Kicking and scheming

Jonathan Davies says Britain must learn from the thrills and skills of Brive
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The Independent Online
When Brive ran off with the Heineken European Cup last weekend they left behind much more than just a memory of the finest exhibition of club rugby most of us have ever seen. They left some uncomfortable questions about the British approach to the game that we must answer quickly if we are to avoid a French take-over of this great new tournament.

Brive didn't only take Leicester by surprise - they shocked the lot of us. After the way Leicester demolished Toulouse in the semi-finals they were entitled to think highly of their chances, and very few of us doubted their right to do so. We had managed to convince ourselves that the French teams left a lot behind when they travelled out of France. It was an easy mistake to make - especially by those of us at Llanelli and Cardiff who experienced at first hand the enormous advantage Brive gained from playing at home - but we're not likely to make it again.

Brive realised that they would suffer the same fate as Toulouse if they allowed themselves to get involved in a slow, methodical game. So they tore into action from the start and for the rest of the match lived off the early impact made by their forwards.

I don't think Leicester defended very well. Llanelli and Cardiff coped better despite the fact we were both playing away. Perhaps we were more prepared for the onslaught. Leicester looked as if they were caught cold by the pace of the Brive attacks and the depth their backs were coming from.

But although the memory is full of Brive's brilliant running, we can learn a lot from the way they used the kick as an attacking weapon. They had an array of kickers among their backs, including a left-footer for certain situations, who could punt the ball long and accurately.

We suffer a lack of backs who can kick the ball competently. Some of them can be relied upon to find touch when they are under pressure in defence but they struggle to kick the ball constructively. Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott are good kickers, but they don't use this ability often enough.

We seem to be conditioned to having only one or two attacking kickers in the team and the job usually falls to the outside-half. But that makes it all so predictable and easier to defend against. If the ball is whipped along the line for someone else to kick, the advancing defenders leave so much more room behind them for a clever kicker to exploit.

The Brive outside-half, Alain Penaud, hardly seemed to kick at all - he didn't need to because there were players outside him quite capable of using the option when the time was right. I noticed this was a big feature of the Australians' game when they played Wales in December. They had some real boomers and, of course, David Campese is a brilliant kicker. Every back worth his salt should be working on his kicking from now on.

The amount of kicking Brive did surprised Leicester because they felt the French side would not want to face too many line-outs against Martin Johnson. But Brive had worked out exactly how to combat Johnson and were quite happy to belt long touch-finders.

The other glaring lesson was for those who think the flat three-quarter line is a vital part of modern rugby. The theory is that you get to the advantage line quicker which, of course, you do. But the Brive backs couldn't have been less flat - their line was pointing nearer to their goalposts than the touch line.

When Leicester are defending in club matches over here, their centres are in the faces of their opponents almost as soon as they get the ball. But Brive's backs were running from deep, taking passes at full speed when they were still 12 or 15 yards away from their defenders. It meant they had far more options to bamboozle Leicester.

And by coming from deep they could vary their angles to add to the confusion. There is space in any team's plans for a flat back-line, but the game showed how vital it is to be able to vary your play. It all springs from being comfortable with the ball, and that comes from working with it more and developing our techniques. Brive offered us lessons we would be foolish to ignore.