So often in union, we see systems and skills coming in from league – but what is going the other way?


So often in rugby union we talk of systems coming into the elite game from rugby league.

There is no ignoring the prevalence of league-reared defence coaches. In attack, you’d be hard pressed to miss Ireland’s block-on-block attacking shape in recent years. This is where a pass goes in behind a flat runner, and then another pass goes in behind another flat runner – a staple of league. Then there is the skill of diving in at the corner to score.

Even in terms of talent coming across, in recent years we have seen Roger Tuivasa-Sheck leave the NRL for a shot at a Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks. Teenage Aussie sensation Max Jorgensen has turned down chances in league to have a crack at union. The wing scored two on his Waratahs debut.

But it might not occur to any of us in Europe that the NRL can learn from rugby union. However, there are those in the 13-player game who have brought lessons with them

“These would be my bang for buck takeaways,” says Manly Warringah Sea Eagles coach Anthony Seibold on what can be taken across to league from union. He served as England’s defence coach under Eddie Jones.

“One is the value of more contestable kick-offs, as well as kicks to contest rather than just for distance.

“Two: kicking earlier out of yardage. You would do this if you don’t like what you see (after a few tackles) and so play for field position.

“And three: we could learn from the use of blindside wingers or centres coming round to the openside to present an extra number to get a numerical advantage on the long side.”

These are interesting, because the third one was a hallmark of Jones’s England – how often did we see Jack Nowell coming off his wing to look for work infield? The first has been in Test rugby for a few years now, with Mack Hansen’s try against France in the 2022 Six Nations the pinnacle, and Michael Cheika’s Lebanon league side, and Leeds Rhinos have begun using this tactic.

Meanwhile the second is more of an adaption on league’s conventions, though not something totally new to the game.

Is there anything else that could cross over; anything more the NRL can learn from rugby union?

According to the Melbourne Storm’s general manger for football, Frank Ponissi: “It would probably be more off-field stuff, like things on preparation. For example, the analysis.

“In regards to on-field stuff, I think the passing skills of backs is something to look at.”

Sometimes, listening to die hard fanbases of either code, there is a wariness of the other sport and its merits. But talk to elite coaches, and they are happy to soak up lessons, plays, moves – and talent – from any other arena, if it helps them perform better.

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