Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

England’s lineout is saved by David Clarke

In a remarkable piece of good luck (and you can decide for yourself who was the lucky one) I bumped into Phil Vickery and Steve Borthwick yesterday.

I was on my way back from a meeting in Bramley with the Rugby Coach publishers and an old friend of mine asked me to meet up with him. He is a football fan (well he supports Chelsea anyway) and he said he would see me at Pennyhill Park Hotel.

On my way I remembered that the England rugby team were staying there but thought little more of it.

I arrived, walked into the hotel bar, and passed a serious looking Martin Johnson and his coaching team of Graham Rowntree and John Wells. Now in my bag I had my new DVD, “Everything You Need to Know For Coaching Rugby“. I decided this was not the moment to hand a free copy over to Johnson.

I caught up with my mate and we laughed at the coincidence. Then in walks Phil Vickery. Phil has just endorsed our Secrets of the Front Row report, plus given us some signed shirts from his Raging Bull business. I went over to him to say thank you. And also to give our new How to Win the Lineout book which I had as a spare copy in my bag. And in walks Steve Borthwick. Both are charming men and Borthwick jokes about the need for the lineout book, though it is safe to say that it is one area England can feel quite pleased with.

So after a brief light-hearted exchange, I return to my friend, leaving the book with the England forwards. So I expect the England lineout to be in good hands tomorrow!

The coincidences didn’t stop there, because when I arrived home, I had an email from Doug McClymont, who worked with Mike Cron, the All Blacks scrum guru. He has just sent me the methods that make the New Zealand scrum one of, if not the best set piece in the world. More on that in the next Rugby Coach Newsletter…

How do I deliver a rugby coaching session? by David Clarke
November 27, 2008, 1:49 pm
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Training | Tags: , , ,

This week at the Rugby Coach office we received a call from a new coach: How do I go about delivering a rugby coaching session? He had never coached before but had played a number of years ago.

Most of you will have some sympathy with his question. We all had to coach our first session once upon a time. I expect you had two experiences. First, you suddenly had to look after a session when the main coach didn’t turn up. Second, you knew well in advance that you were coaching a session and spent every waking moment thinking about what to do.

If you were lucky, you faced the second situation and had the benefit of going on Level 1 course.

But it pays to think about the basics of delivery, the “How to” skills because we can easily get lost in the detail of the techniques and skills. Players are still having to learn and we can accelerate this learning through better “How to” methods.

I am actually not formally coaching anything until next Monday (though watching plenty of rugby in the meantime), so I am to concentrate on my delivery for the next session. I know some of the players read this blog but I am not afraid to say I am going to make sure I work on these two aspects:

1. The quality of language emphasised using different levels of volume.

2. The pace of the session, to maintain a balance between consolidation and advancement.

I will report back on Tuesday.

Rugby Coaching Top Tips: #2 by David Clarke
November 25, 2008, 11:41 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, top tips | Tags: , ,

My second rugby coaching top tip for the season:

#2 Learn five new ways to praise a player.

It keeps your language fresh and motivates the players when they hear something slightly different.

Here are five:

1. “That was the best {pop pass} you have done today”

2. “You looked like you enjoyed that, well done”

3. “Did that feel good?”

4. “What an improvement!”

5. “You are on top form today”


Click here for Top Tip #1

Cipriani is a long legged fly half by David Clarke
November 24, 2008, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Coaching | Tags: , ,

High profile players inevitably draw the most attention. Danny Cipriani, the England fly half, is certainly one. He has had three charged down kicks leading to tries in his six internationals.

Longer legs than Johnny!

Not a great strike rate. But his problem is common to fly halves who are long legged. He needs to adjust his kicking style to accommodate the longer levers when clearing the ball.

In normal circumstances, he will receive the ball in time to strike it with no pressure. However when he receives a poor pass with a defender bearing down on him, he should consider the following:

1. Half a stride steps to kick rather than normal steps.

2. Kick at an angle and not straight downfield.

3. Drop the ball from a lower height.

4. Run sideways to step into the kick and not run upfield.

And use my kicking practice from the Coaching Rugby manual, a video of which is out on Friday!

Winning a game you should have won by David Clarke

On Wednesday night, the Young Osprey Under 16 team (the team I help coach) beat the best of the rest (the players who did not make the squad) 42-13.

The pattern of the game did not surprise me or the other coaches, and we were 8-6 down at half time. This was in part due to excellent spirit, endeavour and organisation of the opposition. The second half was a different story to the first, and the fitness, strength and speed of the senior boys was too much to handle.

The key reasons why we didn’t win the first half though were:

1. Not executing the basics well – dropped passes and slow movement into set plays.

2. Getting undermined at the the set piece.

3. Not playing the game plan.

A determined opposition can disrupt all these areas, but your team needs to rise above it. Now that can be a big ask for a fifteen year old boy. That’s why you, as a coach, earn your stripes. Your influence can calm the situation, focus the players and maintain the equilibrium.

The half time team talk did just that. Actually it was a two tone talk, with the forwards receiving a little more of the “guts” talk and the backs on the execution and game plan. The second half speaks for itself.

And here is another game which happened the night before. Munster v All Blacks…similiar circumstances?

IRB meeting today on development by David Clarke
November 20, 2008, 12:55 pm
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, ELVs, Rugby Coaching, Rugby Team Management | Tags: , ,

The IRB meet annually to discuss the game. This year’s meeting takes place today and is at the Lensbury Club in London. 

