Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

What do you do in the rugby opposition’s 22m when they have the lineout throw? by David Clarke

The reason I ask is that I recently found this clip, highlighting a great tactic the Italian national rugby team (and others) sometimes use. I’ve now posted it at The Huddle, the online forum for rugby coaches.

Dan also wrote about the tactic in last year’s Rugby Coach, his monthly magazine about rugby coaching. To help me better illustrate what the Italian’s are doing, he’s agreed to let me reproduce it here and in this week’s Better Rugby Coaching.

Instead of competing for the lineout ball in the air, instead of driving into the jumper when they reach the ground, instead of pulling the jumper to the ground before a maul forms… the Italians do nothing!

As expected the opposition catch the ball and, as they’ve practised frequently, quickly form a “cluster” of players around the jumper. A team mate rips the ball from the jumper and moves it to the back of the “cluster”, where, under usual circumstances, it would be safest.

Crucially, however, because the Italians aren’t engaging there’s no maul. This means their hooker can whip around behind the opposition “cluster” and tackle the ball carrier at the back. Since there’s no maul, there’s no offside – just confused opponents.

If you’re planning to coach the tactic or try it out at your next rugby match make sure you:

Tell the referee about your plans before the game. It will look unusual and any referee who is caught unawares may not see it in the correct light and penalise you.

Ensure your players make no effort whatsoever to compete for the ball at the lineout. Even better they should step away from the opposition. This avoids any chance of contact.

Consider whereabouts on the pitch you’ll use the tactic. It’s generally best performed in their 22m area. You will lose ground, but should cause enough confusion to give you an advantage.

Spread your defenders in the lineout, so any efforts by the opposition to perform a peel (where the jumper pops the ball to a runner) can be thwarted.

Let me know how you get on!

Toby Curthoys, Better Rugby Coaching Publisher

How rugby passing before contact can score amazing tries by David Clarke

How passing before contact can score amazing tries

Watch this video and see how the variety of passes are as important as the accuracy of passes.

You need to create exercises to use this and rugby netball would be one of them.

Channel your energy by David Clarke

Once upon a time while in discussion about our wonderful game of rugby, a “non-believer” couldn’t see the point of continuously running across the field to a breakdown. Why not? Because on arriving at there, you simply see the ball go back in the opposite direction, so you have to run to where you have come from.

Of course, I defended the nature of our game to the hilt, but in the cold light of the day and many years of thinking about it, I think the “non- believer” could have had a valued point. And that this has broad implications for rugby coaching at a grass roots level.

One of my pastimes in the name of research for rugby conditioning is noting how long into the game it takes the front row, then the second row and then, dare I say, the back row to start walking following a set piece. This “research” is only carried out at grassroots and lower league games, as the higher the standard you go the more physically impossible it is due to the speed of the game to be everywhere, even back rows.

Nick Tatalias, a rugby coach specialising in contact conditioning, has an interesting theory about this. Quoting from an article by him:

“The players seen standing on the fringes of the rucks and mauls with hands on knees breathing hard are tired because they are recruiting a much higher percentage of their muscles in each encounter than the opposition players.”

He goes on to say that typically the conditioning coach sees this happening and prescribes more aerobic type conditioning, but that this further exacerbates the problem.

What Nick is saying is that if you are using nearly all your strength in the scrum, there’s nothing left in the tank for work around the field. So he prescribes that greater levels of strength are needed, better anaerobic conditioning and lastly sprint endurance.

But what about the social rugby XVs that are pulled together each weekend? To them the mere mention of training is a swear word.

Well help is at hand for you to conserve even more energy and put an end to running across the pitch only to see the ball move away in the distance. This can be done in various ways to best suit your team but basically it’s like this. Instead of having your forwards trundling or walking across the pitch to the breakdown, but really only getting in the way of the backs, have them stay in channels after a set piece, working up and down the pitch as opposed to across it.

