Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Elite rugby coaching to a developing team by David Clarke

Two of the most enthusiatic coaches I know, Carter Croft and Andrew MacKenzie have lifted Swiss U20 rugby into the limelight. Here is a clip and an article highlighting their progress in recent times.

Swiss rugby hopes for big push in Moldova

While the Under 17 national football team basks in World Cup glory, young Swiss rugby players also hope to make sporting history this week.
Victory at an international tournament in Moldova will see the Swiss U-20 team promoted and with the chance to play some of the best sides in Europe. This would be a first for Swiss rugby, which is enjoying rapid growth at the grassroots level.

“We’re a little country with a little team, but this is a big opportunity,” technical coach Carter Croft told “We’re going to come across tremendously big Eastern European players. But if we don’t get intimidated we’ll have a chance.”

The Swiss U-20 team is travelling to Chisinau, Moldova, on Tuesday for the Group B final against Moldova and Poland.

The prize is tantalising: the winner will be promoted to Group A, the highest-ever level attained by a Swiss national rugby team of any age group.

Group A teams include Georgia, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Spain and Russia. Above that is the Six Nations pool.

“A victory would announce the arrival of Swiss rugby on the international scene,” said head coach Andrew Mackenzie.

Small, technical team
Next to the Stade de Suisse football stadium in Bern the young backs and forwards rehearse line-up and passing drills on a training pitch.

Like the U-17 national football team, the current U-20 rugby squad, which has been together for the past two years, is an exciting mixture of nationalities and experience, including several who play in France, England and Ireland.

“We’re a small, passionate team and we rely on getting around fast,” said Teanuanua Nicole, the 19-year-old Fijian-Swiss number eight, who normally plays in New Zealand.

“All we’ve got to do in Chisinau is to tackle all day and when we win the ball do what we do best – we’re a fit team so we can get them tired and capitalise on that.”

“If we win we’re into rugby world cup qualifiers, which is a tremendous achievement for a country with a relatively young rugby pedigree,” said Croft, a former England B scrumhalf and experienced coach.

Fast-growing young sport
The Swiss Rugby Union has only been in existence since 1977. Rugby is played at amateur level and is developed chiefly through club sides. The 37 clubs here field 62 teams with a total of 2,229 registered players.

But the sport is growing quickly. “In 2004 the basic skills were just not there, but now you have four leagues and each club has two teams. Lausanne has 75 registered players and Zurich has three teams – that’s a hell of a growth level,” said Croft.

But rather than expats, this exponential rise is being driven by Swiss nationals, who are starting to play rugby, and overseas coaches, he added.

Fribourg hooker Gaby Fox prepares to throw the ball in as the forwards slowly get to their feet for another complicated set-play.

“Come on!” yells the coach. “The only time you don’t get into the defensive line is if you are unconscious or have a broken nose.”

Oliver Ritter, who plays wing for Nyon and Loughborough University, started playing rugby at 15. He felt Swiss rugby had come on leaps and bounds.

“There’s a hell of lot more youngsters now than when I started,” he said. “After the 2007 World Cup in France lots more started playing, there are more clubs and it’s more organized.”

Holding it back
But the Swiss Rugby Federation still doesn’t lend enough support, probably due to the lack of funding, said the dual Swiss-British national.

“What is holding it back is a general lack of knowledge that the sport exists here,” Mackenzie agreed. “The Swiss Rugby Federation needs to go into schools and offer the sport as an option.”

It also suffers from a wrong perception as a violent sport, he added. The coaches are convinced of improvements in game play, however.

“If you look at this drill these guys are doing, they do it with much more skill nowadays and they want to learn,” said Croft.

“It won’t be long before there is a professional team in Geneva playing in the French leagues.”

Rugby is at a very developmental stage in Switzerland, said Eoin O’Faolain, who used to live in Switzerland, but now studies at Trinity University Dublin.

“But look at Italy; they only started the Six Nations in 2001-2002 and they recently lost to the All Blacks 20-6,” said the young fullback. “Ten years down the road if the Swiss federation puts in the right structures and does its job, there is no reason why Switzerland can’t be the next team to join the Six Nations.”

