A+ R A-

Sevens Positions: Playing Hooker

Sevens is a game that one can play in any position with reasonable success at the lower levels, but as you progress it becomes a lot more specialized. Some of the information here is repeated from my article on ‘playing prop in sevens’ but it is important if reading this piece by itself.

What is required to play hooker?

Generally a hooker is one of the fittest players on the field, and possess good skills. Like prop, the hooker could be a flank, center or wing in XVs rugby. Obviously many of these statements are generalizations, but based on my own experience in sevens.

The set pieces largely involve the hooker, and are vital to the success of that position.

Kickoffs kicked: In sevens the team that scores kicks off the ball, which means the opposition has a chance to take possession. This set piece happens the most out of any other in the game, and hence is the most important. In sevens, ball position not territory, is key. Teams kick a variety of kickoffs depending on their tactics.

If a team kicks to contest the ball this means the kicker will attempt to place a high handing ball that comes down near the 10m mark. The hooker is aligned in-between his two props on the kick-off and makes sure he/she is trailing a few meters behind them. The hooker is then in an ideal position if the ball is either knocked back by the props contesting the ball in the air, or just pops out in his/her direction. If the hooker has time, this is a perfect ball to give to the scrumhalf or flyhalf, with his/her team retaining possession. If there is pressure on the hooker it is best to set up a ruck heading towards his/her props to ensure there are numbers to win the ball.

In the example below both props lead the charge for the kick-off, and the hooker trails them. The kick-off is won by one of the Australian props, who then passes to the supporting hooker. The hooker does a great
pass away from pressure to the prop, who feeds the rest of the backline. The ball is worked to one side of the field, and when it comes back, it’s brilliant interplay from the hooker and prop which leads to the eventual try. The next highlight in the clip features the north-south drive from a scrum that I mentioned in the ‘playing prop in sevens’ article. Scotland do a superb job by driving over the ball, and winning a tight head. From that possession they go 80 meters and score a fantastic try. Moments like this change the game, and highlights the importance of playing clever sevens. The final highlight in this clip features legendary England flyhalf Ben Gollings, whose outstanding support play leads to a record breaking try in IRB Sevens history, his 200th!

 


As mentioned, possession not territory is everything in sevens rugby. With this in mind, watch the clip below which features rugby minnows Hong Kong against Wales. In an amazing display Hong Kong run out from their own tryline to score the winning try, but in sevens there is often time for one more kick-off. In this scenario Hong Kong need to retain possession at all costs, and send both props with their hooker to contest for the ball. They manage to win the ball in the air, throw it to their scrumhalf, who kicks it out as they win the match! Also in this clip (2 minutes 30 seconds) there is a good example of a clean hook during the scrum, as the scrumhalf is able to feed the backline (note the deep strike, which I mention later under the scrum section).


Kickoffs received:
The hooker sometimes stands in the middle of the field near the 10m mark. He/she is directly in front of the kicker, and must be aware of a high kick to his/her spot. Samoa have used this kickoff option with amazing results. If the kickoff is deep, then the hooker runs back in support to assist his team.

Lineout’s: With the quick lineout rule it means teams can keep possession a lot easier than risk a regular lineout. However, a well-executed lineout provides a great attacking platform with the opposition defense being so far away. The hooker’s job is normally to jump in lineouts and receive the ball. Technique is very important here, keeping your core and legs straight while getting lifted. If you aren’t stable your props will usually drop you once you kick them where it hurts! A jumping lineout pod can take place in three different places: in front at the 5m mark (which is normally the safest lineout ball), in the middle of the lineout, or right at the back of the lineout. If your team has a very accurate thrower, the back of the lineout throw provides an excellent attacking opportunity. As a hooker one needs to read the situation and get into a position where you are most likely to win the ball. When receiving the ball in the air in a lineout make sure to catch the ball and not tap it back like in XVs. The scrumhalf is looping past and if possible a nicely timed throw to him/her is best. To mix things up your team may want to use a drive from a lineout, for example, when a few meters from the opposition tryline.