For instance, and depending on who’s attacking or defending, have your front and second rows stand near to or behind or in front of the centres and wings, leaving your back row to cover the entire field. Or split your pack down the middle and have them work the left and right sides of the pitch, depending on their scrum positions. The variations are endless and you could chop and change during the match to suit attack or defence, making the opposition even more confused.

The advantages of this system, I believe, are that it allows for:

• On the shoulder support for offloading the ball in the tackle, getting players into gaps.

• Doubling up in defence, allowing for two man tackles.

• Mini rucks, ensuring you get quicker ball.

• Secure, quicker ball at the breakdown, as your players get there first.

• More of your players to defend in midfield, giving the opposition less options in attack.

• More of your players to attack in midfield, offering you more overlap opportunities.

• More of your players to cover when a team mate is out of position following a move.

You might be thinking what if the opposition use a rolling maul and you haven’t got sufficient numbers to counteract?

Well rolling mauls are hard to stop once they get going and need to be stopped on the outset. However, with the experimental laws (ELVs) being trailed you could soon be able to collapse a maul anyway.

Colin Astley,

Why you have to be a Jekyll and Hyde coach sometimes by David Clarke

How competitive are you? Do you punch the air when your team scores or openly despair when you concede a soft try?

It is not bad to be emotionally involved in the game. But where do you draw the line?

Well, don’t let anyone tell you where to draw the line. You need to decide for yourself. There is nothing worse than some “do-gooder” telling you about the moral rights and wrongs of competition and how to rugby train your players.

Listen to the evidence and decide for yourself.


There is one thing to remember.

You can shout and ball at your players, or alternatively, treat them with kid gloves. Offer them riches for performance, or offer them just kind words of praise. But don’t compromise on one thing.
Don’t treat children as mini-adults. The rules of engagement change for youngster. You have to coach and encourage them differently because they won’t respond in the long run to adult-orientated coaching methods.

Society has changed. Children have different expectations to 20 years ago and so have parents, unfortunately.

It is called the “Tiger Woods Syndrome”. What has Tiger Woods got to do with art of designing a rugby drill? Tiger, nothing. His father, on the other hand, has inspired millions of parents to push their child into organised sport earlier than we used to when we were young. And drill them competitively in the pursuit of greatness.

So, how can I say this is bad when I coach my own son’s under 8s team. Simply because you can still control the amount of pressure by reducing the competitive nature of “matches”, and concentrate on fun.

Last weekend, I witnessed the subtle nature of competitive parenting. Two coaches involved in the opposition were using “gamesmanship” to influence the game. They knew it, but persisted. It was embarrassing and sets the wrong example to all those involved.
We can’t always get the balance right, but when comes to children we can try to keep to a moral code.

Here is a code of sorts from Frank Smoll, a University of Washington psychology professor and co-author of “Sports and Your Child: A 50 Minute Guide for Parents.”

• Reward your child whether the team wins or loses.
• If you have a complaint or concern, don’t raise it in the middle of a game.
• Applaud when either team makes a good play.
• Praise effort.
• Respect the referee’s calls.
• Talk to your neighbour during games (don’t get too caught up in scores or statistics)..
• Ask your child, ‘Was it fun?’ before ‘Did you win?’

For adults, you can be the monstrous Mr Hyde if you want, but for children, be the good doctor Jekyll. A coach and a parent are not separate in this code.

Dan, Better Rugby Coaching Editor

Talk, talk, talk and little chance to really learn by David Clarke

Jason Lewis, one of the UKs most experienced rugby coach educators, challenges you to look at this video clip and see what might be wrong with the delivery of this session.

Well, looking at this video, it could be argued this is good rugby session.
The coach taking the session is confident, active and enthusiastic. It seems that he is offering some good advice on demonstrations.

However look and listen more closely.

  • How has he organised the group who he is presenting to?
  • How much information is he offering?
  • What sort of feedback do the watching rugby coaches give him?

On the UKCC rugby courses, we encourage coaches to ask questions and involve the audience. We want the people who are being coached to be involved in their learning because this is more powerful than just being told what to do. This should be done in a good learning environment.

