The seven vital skills of rugby sevens

Rugby sevens players need to have a wide range of skills to be successful in the short game. Athletes need to be able to pass like a halfback, execute one-on-one tackles, have a high level of fitness, and make quick and effective decisions.

Sevens is a physically demanding game of intensity, speed and endurance. Players are required to cover long distances in a game and a tournament, athletes clocking up to 10 kilometres during a weekend.

Played on a full-size field with less than half the number of players of the traditional game, athletes cover long distances at speed.

With the Sydney 7s coming to town on the Australia Day weekend at Allianz Stadium, here is a look at the explosive variation of rugby sevens.

Decision-making and reading the play

A game of sevens goes for only 14 minutes, so players need to make smart decisions in attack and defence because they need to make the most of every opportunity. Players need to make decisions that suit the strengths of the team.

"You've got to know the strengths and weaknesses of your fellow players," said former Australian coach Michael O'Connor. "You've got to understand intimately the rules and how far you can go with them."

Best: Charlotte Caslick (Australia)

Speed machine: Carlin Isles.

Fast worker: Carlin Isles. Photo: AAP

Speed

Players need to have the ability to reach top speed over short distances to create attacking opportunities. But speed is also a crucial element in defence, where just seven players need to be able to cover the width of the field.

"Speed is very important in the game of sevens, it's a fast, explosive-paced game," said American speedster Carlin Isles.

"Raw speed is really important in sevens. We need to have that explosive capacity and we can enhance that in the gym, but most of the guys are born with it," said former US Eagles coach John Mitchell.

Best: Carlin Isles (US)

Defence

With fewer players on the field, there is nowhere to hide and players need to be able to make the critical one-on-one tackles. Players also need to be able to compete for the ball with less support and more space.

"Defence is an attitude thing," said O'Connor. "You're first priority is to get him on the ground so that you're a chance at turning over the ball with a low tackle, a good, low aggressive tackle.

"It's about shutting the player down. Don't really care how you do it, but you get up and shut him down and take his time and space away from him."

Best: Manoel Dall'igna (France)

Pass master: Tom Mitchell.

Pass master: Tom Mitchell. Photo: AP

Passing

Passing is a fundamental skill at all levels, and particularly so in sevens. Due to the fast-paced nature of the game, each player needs to be able to pass the ball over long distances accurately.

"Sevens is about utilising space and using the ball - it's very important to get that timing right," Samoa coach Viliamu Punivalu said.

"Also, you've got to voice out where you're at, whether you're humming on to a short ball, or a long pass, or a drifting ball, so the timing is most important."

Best: Tom Mitchell (England)

Trusty boot: James Stannard.

Trusty boot: James Stannard. Photo: AAP

Drop kicking

Conversions in sevens are drop kicks, rather than place kicks. With two points up for grabs after each try, it is important that each team has a player with the ability to slot goals from anywhere on the field. Drop kicks can be the difference between winning and losing.

"It's all about the pressure," former New Zealand captain and now broadcaster Karl Tenana said. "You have to slow your heart rate down, you have to focus, you have to keep your head down, you have to swing through. And, you know what, if you can convert it, you're the man."

Best: James Stannard (Australia)

Power and passion: Portia Woodman.

Power and passion: Portia Woodman. Photo: AAP

Agility and power

Combining speed with footwork creates attacking opportunities. Players with a good side-step are dangerous and unpredictable, and give a side more options.

"Technique of running [is important], specifically the drive phase - starting low, maintaining a solid body angle and pushing through the floor, enabling all that power and strength," former England captain Rob Vickerman said.

Best: Portia Woodman (NZ)

Running man: Fiji's Jasa Veremalua.

Running man: Fiji's Jasa Veremalua. Photo: AP

Fitness

Rugby sevens is an explosive game, but players will also have to cover plenty of metres, particularly in defence. The speed and intensity of the game requires players to be quick and lean.

"To be a good sevens player you've got to have aerobic fitness, [but] you've got to have strength [too]," O'Connor said. "The game is very physical now, so you've got to have good size, good strength."

Best: Jasa Veremalua (Fiji)

This story The seven vital skills of rugby sevens first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.