Archive for April, 2020

A coaching colleague asked on twitter recently for thoughts on attack and defence principles. Here’s my response:

I generally stick with the principles in the law book when it comes to simply conceptualizing what we’re trying to do in attack and defence, with some added clarifications to provide a bit more focus.

First, defence … “get the ball back as soon as we can, legally and safely”. This has to always been in our minds because we don’t want to passively (even if aggressively going for tackles) just ‘play defence’. We want the ball to score points, so have to make this the prime objective. It won’t be possible on every phase, but we all have to look for those moments to cause or force a turnover. The classic principles still apply after that: go forward, with support, maintain continuity (i.e. the ‘connectivity’ of our effort, whether as a small group or big unit or whole team) to disrupt theirs using pressure. All contribute to us getting that ball back and, ideally, launch a counter-attack to score points immediately.

I’ve also decided to take from Trump the notion of ‘the wall’! 🙂  We build it and re-build it from phase to phase. It can buckle, but it won’t break, allowing a flood of attackers through. We accept that they may breach it temporarily or try to chip at it in hopes of a collapse, but if we quickly re-build (and move it forward… kinda messes up the analogy, unless I mention that spiky wall from Star Wars!) and be ready before they are, we’ll be in a good position.

In attack, again it’s the go forward, etc. principles. One I’ve been thinking about over the last year is built on something I heard Pierre Villepreux say in a conference years ago (which is a mantra I’ve adopted) “Go where it’s easiest to play.” For me, that means both where the opportunity lies and where we’re best positioned to gain from it (which has a lot of possibilities we discuss as a team to know, truly, what our strengths and limitations are). The new one I’ve added to it is “… to gain the most territory possible.”

All of those general principles are good for athletes to keep the big picture in mind – moving forward, supporting, maintaining continuity and pressure – but this can also true of teams that attempt to pick and go 10+ times in a row. I’d rather our team not play that way.

If our aims are made easier when the defence is completely or moderately disorganized, then it stands that the more we can keep them in that state, the better. It’s more likely for us to do that when we’ve gained a lot of territory and re-aligning on defence for them is tougher. So, “go where it’s easy for us to exploit the opposition and gain the most territory possible” is something I haven’t put in place yet, but I think provides a greater focus than the World Rugby principles.


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