The process of preparation since I turned professional has evolved significantly. One of a number of major evolutions has been the increased use of video as a study tool, which has now become crucial in taking the field and being fully prepared to play.
Embracing this evolution, and being a student of the game is something that has allowed me to deepen my understanding of the game of Rugby Union no end. But, just watching a video is very different from analysing the divine detail within it.
The important thing is to actually understand what is happening on screen and how that translates to the heat of battle, to be able to execute in those moments. For anyone aspiring to become a professional athlete in any sport, being comfortable interacting with footage of yourself in action and then receiving feedback is an important element to any progression you are able to make. It’s now a regular part of daily practice.
Another benefit of the use of video is developing a clear understanding of an opposition. In my case and due to my preferred position, their defensive structure, areas of strength and areas of weakness, and where subsequent opportunities lie in between (from an attack perspective) are the areas I enjoy focusing on. This type of valuable information wouldn’t be easy to obtain without the use of video because it allows for the discussion of the most effective method to exploit identified areas and develop clear plans.
For me, it’s behavioural habits I look for the most when I’m studying video. From my experience playing and time accumulated analysing video, you begin to build mental pictures in your mind about the infinite situations the game puts you in and importantly act as a guide for me to positively influence different scenarios. These mental images serve as a valuable aid to me in terms of my decision-making, and as Sun Tzu is famously quoted “know thy enemy, know thyself”.
Using video to identify specific types of defensive habits that can influence my decision making, for example, defenders who man watch, defenders who turn their shoulders in compromised situations, or defenders who become too passive too quickly provides me the cues and subjective information I need to give me the best chance to make the best decisions possible at any given moment.
Rugby Union’s close cousin Rugby League has also been a constant source of learning for me over a number of years. The observational trends that can be made by watching Rugby League have positively influenced elements of my approach to Rugby Union.
In 2012 I had the fortune of training with Andrew Johns, one of Rugby League’s greatest coaching minds. Ever since my time in Melbourne, I regularly watch Rugby League as a way to learn and pick up new ideas.
By studying video, you are able to understand the detail behind how players and teams run effective attacking play which often sparks ideas for things that could translate to Rugby Union. By analysing the smallest but important details for how Rugby League’s best attackers manipulate and deceive defenders, for example with eye movement or hip and shoulder positioning, inspires me to practice similar concepts for my own game.
One example is a type of kick that I was picking apart by Cooper Cronk. His ability to deceive the defence into thinking he was about to put on a chip kick or running play was observable in the detail of his body shape. His shoulders and hips remained square through the strike of the ball but on ball contact, he came across his body, kicking into the least expected spot and effectively manipulating the opposition’s defence with disguise.
Throughout my career, I’ve always found that when I’ve gained a clear understanding of the opposition by analysing video, I’m able to step onto the field with confidence because I’ve seen the pictures a thousand times before I’ve lived them.
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