The IRB conference is focused on “development”. This list of topics makes for interesting reading:

  • The effect on the Participation by the Game going open (professional) in 1995 
  • Union strategies used in developing mass participation of the Game
  • Two aspects of development: Growth in participation versus Developing quality participation
  • Should there be a consistent set of Pathway Laws and at what age should IRB Laws be global?
  • The age when a player becomes eligible to play senior Rugby
  • The ideal age for players to commence contact elements of the game (e.g. scrums) and competitive matches
  • The effect the Experimental Law Variations have had on the participation level of the Game
  • What are the arguments for the development of Laws for High Performance/Performance Rugby separately to that of the participation level of the Game?
  • The most effective and consistent way to determine player numbers
  • Key health and safety issues for the participation level of the Game
  • What are the benefits of weight versus age pathways?
  • The inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the Olympics and participation
  • What role should the IRB perform in the areas outlined above?
  • At what age should age grade players be allowed to play professional rugby, and what criteria should be used to determine this entry?

    Mark Egan, the IRB’s Head of Performance and Development is leading the forum.

    “This forum will explore and debate a broad range of issues and challenges faced by the Unions on the ground. Ultimately, the participants are the practitioners, the people at the coalface of development; the people who help Rugby grow all over the world.”

    “Blueprints will emerge from the debate and some optimal forms of action will be identified. In addition there will be seminars on legal and judicial matters, the Laws of the Game and Playing Regulations, on playing surfaces and clothing, on tournaments and competitions, on training and education, medical as well as development funding.”

    The multicultural world of rugby by David Clarke
    November 19, 2008, 9:12 am
    Filed under: Dan Cottrell, ELVs, Rugby Coaching | Tags: , , , , ,

    Yesterday I read a piece about all the great New Zealand coaches who are not coaching in New Zealand. Robbie Deans and Warren Gatland would be the two highest profile names on that list.

    The same could be said of former All Black players in the rest of the world. Hundreds of top class players leave New Zealand every year.


    Nick Evans, former All Black half back, playing for English club, the Harlequins

    Though the All Blacks nearly lost to Munster last night, their reign as THE number one rugby nation continues. These leakages are not terminal nor in the long run, the end of international rugby. 

    The key to all this is nothing to do with national teams. It is about playing rugby. Top class rugby bears little resemblence to rugby in the parks, on the sides of hills or in the dusty flats just out of town.

    However, despite all the training and pressure, the majority of international players are no different to the guys and girls who run out on a Saturday afternoon in all weathers. They have a laugh and a joke like the rest of us, and want to win for themselves as much as for their team.

    What makes things more interesting is the mix of cultures from around the world. No longer are we entrenched in a narrow ways of thinking. Different strokes bring different thoughts. It is fresh, it is vibrant and rugby will grow because of it.

    Having access to this wealth of differences makes my job of writing about rugby a constant joy. The interpretations and changes fashion cause debate and provoke new ideas.

    I welcome this “smaller” world of rugby, and hope that the IRB does not split us into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres with the rule changes.


    Playing the B team by David Clarke

    Tomorrow night a team I coach will be playing the “best of the rest”. The “best of the rest” are the boys who did not make the Young Osprey U16 squad at the start of the season. They will now have a chance to prove a few points.

    This game has many positives.

    1. It will vindicate many or all of our selections.

    2. It might bring to light a player we missed first time, either because they were not developed or they were just did not do enough when we were making the selection.

    3. It gives us a chance to look at our wider squad with a couple of the “best” players rested.

    Approaching the game is an interesting coaching exercise. Our game plan will not change from a normal game, but it is mentally a different thought process.

    I look back on the times when my team was either playing down against a lower league team or playing up in a cup run.

    It was quite a good position to be in when playing against a lower league opposition as a winger or fullback. It allowed me more space and time because often the opposition organisation was weaker, even if my opposite number was my equal. It was often the forwards who bore the brunt of the onslaught!

    The key mental attributes were patience in attack and physicality in defence. Not bad approaches whatever your game plan. However against lower league teams, you need to back your fitness, organisational ability and all round skill.

    It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the game is. I know my team is very excited, but not half as excited as the boys and their parents from the opposition.

    It won’t be a stroll in the park. Dare I tell you the score on Thursday morning.

    Rugby referees are rare beasts by David Clarke
    November 17, 2008, 2:58 pm
    Filed under: Dan Cottrell, ELVs, Rugby Refereeing | Tags: , ,

    I have spent the last 72 hours picking my way through some seemingly obscure rulings in the IRB rugby laws.

    At the same time I have watched four internationals and refereed two games of rugby, plus fielded a couple of refereeing questions.

    My conclusion is this. We need rugby referees and we need to look after them.

    A “rare beast”? They are rare because of the abuse they receive and thus many are leaving the game. And they are beasts for lots of the connatations you would care to put about them, some good, some because we feel sorry for them and some because they are by no means perfect.

    Forget the “bias”, the incompetent, the outmoded and the “non scrum” expert charges. This is why we need to protect the rare beast:

    1. The ELVs are different in different parts of the world. How hard is that for an international referee!

    2. The interpretations of the ELVs are changing every couple of weeks.

    3. The definitions of the breakdown are blurred.

    4. The law enforcers are confused, so what hope the players.

    5. Too many ignorant people make sweeping remarks when they have poor knowledge and understanding of the game.

    6. The error count for players in the game is much bigger than the error count of most referees. The onus is on the referee though should he make even one mistake. Unfair?

    Rugby Coaching Top Tips: #1 by David Clarke
    November 14, 2008, 11:00 am
    Filed under: top tips | Tags: ,

    Here is my first top tip for the season:

    Buy a pair of waterproof socks.