I can’t help but question things. It’s part of my nature. I’m not sure whether that’s being inquisitive or whether I have an issue with authority (thanks Kurt Haggerty and Mrs O’Connor, both who have questioned this!). I’d like to think I’m inquisitive. That’s why when I was recently offered a position to help launch Calderdale College’s new rugby academy, I was intrigued.
The college runs Halifax RLFC’s Category 3 Rugby League Academy (category 3 being an academy in an educational establishment). However, with the split of Rugby League and Rugby Union in Calderdale being around the 50/50 mark, it seemed only prudent to open the programme up to the 50% that were being overlooked.
As I’ve previously mentioned in another post (The joining of the codes…), I believe that there are massive gains to be made by those that embrace both codes. There is a lot to be learned from each other and I see no reason why players can’t play both (as some regularly do). So why split an academy into separate League and Union ventures?
Hence, the joint academy idea was born. The skill sets are same – we both tackle and pass. We both kick and step, we both attack and defend. Kill the space in defence, exploit the space in attack. Catch, run, talk, visualise. It’s the same game with different rules.
So why not have an academy where players can flourish playing both codes? And then throw into that a 7’s programme at the end of the season and you all of a sudden have an all-rounded player! So here’s the basic plan – train and play both codes during the winter season (September to March / April), some league games, some friendlies – but looking at developing players through a mixture of strength and conditioning, skills and fitness training, analysis and psychology. And then enter a series of 7’s competitions at the end of the season. These will mostly be Union 7’s but I think this is ideal for Rugby League players as the minimal rucking and speed of the game would help the League players adjust. In this period, it’s just skills, skills, skills. Develop handling, develop awareness, develop precision under pressure, develop kicking (even though the voice in your head says never kick in sevens!).
Add into this an educational programme – where players can achieve a BTEC in Sport – and I can’t think of anything I would have enjoyed more when I was 16 or 17. Training and playing in an environment where, when you are not studying, you are involved in the rugby academy process.
The great thing about the academy at Calderdale College is that it gives players a professional training regime in an outstanding facility that also provides them with vocational skills during their 2 year residency. The players get to ‘train’ everyday (which encompasses recovery sessions, analysis, field work, classroom work, gym etc etc) alongside their studies whilst also completing courses such as level 1 / level 2 coaching, gym instruction, sports first aid and other external courses that the college run.
By using the partnerships that they have with Halifax RLFC and Huddersfield RUFC, the players get professional coaching and development whilst opening up real player pathways into professional and semi-professional rugby. It really is a win-win all round!
So what’s the down-side? There’s always a down-side isn’t there? Well, no, not that I can see. When we discussed the requirements of the academy, the college were adamant that at the end of the two years, the players should have a vocational qualification with practical experience of the industry that they are studying in. I wanted to make sure that a player who enters the academy is a better all-round player who understands all aspects and is a student of the game itself! I think by having players such as this, it breaks down the stigma between codes, it produces players who know why certain skills and tactics work and not just players who do things because they have been drilled into doing things. I also genuinely hope that I can coach players who are intelligent enough to start using skills learned from one code in the other.
I’ll expand on this a bit because it’s a bit of a passion (or infatuation? I’m not sure….). Anyway, I used to sit and discuss this at great length during games when things happened with the Halifax RLFC assistant coach and all-round rugby guru Chris Rose. Rosie is very much in the same vein as me, in that he coaches, watches and is an aficionado of both codes!! We would watch as, in the last quarter of a game, a team who are chasing the game would produce a short kick off which inevitably they would win back. We would look at each and shake our heads. Now, I’ve looked into this in a very unscientific way of watching some short kick offs and I reckon from the 30 or so that I’ve seen, it’s about 50/50 as to whether they come off. There are two aspects to this that I feel are genuine points. Defensively – if you are receiving the catch, practice receiving short kick offs!! It happens a lot in Union so it’s well practiced but what about if you improvise a bit…..
Have players stand a little closer together on the front line and then if there’s a short kick off get a bit of a lift. The chasing players can’t touch you in the air and you’ll be a foot above everyone else. Safe catch and either offload or take the tackle. Short kick off diffused and I wouldn’t think you see the opposing team use it again.
And use it when kicking off! When Toronto played Keighley in League 1 earlier this year, Keighley kicked 9 out 10 kick offs short. They won 5 back. That’s 55%. The result from the 4 they didn’t get? Well, a knock back from Toronto which led to a scrambling attack, which led to the first tackle on or around the 20 to 30m mark. Not much different than if they had kicked long and allowed Fui Fui Moi Moi to run at them. And it stopped the wide shift attack. So is it a good strategy? definitely in my eyes.
Pushing in the scrum in League? The long drop out in Union? League have started using scrum plays and Union have started using lead runners and ‘out the back’ plays. It’s all getting closer and closer.
Who knows, the split back in 1895 could even be reversed…