Left wing – the definition of speed

Rieko Ioani going over for another try

Whenever a left wing touches the ball there are gasps of anticipation. This speed monger just needs a little bit of space to make a defense look average and get over the try line. Although there are freaks of nature like Jonah Lomu who played in the 11 jersey, the more conventional options are the likes of George North, Makazole Mapimpi and Rieko Ioane.

Although they are naturally gifted speedsters, they need to put in a lot of hard work to be able to use that speed effectively.

Over the years their focus has stayed the same in most aspects, but there has been a slight shift in their duties and getting more involved in the game.

Attributes of a left wing

A left wing in full flight is a thing of beauty, but there is a lot of work that needs to go into making sure that the speed they possess is married with skills to execute on the field.

A good left wing will be:

  • the fastest player in your team in a straight line
  • able to catch the ball running at full speed
  • capable of fielding kicks at the back (working with the fullback) and starting counterattacks
  • able to field box kicks both on attack and defense
  • able to sidestep an opponent effectively running at full speed
  • capable of seeing opportunities to drift across field to join the backline in attack or on cross defense

Using a left wing correctly at different age levels

It is often easy to spot the speedsters in a young group of players. The left wing must be one of the fastest players in an age group if not the fastest.

At primary school level, a left wing should have the ability to:

  • catch the ball at high speed
  • run straight for the try line
  • sidestep opponents if needed
  • be able to tackle opponents

The biggest challenge that a left wing would face at a younger age is actually getting his hands on the ball. It is often difficult to get the ball out of the hands of the flyhalf and two centres, so they rarely see the ball.

This just emphasizes the importance of being able to effectively perform their tasks when they do get their hands on the ball. The challenge for coaches is getting players to move the ball through the hands in the backline all the way to the wings.

When players get into their teen years and beyond, they will just add to the above-mentioned skills. Their focus will be to improve their positional play to allow them to get more involved. Basically looking for work across the field.

Opportunities will come their way if they:

  • focus on falling back to field kicks when on defense (working with their fullback)
  • start looking for opportunities to join the backline if they go the other way
  • work on fielding box kicks on attack
  • hover close to rucks and tack over from an absent scrum-half. There are often opportunities to snipe around the ruck later in a game. With the speed they possess, this can become lethal