Dwyer’s View: The Thinking Fans Guide to Watching Rugby

Dwyer’s View: The Thinking Fans Guide to Watching Rugby

This seems like an appropriate time to have a discussion about the components of my appreciation of the game of rugby – as a spectator. These are the key factors of my assessment of quality performance.

Set plays.

I won’t talk much about the detail of set plays. Suffice to say that, for quality performance, teams must be at least competitive in scrum, lineout and restarts. It is not necessary, although it will always be useful, to be dominant in any of these areas. Indeed, it has been my experience that, when an attack is effective, say in mid-field, it can take some of the pressure off your set play execution – say, at the scrum.


  1. Straight running. If the attack is to ask questions of the defence and to limit the width of their effectiveness, this is essential – and it’s not common.
  2. Catch & pass skills. I look for fluency and calmness, with the ball in front of the receiver. I also look for the receiver’s ability to hit an ‘unders’ line to secure the catch, when under pressure from the tackle.
  3. Lines of support. Both from inside-to-out support – maintaining depth and remaining always on the inside – and from outside-to-in, in the event of a break – maintaining depth and narrowing the width.
  4. Speed of Support. I want the ‘long place’ of the ruck ball, almost always delivered by the ‘hammer’ – the first arriving, and driving, support player.
  5. Options at the tackle contest. If ‘line’ and ‘speed’ of support are both good, all of the options will be available for the attacking team. Actual use of the options will be influenced by the effectiveness of the defence. I still look for quality set-up, which will give the attack options.
  6. Acceleration. ‘Acceleration’, rather than ‘speed’ necessarily, is an important factor in creating anxiety in the defence.
  7. Urgency in realignment. Realignment is the restructuring of the attacking line, after the original line at the set-play has been broken by a tackle, plus over-runs, etc. This is an essential for quality attack and, in my opinion, a most neglected area of the game. In fact, this is one important quality of New Zealand attacking play and an explanation for their ability to punish opponents from the smallest opportunity.
  8. Use of the ‘overs’ run. I have already stressed the importance of ‘straight running’, now I’m talking about the ‘overs’ run, which is, in fact, cross-field running. This is definitely a useful option and can deliver dividends for a skilful runner, but the ‘rearrangement’ of the attack, by the TWO players outside of the runner, is vital for me. I give considerable detail in my Coaching Manual, but, briefly, the player two-out from the ball-carrier must become the primary support player, with the adjacent support player taking the secondary support role. Will Greenwood understood this implicitly.
  9. Scrum-half. The scrum-half MUST be always near the ball. An old coach of mine used always tell the scrum-half to “tack yourself on to the ball’. His effectiveness in the clearing of, or the running with, the quickly recycled ball is the measure of his performance. Ken Catchpole remains the benchmark.
  10. The ‘halves’. In my opinion, the more the scrum-half passes the ball to the fly-half – rather than to static forwards – the better your attack. New Zealand excel currently, with Dan Carter the first receiver on most occasions.
  11. Second touches. The more second touches that the fly-half gets, the better the attack. Mark Ella was, of course, the master.
  12. Extra man. The use of both ‘extra men’, fullback and blindside wing, in the attacking line is a necessary ingredient of quality attack.
  13. Counter-attack. Anticipation and commitment from the ‘back three’ plus urgency from other available players to get back behind the ball are both essential elements. An aggressive and positive attitude will produce results; “this was their ball and they gave it back to us; let’s use it!”


  1. Speed. Speed off the mark for the defence moving forward to close down the space for the attack. This speaks volumes for the attitude of the defensive team.
  2. Defensive alignment. The alignment and spacing of the defensive team is essential. For the set plays, this is quite simple, but the teams who can keep it consistently correct from successive phase plays will keep their line intact.
  3. Cover on the inside. A team who provide cover on the inside of the ball-carrier, for the inside pass and for the side-stepping attacker, obviously have a great attitude.
  4. Tight on the outside. The defender on the outside of the ball-carrier must stay ‘tight’ on his inside team-mate, to prevent an outside break by the ball-carrier. Jason Little was a fantastic defender on the outside of Tim Horan, but this is even more important in the case of a defensive miss-match – eg., a tight forward defending against an outside back.
  5. Tackle technique. Good tackle technique is clearly an essential component of defence. Good shoulder in contact with ball-carrier, plus powerful leg-drive, are key factors.
  6. Double tackles. First man low, with second man in high to prevent the off-load, will be the basis of a strong defence.
  7. Leg drive. Powerful leg drive, with additional defenders racing in for the kill, against an upright ball-carrier will stun any attack.
  8. Scramble defence. A reasonable attack will make at least the occasional line-break. It is therefore necessary for a quality defence to be able to ‘scramble’ – to race back in numbers to cover the subsequent passes or phases.
  9. Ball steals. A quality player – generally a #7 – who can get in over the tackle ball and retrieve it for his team is a requirement in all top quality teams. Richie McCaw, Heinrich Brussow and David Pocock are all excellent examples amongst current players.
  10. Ruck, or counter-ruck. This is an important weapon in the armoury of the quality defensive team. The ability of a team to be able to drive the attacking support player back off the ball (ruck) or back off the static ball at the back of the ruck (counter-ruck) can provide valuable turnover ball for the defensive team.
  11. Back three. The work of the back three in combination is an essential element of a good defence. The fullback moving up, with the blindside wing moving across to cover in behind, are essential components of a quality defensive strategy. The work done by the blindside wing on the opposite side of the pitch is a measure of his performance – and his commitment. David Campese was the master – and this in defence!

Happy viewing! Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


If you don't know Bob Dwyer is the world cup winning coach of the 1991 Wallabies, then give yourself an uppercut. He did a load in between, but he now runs Bob Dwyer's Rugby Workshops, which you can read more about on his site.

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