Decision Making at the Breakdown
Footwork is important for a scrum half and should be practised regularly in realistic situations. Approaching rucks with good footwork allows the scrum half to get to the breakdown quickly and at the right angle to pass the ball away quickly. Training with active defenders provides pressure through the breakdown and on its fringes. They also allows her / him to deal with body parts obstructing a clean pass.
Moving the ball is the scrum half’s main duty and they can use various types of passes to clear the ball …
To see effective scrum half play at its best, the people to watch are New Zealand’s Aaron Smith and Japan’s Fumiaki Tanaka. They are quick to and ever-present at the break down. They have incredibly quick and accurate passes, with the ability to play balls both short and long. Aaron Smith is especially brilliant at reading the defence, playing long and flat passes to open players when one would expect the pass to be picked off. He clearly understands – whether consciously or unconsciously – that defenders sat back on their heels are not likely to intercept such a quick and accurately delivered pass.
With live defenders and attacking players, the scrum half can also experiment with arcing runs to engage / challenge fringe defenders and put teammates into space. Standard practice is to clear the ball away from the ground quickly and picking up the ball and running allows defenders to rush forward. However, a determined arcing run can draw attention and allow the scrum half to put a team mate into space. The scrum half can also dummy the pass and run behind defenders.
Some scrum halves are incredibly quick and/or powerful and can take on defenders around the ruck themselves by seizing or creating an opportunity. Ideally, his / her team mates will be in position waiting for a pass or making a move to receive one. These actions draw the attention of defenders and encourage them to move forward when the ball is played. This is the moment that a sniping scrum half keeps one eye on his/her team mates and the other on the defence, looking for an opportunity to sneak behind a forward-rushing defender or take on one who’s static and standing tall.
If a clean break is not made, the scrum half should look for one of those supporting players for a pass or offload. This keeps the scrum half free for the next phase. If the scrum half is tackled, what you don’t want is the forwards to waste time getting themselves organised for a 1m a pick and go (or worse, to be driven backwards or lose possession!) that allows the defence time to reorganise themselves. Empowering and teaching forwards to play the ball from the ruck like a scrum half will help you maintain momentum and take advantage of the ground gained by a scrum half sniping through a gap.
In conjunction with clearing the ball from the breakdown, a scrum half must direct players to maintain possession and continuity. To make this easier, the scrum half can use one of several calls that standardizes and simplifies what she / he wants. These simple phrases give arriving / engaged players clear instructions what to do, hopefully making the scrum half’s job easier and maximising the potential for the next phase. Adding a left / right direction can help them even more, though the fly half should also be directing players for the next phase.
· scrum half isn’t there yet
· defence is fractured (maintain momentum with a pick and go)
· keep momentum going regardless of defence (but it’s still worth it)
· post defenders are in place, but short pop pass to a supporting player at 2nd or 3rd defender can expose the gap
· longer pass out to scrum half (arriving or as 2nd playmaker) or to wide 1st receiver
· scrum half arriving, move away to a better position
Within the ruck itself, the scrum half can also direct engaged players to make passing easier or ensure the ball is kept in the ruck.
Over – ruck beyond the ball, leaving it unobstructed for the scrum half to pass away
Park – get low and keep the ball in the ruck so that defenders have to stay onside and cannot come around to steal it
Runners Off Scrum Half
Supporting players need to read scrum half’s physical cues to start their run before the ball has been passed. Today we see a lot of pods taking the ball statically, which invites the defence to take away their space and requires good footwork and power just to reach the gain line, let alone cross it. Forwards already running when the scrum half has hands on the ball are more likely to meet defenders on the gainline, where they should have the advantage.
To provide the scrum half with multiple options, forwards should adopt a shape that provides everyone with a clear purpose: Lead Strike Runner, Late Strike, and Linking Support Player (Lead, Late, Link to keep things short when setting up and declaring intent).
Instead of giving the ball to the first receiver to crash it up, each of these players is an attacking option. With the understanding that any one of them can receive the ball, the scrum half can keep an eye on the defence and pick out which attacker is most likely to get through. There are many possibilities that can come from three or four forwards adopting various shapes and roles. This will be covered in greater detail in the Tactical section, but let the players experiment and find favourable solutions themselves!