Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Turn it into a game by David Clarke

Richard GrahamI have just read an interview with the new Australian skills coach, Richard Graham, who is just finishing at Saracens. The full interview can be read at the blog.

One of the main ways he coaches rugby skills is to use “skills games” whereby the skills are used in game situations. If a player is struggling with the skill, then he is taken to the side to work on the skill before returning to the game.

On Wednesday we launched our new book 48 Rugby Skills Games . (Follow that link to download a couple of free examples).We know that Wayne Smith, the assistant coach with All Blacks, uses skills games, also England conditioning coaches employ them and from this latest article, the Australian side too.

The interest in the book has come from all around the world. I know from my own experience of playing and coaching that I prefer to play a game and so do the players. And there are plenty of learning benefits as well.

It is worth noting that Graham was one of the greats of sevens rugby in the late 90s.

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A rugby coaching blog well worth following by David Clarke


In the last few weeks I have been following an excellent blog from an Irish conditioner called Mike McGurn.

As it happens, he works for the Ospreys, the club I am involved in. However I came across this blog myself.

What makes it so good is that it cuts through the jargon and the “gym is all” mentality, focusing on the individual and what he or she can do.

The stories about Gavin Henson, Brian O’Driscoll and John Hayes make for compelling reading. He has some good tips for amateurs as well.

Here is the link to his blog.
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High skills from Super 14 rugby by David Clarke

Super 14s Reds v Sharks

Some great tries illustrating offloading, footwork, kicking, rucking, working through channels, spreading it wide…

Lots on offer! Can you think of the “drills” to teach some of these “game skills”?

Click here to watch the highlights.

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Watch carefully and reflect by David Clarke

I am always amazed by the confidence that some people show in their assessment of a performance based on the evidence of the game watched from one angle and without the benefit of replays and analytical software. How often do you watch a replay of a game on the TV after being at the game the previous day and change your opinion? And yet there are plenty of pundits still ready to pick out minute points of detail which have had no bearing on that game.

Let’s take a snapshot of the “Lions” squad first XV selection. Then look at the main players in contention. Pre Six Nations it would have read Lee Byrne, by some distance, then perhaps Rob Kearney with Chris Paterson in with a shout as a goal kicker. As the tournament has worn on, Delon Armitage, with his silky running skills and tries, has made significant progress. So each home nation has a chance of having the next Lions’ number 15.

Assessment criteria

What do you want from a full back at the top level? Excellent under the high ball, long kicking game, ability to break the line and finally, a dependable last line of defence.

What do the South African’s want from the Lions’ full back? Someone who cannot read the game, a player they can pull out of position, a predictable player.

Subtly, the “best” player tag looks a mite different if you look at what the opposition want. The non-negotiable talents of high ball security and long kicking game can be muted. Just don’t use high balls, don’t kick to allow a long kick back.

Breaking the line now becomes a more important issue. A good defence can line up a front runner (how far has Wales’ Andy Powell got in this tournament), but a 15 can join the line from behind the front line.

However, for me, the crucial element must be the unpredictability, the chance that the 15 will step instead of kick, will chip rather than boom, will release another player out of the tackle. The casual watcher will not see this. In part this is because the watcher will not have seen how the defence reshapes itself to deal with the threat.

How does this change the selection?

Looking at the elements with best first:

  • Kicking and fielding games: Byrne, Armitage, Kearney.
  • Break the line: Byrne, Armitage, Kearney.
  • Subtle passing skills: Armitage, Kearney, Byrne.
  • Unpredictable: Kearney, Armitage, Byrne.

My choice: Kearney. His game cannot be read in the same way as Byrne’s. That does not mean that Byrne is not a class player, but I sense that something that the quick match pundit cannot see is more important than the obvious.

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National loyalties are a tough rugby call by David Clarke
March 19, 2009, 11:30 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell | Tags: , , ,

It has been a real rugby feast for me in the last couple of days and there is more to come. I suppose I am in a job where rugby is pretty much a daily occurence, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

Yesterday I was at a tournament for Under 11s run by the local police force as part their community programme. Great fun, though I would personally prefer to have a round robin with not all the sides playing each other, so there are no “official” winners. Watching the faces of the players in some of the teams who got knocked out was painful. Also some of the better teams who took larger squads didn’t rotate their players too much in pursuit of the title. At this age, they are not playing to win (see the LTAD or LTPD!)

Last night I caught up on some of the Super 14 rugby. I am halfway through watching the Reds v the Sharks and it is thrilling stuff. I have avoided the final score, so I hope to see the last part tonight. The skills are scintillating.

Of course the England France game was just as exciting if you are English and made up for some turgid if hard fought Saturday Six Nations games. I did shout for joy at the television on Sunday. And I did find the Italy Wales and Scotland Ireland games fascinating.

Actually I have many mixed loyalties for the outcomes.

  • As an Englishman, I want England to win.
  • As a coach who embraces the spirit of using games to teach the skills, then it is the French style I enjoy the most.
  • Having interviewed Frank Hadden for Rugby Coach and seen his approach, I want the Scots to win (their improvement has yet to be reflected in the results).
  • Working in Wales and having a Welsh wife, then it is difficult not to support Wales.
  • Working closely with Jim Love, who is the head coach of one of the top Italian teams, I want to see their progression as a rugby nation.
  • And finally I think the Irish deserve the championship because they are so passionate about the game and bring so many alternatives to the table. I have just spoken to Ken O’Connell who works at the Munster academy and you cannot fail to be enthused to want Emerald Isle to be victorious.

