The support player has a crucial role to play in attack. Without them lots of bad things can happen to the team in possession. Once the ball carrier is tackled the attacking team cannot go forward without support. Worse still, without support the ball carrier will lose possession.
When on attack any player not in possession must consider themselves as support players. On essence there are 14 support players with the ball carrier. Obviously the players nearest to the ball carrier are the most important support players. But even players further away from the ball must work to get into support positions to anticipate the ball being passed to them at some point during the attack.
If the players furthest from the ball fail to adopt a good support position they will not be in a position to attack and advance the ball if and when it is passed to them. If the ball is not passed to them but kicked as part of the attack they must be in a support position to chase the kick. Therefore, not being in the immediate vicinity of the ball still requires a player to take up a support position. (We will discuss this topic at a later date when we address “Stock Shapes”)
For those players near the ball their support is crucial to the advancement of the ball. Ideally the support player is close enough to the ball carrier to take a pass before the ball carrier goes into contact. Ideally this is a later pass as in the case of an overlap situation i.e. 2 V 1 or a “Pop Pass” to a support player supporting the ball carrier from behind.
This is the most efficient way of advancing the ball, as there is a risk of losing possession when going into contact and the defence has greater difficulty defending if the ball is passes before contact. (See “Continuity” – Part 2)
If support is not readily available in time the ball carrier may have to go into contact. When the ball carrier goes into contact the nearest support player should be in position to receive an offload pass from the ball carrier if the ball carrier creates the opportunity for an offload. This is the next most efficient way, apart from passing before contact, of advancing and retaining the ball.
On most occasions the player receiving the offload supports the ball carrier from directly behind. They run into the space the ball carrier creates by dragging the defender to the left or right before executing the offload. If the support player decides to support the ball carrier on one particular side, either left or right, they run the risk of not being able to exploit the offload opportunity if it arises. (See “Continuity – Parts 3 & 4)
If the ball carrier cannot offload the 3 support players nearest the ball carrier are crucial in retaining possession at what will become the Tackle/Ruck area. This area is traditionally known as the “Breakdown” as the ball is no longer advanced and there is usually a contest for the ball at the ruck.
Support players roles are crucial at the Tackle/Ruck and a lack of support or inefficient support immediately puts possession at risk. Of course the ball carrier must player their part in retaining possession in the tackle and presenting the ball in an effective and efficient way for their support. (See “Tackle/Ruck Transition – Part 2)
The remaining support players must know their roles, based on the order in which they arrive at the Tackle/Ruck and execute them efficiently. If they fail to execute efficiently there is a risk the ball will be turned over or another support player will be required to fill one of the roles that was poorly executed. That results in more support player being required to secure possession, which leads to slower ruck ball and leaves fewer attackers available for the next attack. (See Tackle/Ruck Transition – Parts 3, 4 & 5)
So, good support play is a combination of being readily available to assist the ball carrier, running the correctly timed support line and executing the appropriate role accurately on arrival to the ball.
Other than that there’s nothing to it!!