Updated: Aug 24
There is nothing more exciting than watching a player step off his or her outside foot explosively leaving defenders bamboozled.
Remember when Benji put on a side stepping masterclass back in 2005 against the Cronulla Sharks leaving defenders wondering where he went like a thief in the night?
Here is a reminder in case you missed it.
Is that poetry in motion, or what?
This skill is something every Rugby player, whether you are a back or forward, needs to possess in their repertoire of skills. Rugby is a multi-directional sport, yet I still see players on the field that don’t have the quickness, body control or strength to change direction at the crucial time. This results in them being tackled, or wrong-footed in defence.
It’s obvious that if you’re not working on your change-of-direction then you are being left behind.
Let’s break down the skill of changing direction:
1. Deceleration: the ability to all of a sudden decelerate (slow down). You need to decelerate before changing direction.
2. Changing Angle: move your body into a different direction which requires strength & power
3. Acceleration: once you have changed direction, you then then need to explode out of that position. Again, strength & power is required.
Below are 4 skills that you can incorporate into your training sessions to improve your change of direction skills to leave defenders for dead.
1. LEARN HOW TO DECELERATE
The first step to changing direction is to decelerate quickly. This is so you can control your body to make the change of direction explosively. Rugby players travel at high speed constantly throughout a game, and often come to a sudden stop to secure the ball, to make a tackle or to change direction. Deceleration is also required in evading or dodging an opponent.
Try this drill to improve your deceleration skills
1. Set out 3 cones 5m apart
2. Start 5m away from the first cone
3. Accelerate to the first cone then decelerate by pumping feet fast to a standstill right under the cone (not in front or behind).
4. Accelerate to second cone then decelerate (fast feet) to a standstill under the second cone.
5. Accelerate to the third and last cone then decelerate to a standstill.
2. IMPROVE YOUR TECHNIQUE
Correct technique is crucial if you want to be able to fool the defence and leave them bamboozled. You can’t change direction explosively if you’re not changing direction correctly. Poor technique results in a slower change of direction and lack of power.
Focus on these 3 key areas when training change of direction.
1. Plant the entire sole of the foot when you are about to change direction. You’re going to generate a lot more power by planting your entire sole in the ground then just your toes or heel which most players do.
2. Lower your hips when you plant your foot to generate maximum power. The lower your centre of gravity, the more power is generated. You will also be a lot stable.
3. Push hard aggressively into the ground with your outside foot to develop an explosive change of direction. I tell my players to imagine that their foot is in the mouth of a shark and you need to get your foot out. You wouldn’t gently pull your foot, out would you?
A great drill to perform to improve your technique, and improve change of direction power is Skater Jumps.
3. DEVELOP STRENGTH
Wait up, do I need to be strong to be able to change direction?
When you want to achieve speed in your movements, strength is King. Changing direction at a high rate involves strength in your legs to be able to produce maximum force into the ground.
Perform the split squat to develop strength in those legs.
4. BECOME POWERFUL
There is no use being strong if you can’t produce that strength quickly. This is where power comes into play.
A powerful player will be able to produce high force in the shortest period of time.
Perform box jumps to improve your power. To gain the most out of the box jump and ensure ultimate power development, it is important to focus on the landing aspect of the movement as much as the jumping aspect of the movement.
Being able to change direction explosively is a mandatory skill in the game of Rugby today. Both backs and forwards are becoming more mobile and fast. Gone are the days where forwards just running at the defence all day, or backs that are too busy combing their hair. If you want to take your game to the next level you need to be working on your change of direction. Remember to concentrate on deceleration which is the foundation skill of change of direction. Next focus on your execution or technique.
Get that right, then start developing strength and power and you will be on the way to being the next Benji Marshall.