Shane Jennings talks exclusively to LineoutCoach.com
What are the most important skills to develop for any up and coming openside flanker?
Tackling is a vital skill of an openside flanker. He should have very good tackle technique, backed up by having a lot of confidence in his defensive abilities. Openside flankers should usually finish the game with the highest number of tackles of anyone in the game.
Having the ability to read the game is crucial. By that I mean, being able to predict as best you can what will happen next. This means that not only do you have to know all of the lineout and scrum calls that the forwards make but an openside flanker needs to know every backs call also. This allows the flanker to be able to predict where the next tackle contest or ruck will happen on the pitch. This in turn, allows the flanker to run the most efficient line to the next perceived point of contact (ruck).
It may sound obvious but having a high level of fitness is vital to playing openside flanker. Really, the No 7 should be one of the fittest players on the team. He should have the highest work rate and probably should be the player who has covered the most ground throughout the game. He should always be in support of the ball carrier.
Like most things in sport, it takes years to develop these skills to a world-class standard. Players like David Pocock, George Smith of Australia and Richie McCaw of New Zealand, have been studying and rehearsing these skills since they were kids. This has given them the ability to be destructive around the pitch and cause a lot of problems to the opposition.
How would a new player who wishes to play and understand the role of No 7 develop these skills?
Firstly, it takes a long time to develop an appreciation and understanding of the game. This is common in all sports. If I started to play American football right now, my skills for that sport would be pretty poor. So, patience is important as you build the required skills.
The best way to start learning about the game is to watch it. Watch as many games of high quality rugby as you can. Specifically watch the openside flanker and study his movements. Ask yourself why is he doing what he is doing? What is he trying to achieve? There are so many nuances to the sport of rugby that the more you watch, the better your understanding of these skills will be. Then, when you play, try to imitate and replicate what you have seen.
Flankers need to develop all the normal skills that are associated with rugby. That means passing, catching, lineout lifting and jumping, scrummaging and tackling. On top of this, having good balance and good footwork is also very important. Ideally, flankers will have a low centre of gravity. They should be difficult to move once they get into a ruck. This is what is meant as a destructive player. Flankers should always be in and around the ball at ruck time, making sure that the opposition do not get quick ball at the ruck.
Before or after practice, up and coming flankers should always look to develop their tackling skills. This takes time but is extremely important. A player learning these skills can start slowly, initially working on technique. This means putting your head in the right place, leading with your shoulder into the opposition, wrapping your arms around the opponent, driving with your legs and bringing the opponent to ground. Then, you must get to feet quickly. This last part is very important. Flankers should always believe that the tackle is not complete until he is back on his feet. If you are on the ground, you are out of the game and therefore not much good to your team. This is where the high work rate comes into account. Its tough but that is the role of the No 7.
These are important skills for any player in any position. As your skills improve, so too will your knowledge of the game. This is aided by video analysis. American football players watch a huge amount of video throughout the week and this is becoming more important in rugby. The attention to detail is what sets players apart. Getting the little things right will contribute to the overall development of a player.
— Inpho Photography (@Inphosports) August 29, 2013
Are there any rugby players that you see as role models or you looked up to?
There are lots of guys in the sport that I respect for the way they play and the hard yards they put in. Its tough to pick out any one player. Anyone who plays professional rugby has obviously worked hard to get there. If I had to pick one player who inspired me, I would have to say Zinzan Brooke. He was a phenomenal No 8 for New Zealand.
What is your most memorable game of rugby?
There have been a few! I would say it was the 2009 Heineken Cup final against Leicester Tigers. We (Leinster) had never won the Heineken Cup and obviously I was playing against my old club. Losing the Heineken Cup final with the Tigers against Wasps was tough to take. You never know if you will get that chance again but then do it with my home team of Leinster against Leicester made it very special.
Best advice you have ever received from a coach?
Two pieces of advice that have always stuck with me – the first is, you have to enjoy it. Otherwise, you won’t put the effort into it and to be successful in anything you need to put everything you have into it.
Secondly, and I am aware it is a bit of a cliché but it’s true – you get what you deserve on the rugby pitch. If you put the work in, you will get the rewards. If you don’t work as hard as you can, you won’t be rewarded. Pretty simple but very true.
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Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com