Brian Smith’s Analysis – Coachable Support Play

Brian Smith’s Analysis – Coachable Support Play

A couple of weeks ago, a coach asked me how to coach support play. To be honest, I didn’t really have a firm answer at the time. Since then I’ve been thinking about the subject and forming some coherent thoughts so I could give this coach some pearls of advice.

Then, on Saturday, I watched the All Blacks hammer South Africa and the Wallabies run up a score against Argentina and it occurred to me – Why don’t I show him what good support play looks lik,e and let him work out how best to coach it to his players? So this weeks analysis features some excellent support play from the tests on Saturday evening.

Support the Man with the Ball

The first clip is a great example of supporting the man in possession of the ball and understanding that no matter what he does. the rest of the team must offer themselves as support players.

In this instance Aaron Smith takes a quick tap and scampers off looking for daylight to run through. But, when South Africa shut down his run options, the clever scrum half spots some space behind the line and he pops a ball into the corner for Rieko Ioane to run onto. The All Black wingers are well coached and they always set great width in attack but Ioane must be applauded for backing Smith’s instincts rather than hanging back thinking about the next phase.

Structured Support with Shapes

The second clip features the Wallabies attacking from the left edge, with forward pods offering close support for the runner and designated backs offering support out the back. Even though the pod of forward runners mishandle, the ball falls kindly for Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale steams onto the ball with great support from Sean McMahon.

Foley is the originally designated link man out the back of the forward pod, and he continues to play the link role making the final pass to Israel Folau to finish things off. The Wallabies shape from the left edge was designed to shorten the Puma’s defence line and create space on the right edge. Even with a loose pass early on, Foley and Beale were good enough to adapt on the run and create a scoring chance.

Support with Numbers Behind the Ball

The third clip is an excellent illustration of players working hard off-the-ball to get back and support the back three as they launch a counter attack.

Ioane has worked hard to get on the ball, and realises he has South Africa’s hooker (Malcolm Marx) in front of him. As soon as Ioane pokes his nose through the defensive line, the All Black support play kicks in. Outside of Ioane is Sonny Bill Williams and inside is Dan Coles and Brodie Retallick. In fact when Retallik crosses the try line, there are 5 other All Blacks backing up. Getting numbers back to counter attack is an attitude thing, and it’s definitely something that can be coached and encouraged.

Support the Bust

In this clip the Wallabies do a number of very intelligent things.

First they attack the short side with Foley and Beale playing flat and fast, so they don’t allow the Pumas to slide to cover the overload. However, the best bit of play comes from the Wallabies replacement scrum half Nick Phipps.

Watch his running lines immediately after he makes the pass. He senses his team mates are going to get good penetration down the edge, so he sets off down the middle of the pitch just in case the ball comes back his way. For any young scrum half this is clever support play. Phipps has had a tough season but he worked hard and smart in this play and thoroughly deserved his try. He supported Sean McMahon’s bust and was richly rewarded.

Support the Pick & Go

If your forwards are well organised with their support play in close quarters, they will be more effective scoring when camped on the opposition try line. If you watch closely, you’ll notice that the All Blacks set up 2 forwards at the back of the ruck and 2 more about 2m wider.

The role of the first 2 Kiwi forwards is to draw the attention of the first 2 South African ruck defenders. When they have squared up these defenders, the 2 wider attackers smash through the space either side of the 3rd defender. It’s essentially a mini smash maul targeting the 3rd defender. Had the South African forwards set their focus on the 2 wide All Black forwards the All Blacks would have smashed through what many people call the “pillar” defender – that’s the first ruck defender.


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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