Archive for October, 2010

In February I attended a coaching conference and one of the big “light bulb” / “eureka” moments for me was thanks to one of the RFU development officers saying that rugby can – nay, SHOULD – be as simple as playing to the principles of the game.  He said that no matter the level or experience, any team can do well if they Go Forward, Support each other, maintain Continuity, and put Pressure on the opposition. If you think about it, these apply to both attack and defence and importantly (I think) suggest that scoring has nothing to do with successful rugby.  Put a team with very little experience against one with heaps of it, and one can pretty much say the outcome isn’t going to favour the novice team – but does that matter?  Why play at all if winning is the only goal?  Following these principles should provide any team with relative performance success and maintained over time, should lead to improved performance results.

The other concept that he put across to extend this theory was that not maintaining any one of these could cause an attacking / defensive effort to fail.  He challenged us to create a flow chart of what one can do to avoid the ruck / maul from running in open space to having to secure possession in contact.  The idea here is that a ruck / maul is, in a sense, contrary to the four principles.  You are no longer going forward, support has to get stuck in and secure the ball, continuity is not always assured at ruck / maul, and the pressure is on the team which had the ball, not the opposition as they can take a ‘break’ (however small) to get re-organised.  In devising a list of actions the ball carrier and supporting players could take to prevent the ruck / maul, I was given a clearer sense of what it is I should be focusing on at training – giving players the knowledge, tools, and practice to work on the ways they can maintain the principles.  It reminded me of a concept introduced to me at a Brumbies coaching clinic – that “we” tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time on things which occur relatively infrequently whilst even avoiding altogether the things which occur most.  I’m sure we’ve all participated in / ran sessions which included 45 mins. of scrums and/or lineouts or backline moves … but how much time do these things occur in matches?  Answer:  significantly less than running, supporting, catch and pass, tackling in broken play.  And when we do run these things, how often do we put them into small boxes with just a few players rather than in game conditions with lots of space and many players?

The point is that rugby is an open and dynamic game that requires awareness and game sense that, I feel, is best acquired through regular ‘game-like’ training, not a compartmentalised one which focuses on endless drills like football.  Focusing on the four principles provides focus to this ideal – whatever the skill level and ability of the players (or coach, for that matter!), you could do a lot worse by going sideways, not supporting the ball carrier / tackler, having no continuity, and sitting back waiting for things to happen.  For me, the most exciting rugby occurs not from fancy moves, sequences and game plans, but from ‘real’ rugby that is off the cuff, instinctual and is a team effort.  I’d argue that the most successful rugby includes those elements as well!  In the last couple of weeks, the Llanelli Scarletts have shown that this is very true indeed… in these two clips you’ll see no fancy set moves, sequences, or patterns of play – just head’s up rugby played on their feet, avoiding and passing before/from contact rather than running into it; quite simply, going forward, with support, maintaining continuity and putting intense pressure on the defence to prevent them from ever getting organised:

I was sure those principles used to be included in the IRB Law Book, but alas these concepts have become more wordy and a little bit political with regard to the spirit of the game (which is fair enough given the source).  But seeing as I had a hard time finding a source for them, I think it’s important that we keep them alive in the minds of our players.  As I said above, even the least able teams can realise relative success by doing those four things to the best of their ability.

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