The goal of kicking in rugby is to gain territory. Good kicks put the opposition under pressure and the best kicks allow the kicking team to regain possession.
Poor kicks give possession back to the opposition and lets them counterattack.
This article looks at the different types of kicking in rugby. There may be more than you think!
The punt is the most common kick from hand in rugby. The technique allows plenty of length to the kick.
The player holds the ball out in front with two hands and drops it. Dropping it at a distance from the body means that the kicking leg can take a full swing.
When the kicking foot strikes the ball, the other foot is planted firmly on the ground.
The player strikes with the instep of the boot and targets the middle widest part of the ball. The player “kicks through” the ball, keeping their head down and shoulders bent forward.
This gives maximum power to the punt.
Notice how the player keeps his eyes on the ball in the above picture.
The spiral kick is a little more difficult to master. The goal is to make the ball spin or spiral as it travels through the air.
The spin reduces air resistance. This makes the ball travel further and flatter.
The key is with the angle of the strike. Instead of kicking through the middle of the ball, the player gives a glancing strike with the instep.
The spiral kick is also known as the screw kick, although I hear that term less often.
If you want to spot one, look for the flyhalf or fullback kicking onto a strong wind. That’s when specialist kickers use the technique to get a few more metres than the punt would give them.
Up-And-Under / Bomb / Garryowen
These are three different terms for kicking the ball high into the air. The goal is to give time for teammates to rush forward and compete to catch the ball.
“Up-and-under” and “bomb” are quite descriptive of the technique, but you may be wondering about “Garryowen”.
The Garryowen Rugby Football Club in Ireland was known in the 1920s for kicking the ball high into opposition territory and rushing forward. You still hear the term used in Ireland and Britain.
The kicking technique is as we described for the punt. The difference is that the ball is angled to fly higher into the air.
The grubber is a much shorter punt with a low trajectory. The ball skids and bobbles across the ground.
This requires less skill. And because of the shape of the rugby ball, it’s less easy to be accurate with the direction.
It can be a good tactical move for the scrumhalf or flyhalf to kick a grubber through the defensive line for centres to run on to it.
The defenders have to turn to chase back, and the kicker’s teammates may have the advantage.
But elite defenders are usually wise to this and extend their feet to try and block the ball. If a grubber rebounds back behind the kicker, this can be a big disadvantage.
Dribbling The Ball
If you’re familiar with soccer, you’ll know that dribbling involves making frequent light taps of the ball to push it forward while retaining control of the direction.
Because of the shape of the rugby ball, this is not common in rugby. It’s far more difficult to control where a ball is going on the ground.
However, you’ll see it happen when a player has chased a long kick and the ball is on the ground near the opposition try line.
If a defender is close to the chaser, then it can be better to toe the ball forward instead of picking it up. Once the ball is over the try line, the chaser can fall on it to claim the ball.
A few gentle toe pokes are the equivalent of dribbling in soccer.
The Hack Forward
Hacking refers to taking a big swing at a ball on the ground. Unlike the grubber, the goal is to get a lot of distance from the kick.
Usually, it’s better to pick up a loose ball or even fall on it to regain possession. However, there are some circumstances when a hack is a right choice.
In wet conditions, attempting to pick up the ball can result in a fumble or knock-on.
Falling on the ball won’t be useful if there are no teammates around to help secure possession. If a player is isolated, then hacking forward can be safer.
The chip kick is a delicate strike that just goes high enough to clear the raised arms of the opposition players.
The goal is to keep it short enough that the kicker or a teammate can race forward and catch the ball before it hits the ground.
This can be very effective against a flat defensive line. The advantage over a grubber is that there isn’t the risk that the ball rebounds off opposition feet.
The disadvantage is that a covering defender (e.g. the fullback) could catch the ball first and launch a counterattack.
The “wiper” refers to how windshield wipers on your car go from side to side.
The goal is to angle a punt diagonally against the direction of play.
If the attacking team has run a backline move from left to right, the defending team will naturally gravitate towards one side of the field. You may see the scrumhalf or flyhalf put in a wiper kick toward the other side of the field.
The defending winger may have moved infield, leaving a lot of grass to cover. The best outcome is when the defenders can’t reach a bouncing infield ball before it bobbles over the sideline.
The cross kick or “cross-field kick” has become more prevalent in recent years.
It’s similar to the wiper but the angle is flatter. The ball is going across the field more laterally.
The goal is for an unmarked player, usually the winger, to run from behind and catch the ball without breaking stride. When executed well, the teammate has a clear run down the sideline.
Box Kick And The “Over The Shoulder” Kick
The box kick is usually executed by the scrumhalf from the base of a scrum or ruck. The picture above shows an example from behind a ruck.
The “over the shoulder” kick is also usually executed by the scrumhalf.
The goal is the same as the box kick i.e. to get the ball away from a scrum or ruck. But the kicker’s body is facing away from the opposition.
If that’s confusing, I’ve got more pictures and a full explanation of both techniques in our article on box kicking in rugby.
The drop kick involves dropping the ball and kicking it at the point that it touches the ground.
We have a separate article on drop kicks in rugby.
The tap kick is a way to restart play after a free kick or penalty has been awarded.
When a team has been awarded a penalty, the player with the ball can’t just pass the ball to a teammate to launch an attack.
If the team doesn’t want to kick the ball into touch, the person holding the ball must use the tap kick.
This involves putting the ball on the ground and tapping it with a foot. The player immediately picks it up again and launches the attack.
This happens so fast that it often seems that the player has simply crouched for a millisecond and then started running. In fact, I’ve seen eagle-eyed referees spot that no tap was made.
That’s an infringement that reverses the penalty! It will also bring a telling-off from the coaches.
When a penalty is awarded to a team, they have the option of kicking for goal by using a place kick.
The place kick involves placing the ball on the ground and kicking it.
The ball is usually angled nearly upright. Some players prefer to have it angled toward the posts and some prefer it toward their kicking foot.
Nowadays, players use a kicking tee that holds the ball in place.
Twenty years ago, you’d see them pour a cup of sand into a little pile.
Before that, they’d use the heel of their boot to hack a hole in the turf. I’m sure the groundsman cried a manly tear every time.
Different kickers have their own variations of the standard technique. The kicker places the ball, stands and then takes steps backwards.
The strike involves planting the non-kicking foot beside the ball. The player keeps his head down as his kicking leg swings through an arc.
Some players take two steps backwards and then strike the ball quickly. But this is becoming increasingly rare. Most players take further steps to the side before starting their run.