play at and from the Set Pieces

Splitting Forwards and Backs

Splitting the team into forwards and backs is needed much less frequently in sevens than it is in fifteens, yet there are certainly situations where it can pay dividends.

Two of these situations are the scrum and the lineout: as in fifteens, your scrum half will have to be shared. If you have you scrum half throwing in at the lineout, your hooker should be working with your backs.

With a one-team squad (7-10 players or so), you'll need to have your backs be opposition at the set pieces, and your forwards to oppose back plays.

When practicing set pieces go through all possibilities: we win our ball, we win their ball, they win their ball, they win our ball; talk through and then practice each scenario.

Discussion of set pieces elsewhere in this book can be used as the basis for these sessions.


Backs and Forwards Together

Work on all set pieces; if you have plays in which forwards are primary participants, make sure you establish a system to communicate the play from the fly half to them.


Kickoffs

Knowing all the options available at the kickoff is an often neglected part of sevens, and I would suggest that you spend far more time on it at practice than you would in 15s.

For the kicking team, work on:

o grub kicks into a gap near the 10-m line

o high kicks to the props

o long kicks near the corner flag

o long kicks into the dead ball area

For the receiving team, work on:

o stopping the grub kick by proper positioning

o being in the proper position to win the short KO o treating long kickoffs as counterattacking opportunities

o winning our own dropouts from kick-offs into the IN- goal area

These options have been discussed in detail in another chapter; the most effective way of practicing them is to start in small groups and work your way up to 7 on 7.

For example, with just four players you can practice a grub kick to the 10-m line. The defenders stand at a distance just far enough to invite the kicker to put it there. The kicker grubs it down the middle, follows it, falls on the ball and pushes it back to a support player. Start with the kicking pair relatively unopposed, and build up the opposition.

While this is going on, another kicker (if you are so blessed) can be putting up high kicks for the props. Work on the accuracy of the kick, and communication among all the players you've played in the receiving area (both kicking and receiving team).

Long kicks are best practiced 7 on 7, of course, but need not be: you can play without receivers at the front line, or restrict kicking to either the left or right side.

Again, we should practice the four scenarios we win our ball, we win their ball, they win their ball, they win our ball, and know what each player's responsibility is in each case.

Drop-Outs

The quick drop-out is such a vital weapon that it's a crime we generally only have one or two players that can do it.

Practice, with all your players, the techniques for short drop outs: a) the little dropout to yourself, and b) the short dropout right behind a charging defender.

In a game, you might only want to give the right to use these in opposed situations to certain players, but as you practice them more often and your number of players skilled in this piece of the game grows, you will find that even your big props will be able to retain possession for you at the dropout.

The dropout to yourself should be practiced a) without pressure, and b) with a defender in your face. Although it sounds easy, even option (a) can be difficult if the players don't know the basic technique: get your shoulders low, just tap the ball about 3 inches across the line (it merely needs to cross the goal-line edge of the 22-m line), never letting it out of the space between your hands.

Opposed, the match up will generally go to the player whose shoulder's are lower than the opponent's; have players practice body positioning on offense and defense to show this is the case. Have the attacker move right and left and try to get the defender out of position.

Add a support player directly behind the kicker.

As the ball is tapped, the kicker's body takes out the defender and the ball is pushed back to the support player.

Depending on the level of sophistication you want to work on, these drills can be done in ones (basic technique), twos (kicker vs.. defender), threes (kicker and support player vs. defender), fours (kicker and support player vs. two defenders, one of whom attacks the support player immediately after the slap back), etc.

Similarly, you can work on the 10-15 yard dropout past a charging defender by a) simulating the situation with no defender, b) putting in one defender and making sure the kicker can get it by that defender, and c) adding support attackers and defenders as above.

You can practice drop outs with 7 vs. 7 by starting out with various situations (e.g. scrum, kickoff), creating a situation where the defenders touch the ball down in goal, and playing live through the dropout and what follows. The chapter on dropouts discusses various options at the dropouts, and can be used as a guide for drills.


III. Seven-on-seven competitions

Having practiced individual skills, small unit skills, forward and back situations, set piece situations, you can put everything together by playing 7 on 7 games.

Ultimately this will evolve into a full-fledged sevens game, but first go through all your situations, with opposition focused at different points of the drill, e.g.

From scrums and lineouts: begin by letting the attacking team win the ball, then play defense after the ball is out. Even here, defense in the backs can begin as friendly opposition to help the attackers work on the timing and positioning needed to make the play work, then move on to live defense.

We may even want to allow the opponents to will a ball or two, to make sure we know how to play defense in these situations.

Finally, play live for at least part of the competition. If you want to concentrate on one particular situation, like scrums or lineouts, simply restart with that situation at every breakdown.

For kickoffs and dropouts, the same considerations apply: let one team or the other win the ball and play from there, but finish up with flat-out competitions.

The execution of penalty plays can be improved by having the defenders simulate the defense you expect from your opponents; make sure you construct the play so that it will work against that defense, and discuss other possible defenses against it as well.

The game of "20 passes to score," described above, is an excellent seven on seven exercise.

The above listing obviously comprises only a tiny fraction of possible drills, whose number is limited only by the imagination.



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