This weekend Wales Women take on Ireland to decide second place in the Championship. Victory for Wales, who I help coach, would mean a Triple Crown. Now there is one game I know who I want to win!
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All Blacks’ preparation by David Clarke

Here is a little video with the All Blacks preparing for their match against Cardiff in 2008.

There are a couple of things to notice, like the movement in the lineout and formation of the scrum. Read Doug McClymont in Rugby Coach Newsletter on how the All Black scrums are formed and the jumpers lifted.

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A rugby moral code will never happen by David Clarke

Mike Tindall torn shirt

What is acceptable and unacceptable in rugby?

Some coaches will condone cheating because they know that it allows their team to win. Some coaches will condone pushing the laws to their limit because it allows their team to win. Some coaches will forgive referee’s mistakes when it benefits their side, because it allows their team to win.

Moralising about rugby is what the governing bodies do. Play safe, play fair is the message they are duty bound to tell us. And quite rightly so.

But in the reality of a league match, international fixture or a youth cup game, what coach is not going to find themselves in a moral dilemma about whether to bend the rules a little bit.

“If I don’t do it and the other team does, and we lose, what then?” is a well worn excuse. However, it has some validity.

The law of the game and the law of the rugby jungle work closely together. Though we don’t see too many pictures like that of Mike Tindall these days, plenty of players and coaches will tell you that stopping a player lying over the ball is tough in the modern game. A helping of “shoe pie” will remind a player not to be there next time.

The law of the rugby jungle is about tough love. Physical pain against the whistle of the referee. But this attitude will not make players stop transgressing in the future. Jungle law is about punishment after the problem, and does not make prevention an option. “I will continue to lie over the ball until I get thumped and then I will stop” won’t make for a better game.

It would be much better if players and coaches didn’t cheat in the first place. It is like a game of bluff in the bar after the game. Who is going to pull out of it first. The team that decides to be whiter than whiter will probably lose against the team that continues to cheat. Who is willing to take that risk?

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Can you live without tackle pads? by David Clarke

Coach carrying tackle pads

Tackle pads, bags and tubes all have a place in rugby training. (I am not sponsored by a manufacturer!)

But can you do a session without them? Some coaches are anti-pads. Andy Robinson MBE, the forwards coach when England won the World Cup in 2003, said to me at the time he hated them. England’s physicality in that era marked them out from other teams.

Since pads are something to run into, then that’s what players do. They are not great “avoiders” of the soft pads.

Of course, they are not to be avoid when making tackles, reducing the impact for the player, allowing greater repetition.

The trouble lies in their elasticity. Imagine how many fewer handling errors your players would make if it was a pillow they were catching and not a hard ball. A tackle pad has similar properties, allowing greater error of timing at the impact. The tackled player is not likely to have, or want to have, the same give.

You can live without tackle pads, because sometimes someone forgets to bring, you lose the key to the store room or the side cannot afford such luxuries. You can also live without them when you are training. There is some research to suggest that training aids that do not replicate the game very closely are a waste of time. (Brent S. Rushall February 1997)

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When is the best time to talk to the referee by David Clarke
March 12, 2009, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Refereeing | Tags: ,

The coach and referee

Rugby union is not immune from player-referee “discussion”. Nor are coaches completely innocent of aggressive language and behaviour towards the referee.

The picture above, which comes from US basketball, is quite scary I suppose. It is obviously mid-game and the poses of the participants show a telling story of who thinks who is right.

Few sports allow a decision to be overturned. I cannot see the sense in arguing with the official in that case.

I know that other coaches will vent their frustration towards the officials, or might try to influence a future decision. But there are times when a proper, civilised conversation can work for both parties.

So I think the best times to speak to the referee are:
1. Before he comes into the changing room at the start of the game. Breaks the ice and gives both a chance to understand the philosophy of what is about to happen.
2. A quick word at half time, but only to query a possible future decision, not a decision in the past (they can’t be changed!)
3. After the game. Here the feedback is important, style especially. Referees can be defensive about their decisions, not it is not the time to be laying into them. Use this time to help you understand what you and your team can do better next time.

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Rugby tactical difficulties by David Clarke

If I have learnt anything in the last few months, it’s that players only play what they want to play on the pitch. That might be the way you want, but it can be completely different.

Sometimes different is good. You can’t give them all the answers or even the scenarios. However it is unbelievably frustrating when a player decides to revert to type and use a play or move that won’t work, has never worked and will, in some cases, never work.

If the player cannot function in the way you believe is right, does that make them a bad player. Maybe they will never change. Perhaps they don’t have the skills

The challenge is to help the players understand what plays work and which ones don’t. For them, not for us. Telling them is one way, but we know that they have to believe it themselves.

The more I can put them into the tactical situations on the pitch, the more they discover for themselves. After some of coaching I was involved in over the weekend, this is not a quick process!

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