A tactical kick should be seen as either a chance to seize an emergent opportunity (like a wide open winger or a missing fullback) or as an option to re-gather the ball up-field when nothing else is on. No kick should be aimless. The intent has to be regaining possession or at least to put opponents under pressure when they get the ball. Communication should precede the kick – either from the kicker calling his/her intent, or a potential receiver alerting the ball carrier to a clear opportunity. There may be times when extreme pressure or a sudden opportunity prompts someone to kick without prior communication. The kicker’s teammates should become familiar with these situations and the body language of someone who is about to kick so they can anticipate it and put themselves in a good position to chase and re-gather or pressure their opponents. Rugby players should always remember that they cannot be tackled if they are not in possession of the ball, so when chasing a kick, a soccer-style kick forward might be prudent if picking the ball up will lead to a tackle and potential turnover.
The grubber bounces along the ground not long after being kicked. If kicked properly, will bounce forward end-over-end in line with the hips of the kicker. Tends to ‘jump up’ after a few bounces, so chasers should be aware of what this looks like so they can attempt to gather it without having to stoop or slow down. The grubber is a great kick to split defenders, is less likely to be blocked than a chip kick (if aimed in a gap rather than at a body, of course), and is difficult for defenders to deal with. It is arguably a better kick to put in-goal as a chaser merely has to fall on it to score a try.
Execution Tips: Hold the ball up and down with the top pointed slightly toward your body. This exposes the point you want to hit. Drop the ball so it keeps this shape and ‘nudge’ the top third of the ball with the laces of your boot as it drops below the knee. ‘Stabbing’ the ball into the ground tends to make it jump sooner and run shorter. ‘Pushing’ the ball out with a long follow through tends to see the ball hit the ground further out and roll longer distances.
The chip is a short and shallow kick that is meant to merely climb over the defensive line. It can be made by an individual to him or herself or can be aimed from one individual to another. The great thing about a well-placed chip kick is that it goes from boot to hand without having to deal with an unpredictable bounce – that said, it is quite often that the first bounce jumps up to a catchable height, so chasers should consider this if it doesn’t look like they’ll catch it on the full. Kickers must take care not to do so too soon or too late. In the first instance, defenders will have time to turn and chase. In the second, a late kick is likely to be charged down.
Execution Tips: Hold the ball up and down with the top pointed slightly away from your body. This exposes the point you want to hit. Drop the ball so it keeps this shape and ‘nudge’ the bottom third of the ball with the laces of your boot. You should experiment with how far you drop the ball and the downward angle of your foot. With the toes pointed down, the ball tends to go further, and with the foot parallel to the ground, the ball will climb higher. For a short jump over your opponents, you also do not want too much follow-through. It’s best to drop the ball in front while running forward so you do not have to stop and can maintain your forward momentum into the chase. Some people have the tendency to stop and kick the ball off to the side and with a roll of the hip; this usually makes you slow down, if not stop dead to perform the action.
A cross kick has a lot of the same advantages of the chip kick. It is still relatively shallow, but tends to be made across the pitch to a player out wide. For this reason, some call it a ‘kick-pass’ and some clever players have even been known to kick them laterally rather than up-field as a means to quickly get the ball to a wide-open winger.
Execution Tips: Kicking the ball is pretty much the same as a chip kick. Again, not much follow-through is needed if the kicker keeps moving forward, using momentum. This should also help with aim as a well kicked ball as described above will travel in-line with the kicker’s hips. Practice will allow the kicker to know how much effort is needed to make certain distances, helping him / her aim for the spot where the intended receiver will be when the ball comes down. To make the most of this tactic, the kick should reach the receiver while he / she is on the run.
Up and Under (or Bomb)
The up and under is a kick that is probably the most difficult to re-gather because it is one that is put reasonably far up field and very high. This kick is great if you have players who are great at jumping and catching high balls. Even if you do not, it might be a worthwhile tactic to employ if you have identified that the opposition’s full back is weak at positioning, reading, and/or fielding kicks. Teams often use this kick in hopes that the opposition knocks it on and hands them a scrum up-field. A chaser who’s not going to catch it cleanly might also tap it back to team mates, which is not something a defending full back would want to do! Fly halves typically put up high bombs and retreat to cover the full back as the backs chase the kick. Full backs often use this kick to return kicks, a high and long kick giving him / her time to chase and team mates to get out of the way / re-position themselves in onside positions.
