Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

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.

Better Rugby Coaching


2 Comments so far
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Comment by cispusgoots

Your position on the debate is spot on. I also think Bob Kearney has been shackled by the Irish management team in recent weeks, sticking to the percentage plays. He certainly has a lot more going forward than he showed this term! Something the armchair fan may not fully appreciate!

To what extent would you apply this to other positions?

Comment by eskimorugby

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