Simon Bradley,


KEY FACTSThere are 37 clubs in Switzerland, fielding 62 teams, which compete in four national leagues.
There are 2,229 registered players.
To play in a national team a player needs a Swiss passport or to have lived for 3 years in Switzerland.
The Swiss senior side is currently ranked a lowly 59th in world rugby.
The U-20 side qualified for the Group B final in Moldova against Moldova, Serbia and Poland by winning a tournament in Ostrava, Czech Republic in September 2009. They beat Latvia 66-10 and the Czech Republic 32-19.

Excellent rucking drill by David Clarke

The coaches at London Irish are full of excellent ideas. Here is a video of a drill created by David Williams and London Irish Head Coach Toby Booth.

It is quick to set up, interesting and slightly unusual. It gives you an excellent chance to concentrate on honing good technique.

Better Rugby Coaching

Can you add value to this team? by David Clarke

I am not sure of the age group of these teams, but I am guess around the 10 to 11 year old age range.

Some fairly typical rugby going on here, with some good passages of play and some not so good.

What is shows is the shape of the game at this age range. Rucks are appearing, but not really forming, and players are spreading across the pitch. There is little lateral space created. That is unless either a player runs sideways or, on a rare occasion, there are several passes.

I think we need be clear about our expectations of the shape of the game and adjust our coaching accordingly. In which how could you add significant value to these teams?

Better Rugby Coaching

New warm up drill video by David Clarke

Rugby IQ has some great videos for rugby training. Here is a really good one on agility and support play.

There have been devised by the guys at Rugby IQ who include the Springbok assistant coach Gary Gold. He writes in this month’s International Rugby Technical Journal.

Better Rugby Coaching

How to lose a game of rugby by David Clarke

By rights, the South African second string team should have beaten the Leicester second string team.

We can argue about the exact mix in each side, but neither team was the strongest available. So one might expect the international team to prevail. Yet as any international coach knows, a game where the international team plays a club side is fraught with danger. You are expected to win and anything other than a demolition of the other team is seen as a failure.

On the other hand, having spent a good deal of time talking to Gary Gold, the Springbok assistant coach, in recent weeks, you are also very wary of the fickle nature of the game.

Gary, who coached at London Irish in the early 2000s, is a realist. He will have known that the Leicester players will have sniffed an upset. Interestingly the game was won and lost up front, where big hearts can sometimes overcome big muscles.

I suspect that the South African coaching group tried their level best to convince their team that the Tigers would do what tigers do best when their backs are against the wall, come out all tooth and claw. It would have been different on the High Veld, but in front of the home supporters, the Leicester team were too determined.

An upset, yes. A complete surprise, no. Munster nearly beat the All Blacks last year and I watched the Osprey second string beat the Aussie a few years ago too.

What Gary would say is that coaching is as much about man management as it is about coaching the technical aspects of the game. Read more in the latest International Rugby Technical Journal, out today.

So you can lose the game because your mindset is not right. And the most frustrating thing is that the players are not always convinced of the magnitude of the task in front them!

Dan Carter is the villain by David Clarke

Dan Carter high tackleFew will have escaped the news that Dan Carter has been cited for a high tackle on Welsh replacement scrum half, Martin Roberts.

Roberts was pretty circumspect about the incident afterwards, unlike his coaches, who railed against the referees decision. Anyone who knows Roberts will not be surprised by his comments. He is a bright player, who thinks deeply about the game.

As for Carter, he continues to be masterful on the pitch. From a coaching point of view, he attacks the gain line. He does this in two ways. First, he sometimes runs at it. Starting flat he accelerates at angles so defenders have to go with him or the defenders either side of him.

Second, he pushes the ball around the field from boot or hand, but always into dangerous places. It is rare that either Carter or the next All Black player who touches the ball is not causing peril for the defence.

Though not as destructive as Jonny Wilkinson, Carter is a fine tackler. Which makes the tackle on Roberts all the more interesting. He went high. There is no doubt that he was aiming at the ball. In the speed of the game, as Roberts dipped slightly, the arm slid over the ball and hit the head.

Dan Carter is not a dirty player. But he did tackle too high. It should have been a yellow card because it was a significant intervention. In the speed of the game, the referee missed it. It was in the middle of the pitch, so the touch judges missed it.

He should not be banned. It was a mistake at the time which should have been punished.

Better Rugby Coaching

A rugby fitness drill by David Clarke
November 6, 2009, 11:37 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Fitness | Tags: , ,

Here is an interesting fitness drill which should be easy to set up. What do you think?

It is described as: A rugby fitness drill designed to improve fitness around the contact area with an emphasis on low body angle and height

Better Rugby Coaching