Rugby League Skills – Kicking
Effective training and drills can be carried out alone. Shuttle-runs and circuits help build up power for break down and open play, long-distance runs to improve endurance and overall fitness and weights to build up strength and mass which can be crucial in tackling and mauling situations. Skill and tactics are obviously more important than sheer size and strength, but rugby remains a full-contact sport and involves some very physical elements. As more players and equipment are introduced, more complex drills can be carried out. Below are examples of the different levels and types of training.
Kicking – To effectively improve kicking technique, different types of kicks must be carried out over and over again. This obviously requires a ball, and ideally some sort of enclosure to catch the ball and prevent you having to collect it each time. A cricket net is often a good candidate for this. Alternatively, two players may kick the ball to each other, also giving the opportunity for catching practice. Weight training and flexibility exercises are also important to build up strength and follow-through technique.
Types of kick:
Punt – This is the most basic type of kick and is used to gain ground in an organised manner. This can be by kicking to touch from a penalty or on the last tackle when the team wants to ain ground by kicking up-field or position by kicking across the field. Teams may always kick when in possession on certain points on the field, such as after a scrum close to their try line. It is important that the ball is chased down effectively and the bounce controlled to avoid immediately losing possession.
The punt is carried out by holding the ball with both hands, releasing it with both eyes on the ball, striking the ball wit the instep of the foot still keeping both eyes on the ball and then following through with the kicking leg. The kick should end with the player looking towards the intended direction of the kick the kicking leg extended high in the air, while still remaining balanced on one foot.
Up-and-Under kick – This is a ploy most often used at the opponent’s try line, although it carries the risk of the ball going beyond the dead-ball line and out of play. The ball is kicked almost directly upwards giving the maximum opportunity for other players on the team to get beneath the ball in the hope of catching and grounding it over the try-line. If the opposing team catches the ball behind their try line they may ground it and play restarts with the defending team in possession at their own 22 metre line.
Chip Kick – This is a technique used to avoid a quickly approaching defending line. The ball must be kicked over the opposing team’s front line to land in the no-man’s land between them and the fall-back. This type of kick requires very accurate judgement of weight, length and height of the kick which can only come from sheer experience of kicking the ball while running. Good spatial awareness is also of paramount importance but this is something that tends to be innate and not something you can learn that easily.
Grubber Kick – This type of kick is very useful in an attacking or mid-filed position to break through a defensive line. The ball is kicked along the ground end over end causing it to pop up unpredictably which, if timed well can be used to both confuse the defence and to provide an opportunity for a running attacker to catch the ball in the air. This means they do not lose momentum having to stop and collect the ball; this obviously relies on a fair bit of luck but can be devastatingly effective and so is usually worth the risk.
The ball should be stabbed into the ground with the instep of the foot while leaning quite far forward, this gives the ball good forward momentum and the movement that makes it so hard to defend against. There is little follow-through in this kick as the player needs to continue to move forward as quickly as possible to grab any opportunity to collect the ball in a scoring position.
Spiral Kick – This type of kick sends the ball spinning lengthways as it is in flight, making it more aerodynamic and so gaining more ground and following a truer route than if it were not spinning. The ball should be held at the ends at 45 degrees to the ground and kicked with a slicing action to give the ball its spinning movement. Another advantage is that the ball will sometimes swing confusingly making it harder for the opposition to catch. This is a difficult kick to perfect and so repeated drills will be required in practice before it can be used effectively in a game situation.
Drop Kick – This kick is rarely used in open play as it requires a lot of skill to execute accurately. The ball is held in a cradle position as if a sideways pass were about to be made. It is then dropped and kicked with the instep of the foot on the half-volley, just as the tip of the ball touches the ground. A well timed drop of the ball and strike will be similar to kicking the ball from a tee on the ground.
The leg should extend through the ball and the body allowed to lean backwards as the ball is struck to determine the angle and so height of the kick. The head should stay down while kicking to maintain balance during the backward leaning body position and the arms outstretched forwards for balance.
In open play there will rarely be time to think through the action as you will be kicking for goal for one point and so will be very close to the opposition, practice of accurately drop-kicking under pressure is something that could easily determine the outcome of a lot of close games. This type of kick is also used to restart the game at a 22-metre dropout after a team has grounded the ball behind their own line.
Place Kick – Jonny Wilkinson’s technique for carrying out this kick is now probably rugby’s most famous image and has been used in numerous advertising campaigns. The ball is kicked from a static position on a tee on the ground, the tee was traditionally a small pile of sand used to steady the ball, rubber tees are now used (and often brought onto the pitch in big matches using a remote control car as part of an advertising agreement).
The technique used to be for players to strike the ball with the toe through the line of the ball towards the goal. This is now seen as a little dated, and a "round-the-corner" technique is now favoured. This is where the run-up is done at an angle to the kicking direction and the ball struck with the instep of the foot. This does lead to a natural curling of the ball through the air which means that the technique is best suited to kicking right footed from the left hand side of the posts, or vice-versa.
The ball should be struck with the kicker’s eyes firmly on the ball, the body position giving the kick its direction and the foot sweeping the ball between the posts. Arms should be out-stretched for balance and the kicking leg allowed to follow through in a free swing.
As important as practising the kicking technique itself, any good kicker should know their own kicking ability in a range of conditions. A wrong decision in a match situation because a kicker over-estimates the distance they can kick at goal is seen as a crucial and unnecessary error.
Online tutorials on how to improve particular aspects of your game are now available. Although these are never going to be as useful as real-life coaching, they are a useful resource for pointers and tips from professional players. The BBC Sport Website has a good selection of videos.