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Coaches in any sport will say that playing to your strengths is key to getting the best from your players and building a successful team. Rugby players in the US usually have a lot more game time in other sports which is seen as a negative but instead of viewing this as a disadvantage those crossover skills can become assets if used wisely.
This weekend saw a timely reminder of that when the rarely used one handed hooker’s throw at the lineout was given a new twist by Steven Luatua. The Auckland Blues loose forward was playing for the Barbarians (also known as the ‘Baa Baas’) against the Wallabies at Twickenham and chose to put his American Football training to good use and throw a spiral pass virtually the width of the field.
Yes that was the no 8 throwing into the lineout.
The choice of thrower and the throw itself caught the opposition by surprise and had the catch been made by the no 11 Nick Cummins it would have given the Barbarian’s a great position on the field from which to strike.
Commenting on Twitter after the game Luatua said "That was fun but then again @Barbarian_FC weeks always are. Il leave over arm throws for Tom Brady."
The quarterback style throw from the Barbarians first lineout was a bold move from Luatua but one that had his coach John Kirwan’s blessing.
“He played a bit of American Football at School and when he threw the ball like that at training I said you better bring that out.”
That’s a refreshing if unorthodox approach by a coach and one that could give your team a competitive edge if you are prepared to experiment.
To put the move in context, the Barbarians are a scratch team that showcases the best players in the world in matches with the leading nations to help raise money for good causes and promote the values of the game. The match up against the Australians could be viewed as a friendly but in a World Cup year both sides had something to prove and this was a real contest. Baa-Baa players like Luatua were looking to claim places in the national squads, while the Aussie side had been underperforming recently and in their first game under new Coach Michael Cheika they were looking to make a statement.
The history of the Barbarians is littered with examples like Luatua’s and these flair moments and little pockets of brilliance which have become known as ‘champagne rugby’ have given the game some of their greatest highlights. See my match report on the ‘The Barbarians, The All Blacks, and that Try” from the 1973 clash with the Kiwis as just one example.
This was a great game, not only for the 11 tries, but for moments like this that we can all learn from. I would encourage players and coaches to watch what rugby played with freedom is like and to take some of that spirit into their training and matches.
It’s worth bearing in mind this is a player confident in his abilities and on top of his skills and not a licence for individuals to show boat. There are opportunities in any game to try the unexpected so get creative and play to your players strengths.
(Gavin Hickie coaches Dartmouth Men.)