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7s Shield Winners

Essential of Sevens Success Part 2 by the Dartmouth Men’s Coach, Gavin Hickie

Last month we focused on building the squad, coaching the skills and preparing players physically and mentally for the challenge of Sevens. In Part 2 we’ll talk tactics, highlight common mistakes, and how to play to your potential on game day.

Sevens Strategy

Possession of the ball is the key to success in 7s. Deciphering how to win the ball, maintain it and score tries encompasses the attacking tactics of rugby 7s. In a perfect world, a team will look to be in possession of the ball for the entire game. While this may be the ideal, it is not realistic to focus solely on attack. The best 7s teams throughout the country and the world, are comfortable defending and can identify opportunities to win back possession of the ball by isolating opposition attackers.

The anomaly to this is Fiji. The Fijians have possession of the ball, less then every other team but statistically, they are the most clinical team on the IRB World Series, scoring a try approximately every 45 seconds per possession. Most Fijian tries come from turnovers, where their physicality, speed and support play tends to outsmart fractured defences.

Also, uncovered by the IRB 7s analytical team, is the statistic that the most successful 7s teams on the circuit, pass less and take the ball into contact more. The idea behind this is to suck defenders into the breakdown and create space after multiple phases. While this is proving to be extremely effective, it means that teams must be proficient at winning rucks. In turn, this means that there must be players with good rucking skills within the 7s squad. 

Due to the large space on the field, by virtue of playing with 7 players, there are many attacking opportunities. Teams with the ball, will usually look to do one of two things. Create an attacking overlap, in a 3v2, 2v1 situation. This opportunity is usually presented in the wider channels of the pitch. The idea is to create space for the fastest players on the pitch, namely wings.

The second option is to play direct and take the ball into contact, committing defenders to the breakdown and either offloading during the tackle, or create an overlap in the next phase. 

Common Mistakes

The IRB Coaching website identifies these, among others, as the most common mistakes:

  • Aligning with insufficient depth so players have to slow down and reach back to receive a pass.
  • Supporting across the field rather than providing linear support from directly behind the ball carrier.
  • Bunching on attack to assist the ball carrier only to concede the ball and be beaten on the flanks.
  • Going alone and becoming isolated.
  • Committing too many players to win ruck or maul ball. It is better to commit 1 or 2 players and if the ball is won there are numbers to attack and if not numbers to defend

We can see from these points that one of the biggest issues in attack is lack of depth. As rugby players, we need to trust ourselves and believe that we can act as a support runner while maintaining depth from the ball carrier. In training, keep an eye on your players creep forward in drills or in game situations. Depth in 7s attack is extremely important. If a player can receive the ball, attacking from depth and without breaking stride, he will be very difficult to stop.

Another point from the IRB website worth noting is getting isolated in attack by running away from your teammates. There is a fine line between making ground and going too far. Patience is a virtue and this is particularly relevant in 7s. Keeping the ball and staying connected with teammates is the way to break down defences. While it is largely the responsibility of the support players to ensure the ball carrier does not get turned over, the ball carrier also has the responsibility of making sure he does not run away from his support and into the waiting arms of the defence.

Game Day

You’ve got your best team, they are fit and ready, strategy is locked down, you are good to go. How do you ensure all your good work goes rewarded?

Sevens competitions are relentless and can be extremely cruel. In the CRC last year, Dartmouth won against Arizona in seconds remaining. While we were on top of the world after that game, the roles were reversed against UCLA, who beat us deep into stoppage time in the quarter final and advanced to play against eventual Champions Cal in the semi-finals.

With pool games and then play offs for positions you can expect 6 or more competitive games spread over two days. In the build-up you will have done everything you can to prepare for the matches but the time between games is also a factor in how the team performs.


  • Warm up and cool down. In the elation of the moment, teams can overlook their cool down. It is imperative to manage this, as anything that can aid your players’ recovery in between games can be vital in your quest for success.
  • Rest time for recovery is key so include down time on the schedule, 15mins will help to recharge body and mind.
  • Prepare a meal plan in advance with nutritious meals, snacks and hydration spread across the weekend at optimum times for players to fuel their performance.
  • At the stadium, find a place away from the crowds where the team can spend down time together. Be prepared in good time for your match so no extra stress rushing to the field.