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A quick read of what happened in the Six Nations, which mirrors the state of affairs in world rugby, shows a certain downward trend in the punt possession ratio.
Or, what amounts to the same: whenever a team has control of the ball, they either play moderately using their foot or use it when pressed by their defensive situation.
The statement stems from comparing the 2019-21 triennium with the 2022 edition, where – apart from Scotland and Italy – all teams reduced the kicking possession ratio.
This could be attributed to many reasons, from the implementation of game plans based on accelerating the transfer of the ball, such as those in Ireland or France, to a greater demand for spectacle and entertainment from supporters, in particular television.
I like to think that the game has changed and continues to change quietly at every club and every academy.
Eddie Jones’ England, for example, should have made way for a more expansive game with greater control of the game in all its phases. Even South Africa, accustomed to the aerial game, had to adapt their intensity to take the advantage against the All Blacks during the last Rugby Championship.
When it comes to Super Rugby Pacific, Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua, the two recent additions to the competition, rarely use footwork as their primary attacking weapon. But we have some differences between them, depending on the relationship between their game plan and possession of the ball and occupying territory.
Moana Pasifika retained the services of experienced Christian Lealiifano, monopolizing the use of kicks to average 14 kicks per game.
Lealiifano’s stability in the position of playmaker contributed to the development of a foot-oriented game like that of the Drua, who varied the men without consolidating the position of playmaker and this is reflected in an average of eight kicks per game.
I had previously speculated that part of the DNA of Pacific teams would focus on physical play and control in midfield. Today, this characteristic is almost unique to Drua, as Moana showed, even in their win over the Hurricanes, a tendency to play expansively and manage territorial threat through kicks.
The clip below shows Drua’s options for moving out of their own court into the opponent’s, where they prefer the route of physical contact before contesting a line into the opponent’s court.
Undoubtedly, Drua evaluates different reasons than Moana for implementing the kicking game, but both find themselves one step behind the strategy of chasing the ball once the kick is executed.
Fijian Drua, for example, has the second-most runs made (625) and lowest kicking possession in the Australian conference (14.1%) after six rounds. This is the true DNA of the Drua, since I was able to meet them during their participation in the NRC in Australia.
As I said before, the game is constantly adapting and changing and variations with the use of the foot are no exception.