In this analysis feature, John Cooney looks at the French captain's box-kicking


I was chatting with my Ulster team-mate Dave Shanahan when we stumbled upon how Antoine Dupont kicking from the ruck looks different. We generally talk about other scrum-halves, but in this case we noticed something was up with his box-kicks.

Firstly, he is very good at kicking off both feet – others like Lloyd Williams are good off both, but Dupont is by far the best. For example, I will only use my right foot. Not Dupont. And he is very smart because often you won’t know which foot he’ll use. And it’s when he kicks over the top of the ruck that it gets interesting.

so much so that I’ve nicked it!

The Antoine Dupont kicking strategy over the ruck

Toulouse, as a club, like to kick long.

Many teams will kick to contest – that means box-kicking for team-mates to try win it back in the air. But at his club, Dupont tries to kick long and out of play. And this is when he will go over the ruck, something he does really well. At Toulouse he has license to punt long and keep it in play, which is when he uses his cannon of a boot. However, if you watch back the Top 14 final, his first clearance kick is a box-kick over the top of the ruck and out of play.

This is unique because most kickers will go out to the side when they box-kick.

Antoine Dupont kicking

Antoine Dupont kicks for Toulouse (Getty Images)

It’s about how you are taught and most step to the side to kick from a ruck. If you watch Antoine Dupont kicking though, he gets the ball to his foot very quickly because he is so powerful and doesn’t need to give himself that space.

Now, there’s a bit more about the technique here. When teams box-kick to contest, the nine will step out to the side and possibly take a step back too, to make it easier – this is because you are kicking it up high. By contrast, people generally get charged down on exit kicks, because the trajectory of the kick is lower. Stepping out to the side for those clearance kick increases the chances of being charged down.

If you kick over the ruck, like Dupont does, it takes that away. His power makes it easier for him, as we’ve mentioned, but others might want to create a ‘caterpillar ruck’ in order for them to be further away from the opposition side of the ruck and give them more distance to clear.

Caterpillar ruck

An example of a caterpillar ruck (Getty Images)

Of course, it’s worth noting that it is for Toulouse that Dupont will kick longer and out more often. Things may be slightly different for France.

Where on the pitch does he kick over the ruck?

This is all about Dupont’s smarts. He’s clearly thought about how to take the opposition locks at the side of the ruck out of the equation.

Generally, Dupont kicks over the ruck on his left side, with the touchline on the left. Because when you pull the ball back, it’s just a straight line over the ruck – whereas if he did so with his right foot, curving it around himself to hook it over to the left-hand touchline, we could see the ball head back into play. Again this is his smarts, as he eliminates the risk.

For players without his power, technique or ability to use both feet, you could set up a caterpillar, then you could kick it across the ruck. However, everyone is determined to make the game quicker and the pressure is on to use the ball as soon as possible. In the past, you’ve seen teams amble around and take their time to set up the caterpillar. Those days are doomed.

you might ask: ‘Why doesn’t everyone go over the ruck for every kick’? You’ll rarely want to go over the ruck for a contestable kick because those box-kicks go straight up – you aren’t looking for distance. Of course the wind can come into this too. There are so many variables!

If the wind is strong and going a certain way, you can kick across the ruck and account for that. But generally the best option is kicking long over the ruck, because the trajectory is lower. You shouldn’t be charged on a contestable kick, unless you really step out and forward. Look at Dupont: He takes as many variable out of the equation as he can.

Teaching box-kicking technique

This is my opinion, but I think scrum-halves are generally taught how to box-kick wrong. They are taught to kick with the ball starting almost right on top of their planted front foot. At least that’s my experience, and I’ve completely changed how I approach this.

John Cooney box

Box set-ups (provided by John Cooney)

Here’s an analogy to explain why there can be a better way. If you are hitting a volley in football, your planted front foot is slightly behind the ball so you can get the trajectory and hip rotation through your kicking leg. For box-kicking if you want maximum height, velocity, and power, you also want to give yourself a little distance between you and the ball. Check out the example above, with Aaron Smith and myself.

Essentially, when I come through a kick, it’s like a volley. The other way can mean you have to pull the ball past your planted front foot, then out to the side, and then you’re kicking around yourself and with the whole body aiming straight up. You’ll have heard football commentators talk about leaning back when a player skies a volley. Well in my experience that’s how scrum-halves can be taught.

What you should do is give yourself half a yard of more room to head back, so you can come forward through the kick. In doing this, I’ve found it has given me way more hang-time and velocity if it’s an exit kick, because I can put more power through it. Yes, there are plenty of great operators using the closer pick-up, and I’ll use that technique if it’s windy as it slightly cuts down the time to connect with the ball. But I’ve seen better results giving myself that step back, and actually it takes me half a yard further away from those trying to charge me down.

That’s just my experience, of course, and I’m sure others can contest that. However, I’ve seen plenty of nines sky it straight up in the air kicking the other way.

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