Execution Tips: Kicking is not unlike the chip kick, though can be kicked on the bottom third or bottom of the ball as you see fit. Again, kickers will want to experiment with the angle of the foot and follow-through to see how high and far they can get it.
Strategic kicks are typically used to get the ball away from one’s own goal line / 22m area. They can also be used to put the ball deep into opposition territory. Advantages to this are: putting pressure on their lineout throw, forcing them to play from their own 22, or inviting a return kick and a good chance of a counter-attacking move.
A box kick is typically made by a scrum half from the base of a ruck. It is a high kick meant to clear the defensive line and avoid having to pass deep to kick forward. It’s a favourable way of moving the ball downfield because it avoids the risk of passing back and having that kick charged down, has the potential for a greater net gain in territory, and can be done behind a protective ‘wall’ of forwards engaged in the ruck. Box kicks can be kept in the field of play to be chased or angled into touch from behind the 22m line.
Execution Tips: Box kicks are not as easy to make as ordinary punts. Kickers are so close to the defensive line that the risk of a charge-down is high if the kicker simply tries to kick the ball forward. Kickers must position themselves sideways with the intention of kicking kicking with the leg closer to their goal line. A simple progression is:
- reach in for the ball to keep the body far away from defenders as possible
- with hands on the ball, step back from the ruck at first with the NEAR leg to increase distance from it
- transfer the ball to the FAR leg side, holding it with points up and down
- release the ball and kick upwards with the far side leg, following through high
- … players need to practice and experiment with this procedure to find what works best for them. Two major elements to play with are the height at which the ball is struck and how one follows through to move the ball up-field – with the angle of the ball, the angle at which the foot strikes the ball and rotation of the hip / body.
Long punts are used to move the ball far up-field and should be aimed for spaces behind wingers. Kicking straight to the full back invites an easy counter-attack and should only be done if the intent is to force a knock on or put immense and immediate pressure on the full back with a good kick chase. Kickers must also remember laws surrounding kicks to touch to ensure the opposition lineout throw does not come back to the point from which the ball was kicked.
Execution Tips: There are two common ways of punting long. The spiral punt tends to fly furthest, but has a greater margin for error. Mis-hit kicks can wobble and fall short or fly sideways off the side of the foot. It is important that the ball be dropped at an angle that matches the angle of a foot with toes pointed down, and reaches the top or side of the foot when the leg is fully extended. The kicker cannot simply drop the ball down to achieve this – the ball will hit the shin. So kickers not only have to practice letting go of the ball so it maintains this shape but also so that it travels at an angle to the outstretched foot. The drop punt is a simpler kick to make that tends to always go in line with the kicker’s hips, but it doesn’t travel as far as a well- struck spiral punt. For this kick, the ball is held upright so the kicker can strike the bottom third of the ball, generating a backspin that causes it to rise and fly straight. It is important to hold the ball with two hands and drop with the same upright shape so that it does not skew sideways off the foot. Kickers should also experiment with the height at which the ball is struck, the angle of the foot and follow-through to understand how to drop punt for height and how to achieve greater distance. Simply: flat foot and upward follow-through = high and shallow, pointed foot and outward follow-through = distance. Distance can be further increased if the kicker allows the whole body to move forward while kicking, indicated by rising and moving forward off the planted leg.
A flat punt is made for much the same reasons as a long punt, but the difference is that it travels at a lower height for a specific reason. A flat punt is more likely to roll along the ground than bounce up when it lands, especially in wet conditions, so it is a preferable kick when the aim is to find touch when in front of the 22m line. It is also useful when the kicker wants to drop a ball in behind a flat winger but also avoid the fullback.
Execution Tips: These are easier to make when attempting a spiral punt, holding back on the follow-through to keep the kick low rather than high. Kickers might also achieve this by allowing the ball to fall further, striking it low rather than high. When using a drop punt style of kicking, kickers can hold the ball with the top forward and kick the underside of the ball to create top spin, so that it dips quickly in flight and hits the ground rolling forward. It should go without saying that kickers attempting this must give themselves enough room to clear the defensive line with this inherently lower kick.
A long grubber can be used instead of a flat punt to get behind defenders / find touch when in front of the 22m line. It has the added bonus of being less likely to be charged down and typically runs in line with the kicker’s hips.
Execution Tips: This kick is made pretty much the same as any grubber, but because the ultimate aim is distance, kickers have to make a couple of small changes. Kickers must not only strike harder, but they most follow-through outwards more than downwards. This should see the ball hit the ground further away and start rolling end-over-end with low bounces rather than high ones.