Points of interest: arising from the video.
1. All the coaching was one way. There were no opportunities to think about what was being said or apply it.
2. Ironically he talks about feedback, but doesn’t give much opportunity for it.
3. In terms of the content, it could have been much stronger. For instance, the feedback he talked about is “often and immediate”, but maybe it could be little and delayed allowing greater player reflection and self learning.
4. Again in content terms, demonstrations should require players to “feel” what works and doesn’t work.
5. Did you notice at least one participant having to shade his eyes? He might have organised the setting better.
6. When you give a demonstration, it is better to not talk and demonstration yourself at the same time.
7. There was way too much information.

Whether you are going through some simple rugby drills or just giving out some top rugby tips, you still need to think about the learning experience.

Jason Lewis

Why Martin Johnson’s appointment provides you with the key to activate your rugby coaching by David Clarke

Few will disagree that it is sad that Brian Ashton is leaving the England rugby coaching set up. Given a pretty tough situation to start with, he is still able to show us two runner’s up medals: one from the World Cup and the other from this year’s Six Nations.

But change was always been coming and though the manner of the change has been ham-fisted, the transformation is important. Not just for England, but also for you as a coach.

Martin Johnson, the former England World Cup winning rugby captain, arrives with no formal rugby coaching qualifications or the experience of managing a team.

What he does bring it something you can use yourself to move your coaching output ahead.

Before I tell what it is, I want you remember the man in question.

He is big. He towers over most people and many players.

He never took a step backwards on the pitch and rarely off the pitch. This meant his word was the final word, to a team mate, opposition player or even the referee.

He led from the front and took on all comers, sometimes over aggressively. He would front the charge from the kick off, often beating the winger to the catcher.

So what can we all learn from “Johnno” ? It is that unswerving belief in yourself and your goals can carry you over many rough paths. It creates momentum, it pulls others with you and it doesn’t care about the setbacks.

I have just completed part II of a series on what we can learn from one of the world’s most success sports coaches, John Wooden, for the next Rugby Coach Newsletter. He would see Johnson as one of the main building blocks in his Pyramid of Success, based on his intention.

Do you have that personal belief? Can you reaffirm your goals with greater rigour? Then you might just find you have energised yourself and, as a happy consequence, your team.

I believe Johnson’s belief will do the same for the England rugby team.

Dan, Better Rugby Coaching Editor

Three ways to watch your rugby team and make a difference this weekend by David Clarke

Do you want to make a real difference this weekend to your rugby team?

And that means during the game. Here are three ways to watch the game differently so you can pass on some key messages.

Actually I am inspired to write this because I have just been to a talk by Rhys Long, the Head of Performance Analysis for the Welsh Rugby Union. The Welsh are heading the way in terms of up-to-date game analysis and it provided a competitive edge during their successful 2008 Six Nations campaign.

You won’t have access to all their technology, but some of Rhys Long’s analytical processes can help inform you better.

1.    Gain line efficiency

A simple scoresheet will tell me how well we are doing at the gain line from each phase. Plus, zero or minus is enough to note down to tell me whether we have crossed the line. If we are not getting over the gain line much from first phase, then I will change the set piece moves. If we are bad at the second phase, then I will question whether players are following the patterns. I will then look again at third phase.

2.    Redundant rugby players

Forwards need to make a difference at the breakdown area. They must be “hitting” rucks, not resting on them. If they are not in the ruck, they should be actively involved in the defensive line or offering options to the decision making 9 and 10.

Not active? Then they are redundant. I will be sending on a sharp reminder.

3.    Tackle systems not tackles missed

If a rugby player attempts and misses a tackle, there is little you can do as a coach to change that. But you should be not be watching for missed tackles. If the line break was made due to a defensive system error, then you can correct that. Either remind players of the system or change the system.

In summary, I will just note “+”, “-“ or “0” for every attacking phase. I will check that all the forwards are making a difference. In defence, I will note whether any opposition line break is because we have failed to follow the system.

Then I can change the rugby tactics and make the difference.

Dan, Better Rugby Coaching Editor