Kicking is an integral component of the game of rugby union and serves many purposes. To kick is to relinquish possession of the ball, thus there is an undeniable tactical element every time a ball is kicked – or at least there should be! It is also a specialist skill which tends to be carried out by only a select number of players on the pitch.
The term kicking is very broad and should firstly be broken down into subcategories; defensive, attacking, starting/restarting play, and point scoring. History proves that established kickers nearly always play in the backs and are typically outside halves (no.10s). This article will concentrate on tactical kicking when the ball is open play from both defensive and attacking perspectives.
When under considerable territorial pressure, the option of clearing your lines through kicking up-field is used frequently. A well executed defensive kick will provide respite and an opportunity for the team to regroup.
The touch finder
When kicking from a defensive situation, the 22 metre rule comes into effect: When behind your own 22 metre line, you are entitled to kick directly to touch. If the ball is kicked from outside this boundary, the ball must bounce infield before going into touch. Otherwise, the line-out will be taken from where the ball was kicked, not from where it crossed the touch line. This simple rule ensures that only accomplished kickers will attempt to kick the ball outside of their 22.
The best defensive clearance kicks tend to be courtesy of the ‘torpedo’ kick. This is when a right footed player aims to the left touchline (or vice versa) and kicks the ball on the outside of his boot, creating the ‘torpedo’ effect. An effective torpedo kick is not easy to perform but, due to its curved flight path, provides maximum territorial gains.
The box kick
Similar to the up-and-under, this ploy is highly effective if both the height and distance of the kick are precise. The box kick is the perfect solution to high pressure situations such as the resulting maul from a defensive line-out 5 metres from the try line. The kick is made on the offside line which facilitates an effective chase.
The most attractive feature of a successful box kick is that if perfectly placed and weighted, it may be possible to bundle the opposition into touch and win the line-out. Possession and territory will then have been gained with just one kick of the ball.
When in an attacking position, kicking can be used as a tactical ploy. Admittedly all subtypes come with a side order of risk, but if performed accurately and in the correct situation, they can lead to tries which ultimately win matches. Examples of attacking kicks are as follows:
The up-and-under, otherwise known as the ‘garryowen’ named after the Irish team who introduced the tactic), is performed by kicking the ball high into the air. The reasoning behind this most simple of concepts is that the ball’s return to earth coincides with the arrival of the chasing players. This creates an opportunity for your team to reclaim possession, as the receiving player is under incredible pressure to make the catch.
The trick is to avoid your opponent catching the ball unchallenged within their 22. If caught cleanly, the opponent can call a mark and will be awarded a free kick. It should also be made clear that, if an up-and-under drops too short, this will cause the attack to stall and destroy any form of attacking platform. As you can imagine then, there exists a very fine line between a executing a successful or unsuccessful up-and-under.
The chip and chase
The chip and chase carries significant risk and the line between ingenuity and idiocy is fine. To some it is a last resort, to others it is a valuable weapon in their arsenal. The obvious advantage of using this ploy is that without the ball in hand the player cannot be tackled. As a result, to chip the ball over an onrushing defender allows the player and/or supporting team-mates to get in past the defence and hopefully win back possession. This could then very easily result in a try scoring opportunity.
The grubber kick
The enigmatic bounce of an egg shaped rugby ball under normal circumstances is no more than a lottery without guaranteed winners. However, the grubber kick attempts to tailor this unpredictability. The basic principle is to kick the ball so it rolls end-over-end. The ball will then travel in more or less a straight line and will, roughly every fourth or fifth rotation, bounce up into the air, hopefully into the arms of a chasing player! Pivotal to mastering the grubber kick is working out the strength of the kick, somewhat difficult when running at full pace!
The cross field kick
Variations of this ploy have been used within the game of rugby union for many years, all with the same general intent: switching the direction of attack. Nevertheless, the modern day cross field kick has developed into a try-scoring device.
Taken from rugby league, the principle is that a player (usually the outside half) will try to catch the opposition unawares by kicking horizontally across the pitch towards the opposition try line. There waiting is a team mate (the taller the better) who will then compete for the ball in the air and attempt to score. Teams tend to use this tactic when they have identified that the opposition winger has a distinct height disadvantage. The main caveat of the cross field kick, not dissimilar to other types of tactical kicking, is ensuring the target player is onside, i.e. behind the kicker when the ball is kicked.