I have long wondered whether rugby-focused schools in South Africa should drop cricket as a summer sport and instead play soccer, or even Gaelic football!
The reason being that the skills required to play soccer better complement rugby. If, for example, you are a left-handed batsman in cricket, you will never have to learn to bat right-handed. The same goes for bowlers.
This is a ‘defect diagram’ I created for a client recently. The graphic reflects the skillset of an under-15 rugby team in South Africa:
All 15 players completed the same skills assessment to determine which techniques they used to execute each skill. From that data, the squad’s performance could be summarized:
While it is fairly rare for a team at this age group to not have one player who can kick off both feet, the rest of the data is pretty much in line with all other teams I measured. The fact of the matter is that an average rugby team is predominantly right-handed and very few teams, even at professional level, consist of players who are perfectly balanced.
Soccer demands more balance
When it comes to coordination and balance, very few soccer players will succeed if they cannot pass off both feet or remain balanced while dribbling a ball off both feet. Similarly most soccer players develop an ability to ‘read’ a ball traveling at speed from a far distance in order to stop it or header it to a target.
If all 15 players in a rugby team played soccer during summer, how would the above graphic look for most teams?
Sports science research has shown that successful sports people were often exposed to a wide variety of sports during their youth. While I believe that the skills learnt in some sports are more transferable to rugby than others, I’m not saying that cricket is of no value.
Ireland and Australia are at an advantage
Rugby is essentially a North-South sport. Whether we scrum or kick or carry the ball, our key movement is northerly. It’s only when we throw into a line-out or when we pass (or kick-pass) that we partake in an East/West movement.
In Australian and Gaelic Football, players can move East/West and North/South more frequently. In these sports you are more likely to field passes and kicks over a longer distance and from numerous angles.
In order to move forward, these sports also demand players to dribble the ball (either by bouncing or kicking it to themselves) while in motion. An exposure to these additional skills give players from Ireland and Australia a clear advantage over our players who just play North/South games such as rugby and cricket.
No wonder then that those two countries with so few rugby players compared to us can deliver world-beating teams!
Have a look at some Gaelic and AFL game footage to see what I mean:
Wrestling to be made compulsory?
I recently ran a poll on Twitter to learn from other coaches which sports they think can add to a rugby skillset. Interestingly many coaches felt that some style of wrestling can be particularly beneficial to improve scrummaging and breakdown technique.
In summary, I would urge schools to take stock of how many rugby rugby players pitch up to play cricket. And of those that do, how much action do they see as bowlers or batsmen?
Surely it’s no good having your #5 lock bat at 8 when he could be improving his kick-off returns while playing volleyball? What do you guys think?
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Brendon is the developer of www.rugbycology.com, a Google-based game-analysis system for schools and club rugby.