Jonathan Davies: How to make the best of both worlds

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was an excellent idea for the England rugby union squad to spend three days training with the Leeds Rhinos rugby league team last week. From what I hear, both sets of players have benefited greatly from the experience.

It was an excellent idea for the England rugby union squad to spend three days training with the Leeds Rhinos rugby league team last week. From what I hear, both sets of players have benefited greatly from the experience.

Just because the codes are separate games and are never likely to merge, it doesn't mean that they can't learn from each other.

Since going professional, union seems to have gained much more from league than vice versa. Indeed, I've heard it said that union has nothing from which a league club like Leeds can benefit.

That's wrong. For a start, Leeds have gained a lot in profile from England's visit. For the world champions of union to go to a league club on a learning mission is in itself a massive compliment and I admire the England coach, Andy Robinson, for organising the visit.

It shows great respect for league and you can't over-estimate the boost it will give the Leeds players in advance of their meeting with Canterbury for the world club crown. I'm sure Robinson chose Leeds because of their success last year and the attractive, attacking way they played.

Firstly, training can be so repetitive that for him to have introduced something as novel and interesting will help his preparations for the Six Nations. Secondly, he would have been most interested in exposing his men to the skills that make Leeds so incisive in attack.

Much of what union have learned from league so far has concerned defence. This influence has helped in tightening up defences at club and international levels. What they are lacking now is the key to unlocking those defences - and that's another expertise they can get from league. League got them into this situation and now can get them out of it.

It is worth remembering when praising the penetration power of league that having four fewer players on the park makes a massive difference.

The pitch dimensions are the same, so if you put two extra men in each league defensive line the room they have would be substantially reduced. Nevertheless, league players still have the edge in breaking defensive lines. They are able to spend more time practising the art because they don't have to bother with drills like scrums, line-outs, rucks and mauls. They can spend much more time on handling skills that give a greater depth and width to their moves.

They can vary their passes so much better than union players. That and their running-lines and angles, their tighter support play and their better awareness of when a line-break is coming would have been invaluable for England to study.

Union can even learn from league's play-the-ball. The quicker you perform them the more likely you are to catch out defences. It's the same in union; if you hit quickly and clear out rucks before the defence is organised you give yourself more options in attack.

What could Leeds have learned from union at the same time? Kicking, certainly. One thing that the Great Britain team were poor at in the last few matches against Australia was out-of-hand and tactical kicking.

Union kickers are far better kickers of the ball and have a greater awareness of space. Union would make much more capital out of 40-20 kicks. Scrums have become a no-go area in league. They're a formality, a joke even. But scrums could become a useful attacking tool in league.

If you plant your feet and set a steady scrum like they do in union, a league team can achieve a lot from a scrum. When I played for Widnes I can remember a Bradford scrum pushing Widnes right off the ball and they caused havoc.

If you can turn a scrum so that the loose forward and the second row are pushed away from your attacking backs, it opens up all sorts of prospects. Instead of accepting the scrum as a shambles, they would gain from union if they used it as an innovative attacking tool.

There is so much that can be done by studying the other code. Not much could have been gained in three days, but just spending that time together has planted seeds that can lead to improvement in both camps.

Comments