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Coach Hickie

(Gavin Hickie is the head coach of the Collegiate All-Americans and Dartmouth Men.)

In the second part of the series of articles outlining the criteria for players for the AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American program I want to outline the qualities the coaching team is looking for in the Backs.

In the first article I made it clear we want players who have established levels of core skills, a proven aptitude in their chosen position and the potential to build on these strong foundations. This is not about players who have made one or two key plays in a season. These are players who have consistently delivered and shown progression, and those who have an appetite for the work required to reach the standards demanded for international level.

In my role as head coach of the AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans, I will be working with our Backs Coach Greg McWilliams of Yale and the Eagle Eye Scout Network to identify the players to challenge for places in positions 9-15.

“This is a great time for American Rugby. From the outset, our mission is to find players that we see projecting onto the national senior squad, and in turn, competing for places at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the 2020 Olympics, and beyond.”

“We are looking for players who not only possess the key essential skills to perform effectively in their specific positions, but also have the intelligence and understanding required to make a significant contribution within the unit, and the collective. A player’s drive and ambition is the secret to success at an elite level, that is the individual that we are searching for. Having the ability to take on board information is a key ingredient for that player, and essential, in order to continue along USA Rugby’s development pathway”, said Coach McWilliams

“Already from the NTC’s we are identifying potential players who had not previously been on the radar, and that alone is exciting as we look to develop an extended group of players with potential to grow, as we strive to produce a competitive squad that share one common goal, to become a winning Eagle, and more importantly, who have the work ethic to make that happen.”  

Backs’ Responsibilities

The Back’s feed off the ball provided by their forwards , reading the game and taking their chances to gain momentum and score. They must display the core skills of pass, catch, kick, run, tackle, and support consistently and accurately to perform their roles. It is easy to focus on the players’ responsibilities in attack, but as they are often the last line of defense the backs must make their tackles.

The place kicker is usually a back but can be any player on the team and they have the added pressure of the specialized skill of kicking for points from conversions and penalty kicks.

What we are looking for

  • Exceptional abilities in the specialist skills required for your position
  • Self-motivated mindset and appetite to develop as a player
  • Match performances which show progression in your role and the ability to execute under pressure

Skills required for all Back Positions

  • Distribution skills: variety of passes and kicks, ability to catch a high ball and to offload.
  • Run: very quick off the mark, excellent footwork, change of pace, ability to fix defenders, ability to run aggressive and intelligent attack & support lines
  • Defense: ability to tackle larger athletes in tight situations, maintain line speed and defensive width, defend in isolation, in open-field and provide back-up
  • Ground skills: ability to present the ball at breakdown, poaching skills
  • Scanning: Constantly aware of what is in front of you and around you in attack and defens



Speed, agility and strength are all required to evade opponents or perform in defense.

Technically (key skills for each position)

Scrum half

  • Game management & intelligence
  • Ability to carry multiple passing skills (short/medium/ wide)
  • Effective Leadership ability to generate player cohesion
  • Effective kicking technique (contestable & exit kicks)
  • Decision making under pressure

Fly half

  • Game management & intelligence
  • Decision making under pressure
  • an awareness of space
  • Effective Leadership
  • Distribution skills off either side
  • Kicking ability (what type of kick & why)


  • Game awareness & depth understanding
  • Decision making under pressure
  • Distribution skills off wither side
  • Effective Evasion skills and speed
  • Defense understanding and effective technique


  • Effective Evasion skills and speed
  • Work rate and hunger
  • Distribution and gain line awareness
  • Defense understanding and effective technique in the wide channels

Full Back

  • Game management & intelligence
  • Efficiency under a high ball
  • Counter Attacking abilities and awareness of space
  • Defense understanding and effective technique in the wide channels


Scanning the field and making decisions under pressure, Backs have to be alert to any opportunities that may arise.