Sam Larner talks to Helena Rowland about her inspired break in the Premier 15s
The Intercept: Loughborough Try Against Saracens
In this series, Rugby World talks to those involved in big moments in matches to find out the detail involved – the hows and the whys.
When we looked at Racing’s try for our first Intercept and Cardiff’s try in the last edition, we were looking at tries that came from turnovers either at set-pieces or breakdowns. They provide a great opportunity to attack against a disjointed defence.
In this Intercept, we look at a wonder try by England and Loughborough Lightning’s Helena Rowland against Saracens in the Allianz Premier 15s. Although this try didn’t come from a turnover, strictly, it did come from a poor kick. This presented Loughborough with the same broken field you would find from a turnover.
“In that particular situation, I remember seeing a lot of space out wide to attack and an opportunity to get to the opposite edge,” says Rowland. “They were already under pressure from the kick and there was a good broken-field picture to run at and take them on.”
The ability to scan, or look for options, is what ultimately creates space. If you can see a defensive weakness before you receive the ball, then you can go and run at it. If you have to catch the pass, then look up and find a hole, it will have disappeared before you get there.
“We try to make one pass off a turnover or a kick so that the receiver can make a decision about whether to bounce back or continue to go open. It is easier when you are not catching the ball from the kick, because it gives you some more time to spot the doglegs in defence and find seams to run into.”
Something you are told at a young age is to let the ball do the work and not to run sideways. Like all rules, it was made to be broken, as Rowland shows here. “It depends on the defenders and in this scenario the hips were already turned thinking they had a lot of space to cover so it might have been smart to use the hands and get it to the wing.
“But I also had a lot of chat from Meg Gaffney on the wing telling me to go for it and take them on. That made the decision to run a lot easier and actually that running option is sometimes more appropriate than the straight pass.”
One of the difficulties of broken field is that it is unstructured. How do you practise something that requires a lack of structure? “We do a few kick counter games. That might be two v twos where one pair kick the ball and then that pair is defending.
“We play rugby tennis games where you can choose whether you are kicking back or running back depending on what picture the other team are showing you. That works on transitioning from catch to attack and scanning for options.”
Rugby might seem straightforward, but it is cerebral. Before unleashing your power or speed you have to know where you are unleashing it to. That requires scanning, either from yourself or from those around you. Fail to do that and you’ll most likely find yourself running into trouble.
It might look like a simple break once Rowland has identified the seam to run into, but there is plenty of nuance within that run. The first thing to note is her ball transfers as she moves. First in two hands, then in her left, back into two when the pass might be on, then back into the left when all the defenders are on her right.
She explains that process: “It is important to try to keep the ball as far from the defender and make it easier to hand off. Running with the ball in two hands forces the defenders to think a bit more about whether you are going to pass. That buys you a little bit more time to make a decision and then I transferred the ball to the outside arm when I decided to run.
“Naturally, playing fly-half, I tend to carry the ball in two hands but just because it is in one doesn’t mean I have lost the ability to pass it. I could still offload out of one hand.”
Players are often wary about being greedy. They don’t want to deprive a better placed team-mate of the ball by running themselves. As Rowland explains though, this is often the wrong mindset: “Whatever decision you make, you just have to commit to it.
“When you get caught in two minds about running or passing that is when you have problems. If you commit to the run, then you will get an outcome, whether that is the try or a dominant collision. That is the most important thing.
“If you make the wrong decision, I talk to the players afterwards and have that conversation about what information they were giving me and hopefully we can clear that up and execute better next time.”
As a fly-half, Rowland’s carrying ability make her difficult to defend. If you expect her to pass, she can make you look very silly with her feet but if you go all in to stop her you make her distribution more of a weapon. Tries like this just go to add more doubt into the minds of defenders.
This try might look like a bit of individual brilliance, and that is true. But there is a lot more to it. There is the early scanning to see the defensive picture and understand how to exploit it. Then there is the team-mate communication helping Rowland to make her decision. Once the break is made, we can see those intricate little details in the ball transition that help to keep the ball alive and out of harm’s way.
Now, you might not have a Helena Rowland in your side, but you can still copy these key elements and increase the number of transition tries you score.
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