Box kicks – the scrumhalf’s secret weapon

Faf de Klerk with a box kick against Japan in RWC2019

People often criticize scrumhalves who box kick regularly. One scrumhalf that had to take a lot of criticism during the 2019 Rugby World Cup, was Faf de Klerk. The Springboks however won the 2019 Rugby World Cup and with the level of competition, any weak point would have kept a team from advancing and taking the title. So was his box kicks unnecessary or a masterstroke?

The 2019 Rugby World Cup showcased a new level of skill from players from top tier and 2nd tier rugby nations. One of the most impressive displays from all teams was their discipline on defense with rugby league style defensive patterns. This helped even the smallest of rugby nations to be competitive.

So how do you get past such a defensive line and still have a chance of continuing your attack? You go over them.

Faf de Klerk put on a masterclass in box kicking. A skill that his predecessor Fourie du Preez was exceptional at. His time at Sale Sharks however improved his kicking game and this resulted in him being chosen over the VERY exciting Herschel Jantjies in the crucial games.

Types of box kicks

There are basically two variations of box kicks. The one is used when attacking and the other is used when on defense.

An attacking box kick should have the trajectory of an up and under. The scrumhalf should kick for more for height than for distance.

A defensive box kick is however kicked for distance and should always be angled towards the touchline.

Attacking box kicks

A box kick on the attack is good to use when you are outside your own 22-meter area. It is especially effective and necessary if you are up against a team with good discipline in their defensive line.

Taking the box kick on the attack is a way to disrupt the defense and to create a 50/50 situation for contesting for your wings with their opposition wings.

For the attacking box kick to work there needs to be a good understanding between the scrumhalf and the wing on the blindside. The wing must expect a box kick every time there is a ruck between the touchline and the 15-meter line.

When taking this kick the scrumhalf should aim to land the ball between the 5-meter and 15-meter line. The kick should travel between 15-meters and 20-meters to be most effective.

The wing chasing the kick should also get into the habit of running a J-line to have a better chance of winning the ball back. A J-line is when the wing runs a nearly straight line close to the touchline. As they get closer to the opponent waiting to catch the ball, they start to angle their run infield.

This puts them in a position to contest for the ball with two distinct advantages:

  1. they are far less likely to go into touch if they field the kick and gets tackled
  2. if they tap the ball it is likely to go backward allowing support runners to gather the ball

Defensive box kicks

A defensive box kick is taken to relieve the pressure. The aim of these kicks is to get out of a defensive position and downfield as far as possible.

Defensive box kicks are kicked for distance and at an angle with the aim to get it over the touchline. When in your own 22 it is crucial that the kick goes out. If it doesn’t you are putting the opponents in a great field position to counterattack.

If you are outside your 22, you should aim to get the ball to land in the tramlines (between the touchline and the 5-meter line). This increases the chances of it either rolling into touch or for your chasers to isolate the opponent close to the touchline.

How to perform a box kick

A box kick takes a lot of skill and practice to perfect. Especially getting the accuracy right on the attack.

The set up for a box kick and the kick itself looks quite different to any of the other kicks that a player will perform.

When performing a box kick the scrumhalf will go through the following:

  • Line up at a right angle (90 degrees) to where they want to kick the ball
  • Pick up the ball and take a step away from the ruck, lineout or maul to create some space
  • Drop the ball in front of you with your arms fully stretched at about hip height
  • While still at a right angle to the direction you want to kick, you kick the ball
  • The difference between the attacking kick and the defensive kick is only based on how you angle the ball:
    • Attacking kick – the ball must be almost completely upright when you drop it. The goal is to connect with the ball at the bottom of it
    • Defensive kick – the ball must be angled slightly to the direction you want to kick it. You will strike the ball in the sweet spot just above the end of the ball

The first thing to master is getting the type of kick right. The high-flying attacking kick and the defensive kick for distance.

The next thing to work on is accuracy.

The defensive kick’s accuracy is far easier to work on and your aim would only be for it to always land between the touchline and the 5-meter line.

The effectiveness of the attacking box kick is however dependant on the accuracy of the kicker in kicking it almost the exact same distance every single time.

How to improve the accuracy of your box kicks

Repetition is key in developing an accurate box kick. As mentioned before it is crucial first of all to get your technique right in getting maximum height on the ball.

Then you should start looking at the distance and direction of your kicks.

Set 4 cones in a square with the cones about 2 meters apart. Move back 15 meters from the cone. Kick with the goal of getting the ball to fall in the square. If you have a stronger kick, you can move back 20 meters.

As you get more accurate with your kicking you can set the cones 1.5 meters apart and end with them only a meter apart.

During a practice session, you should aim to kick 10 balls into the square. Your goal is to constantly improve the percentage of kicks you land exactly in the square.

When you start out you will probably kick 25 to 30 kicks to get 10 balls to land in the square. If you can bring this down to under 15 attempts, your kicks are at a very good level.