Scrums: When on attack the timing of putting the ball into the scrum is very important. To simplify things, the ball can be put in on the ‘engage’ call from the referee, or when the hooker signals to the scrumhalf. This signal is normally a tap on the props shoulder, closest to the scrumhalf. If the opposition are pushing early in the scrum, then a ‘tap’ call is recommended. This may also result in a penalty for your side, as teams are not allowed to push before the ball is in.The hooker needs to spend plenty of time during training on hooking the ball through his/her props leg. In this regard the hooker is hardly pushing in the scrum, but focusing on hooking the ball back as far as possible. A small hook of the ball may leave it lying right at the base of the scrum, making it very difficult for your scrumhalf to feed the backline. The opposition scrumhalf is standing right there on defense; hence the most successful hookers try hooking the ball back several meters.

In the following clip there are two examples of what I mention. Firstly the China hooker managed to get a nice deep hook for his team, and despite the scrum being driven back by Australia they keep possession and score a wonderful long-range try. Then at 1 minute 33 seconds, Scotland just barely hook the ball out of the scrum, but they manage to get away with it, as there is no pressure from New Zealand. What is important to watch is how the hooker and prop get back in depth for the second wave of attack, and in so doing create a try for one of their speedsters. Watch the lineout at 2 minute 26 seconds (which is kind of in the middle zone I spoke of) as Fiji win a nice ball for their attack. There is another scrum at 4 minute 16 seconds which almost sees England lose possession with a shallow hook. They are lucky that Ben Gollings picked up the ball and raced away, putting in an amazing kick through for Mat Turner to score.


When scrumming on defense, the hooker can attempt to hook the opposition ball (as shown in the clip below), or kick the ball through to cause disruption. Be careful of kicking it through, as some referees will penalize teams for this infringement.

In this clip, New Zealand have a scrum during extra time of the IRB London 7s final with the scores tied at 26-26. With New Zealand putting the ball in, the England hooker does an unbelievable job of hooking the ball back as his props give a powerful wheel. Not only does this give England vital possession, but enables scrumhalf Mickey Young to burst blind and score the winner!


Defense: Another role of the hooker on a defensive scrum is to break out as soon as possible, and defend the inside channel of his/her flyhalf. This defensive alignment is vital, and therefore the hooker must not shoot up, but link up with his/her flyhalf first. In the rare situation where a defensive scrum occurs on the far left hand side of the field, the hooker sometimes switches with the scrumhalf/sweeper. This allows the scrumhalf/sweeper to break out of the scrum, check the blindside, and then move back to become the sweeper. The hooker who is now playing defense at scrumhalf can then pressure the opposition scrumhalf, and once he/she passes the ball, join the defensive line.

In the clip below at 1 minute 15 seconds France has the put in to the scrum, but it’s South Africa that twist and drive to win the ball. South African hooker Kyle Brown does magic work here, assisted by one of the best props in the business, Frankie Horne. It’s that turnover ball again, which leads to a great try.


Attack:
The hooker, like the prop, is required to either break tackles or suck in defenders, setting up an attacking platform. By committing opposition numbers to a ruck, the team can shift the ball across the field exposing the shortage of defenders.

One of my favourite hookers on the Sevens World Series (how often does one say that!) is actually USA teammate James Gillenwater. His fitness was unbelievable, set pieces were outstanding, and always supporting a line-break. Here is a great highlight reel that pays tribute to his international sevens career.



Are you a hooker?
Hookers – like every other position – need to be extremely fit, especially due to the high amount of contact they are involved in. Speed of course is a huge plus, which helps tremendously in making breaks and supporting ball carriers. Being consistent at set pieces is vital, to ensure 100% ball retention from both scrums and lineout’s.
 

 written by: Dallen Stanford played 7s for the USA from 2006 to 2009, including 13 IRB tournament appearances and the 2009 Sevens World Cup. He currently resides in Austin Texas, writes several rugby columns (www.RugbyZone.com; www.UR7s.com; www.RugbyIQ.com, www.PakisCorner.com) and works for the Tackling Cancer Foundation (www.TacklingCancer.org).

Partner

under armour

Partner

under armour