Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Back to blog – and so much coaching to talk about by dancottrell

Been away from the blog for a little while, though not stopped interviewing, writing and producing materials. This month alone I have been putting together articles with Brian Smith, Didier Retiere, Denis Betts, Russell Earnshaw, Tony Hanks, Justin Bishop and Richard Graham. Plus welcomed on board the Rugby Weekly Team two great new grassroots coaches who are coaching tutors and mentors.

Coaching wise I have been working with three teams, all with different cultures, ambitions and outcomes. Plus I have been speaking to lots of you about the ups and downs of coaching.

Look forward to catching with you over the Xmas period and writing about what is happening in the rugby coaching world.


What players can learn from being a referee by David Clarke

Read this article first.
TV pundit and former Lions hooker, Brian Moore decided to learn to referee and managed to pull a muscle in his first game. He was definitely a poacher turned gamekeeper. But he was brave enough to put himself in the firing line. Perhaps he might have tried it as a player…I wonder whether he would have played differently.

Now, the naughty Sebastien Chabal is to referee some games himself. My first thought was that few would argue with his decisions. Well, for the first five minutes anyway. After that, he will find that the referee is only a human and will be prone to mistakes. Many a referee will tell you that they may make fewer mistakes than any player on the pitch yet they will be picked up on the smallest error.

A lion in the lions’ den. Will there be tears? I don’t think so, but I do believe that Sea Bass may be a little more careful in what he says in the future.

Better Rugby Coaching

Two things you must watch out for in the Six Nations 2011 by David Clarke

As teams shape for the World Cup, there is the little matter of the Six Nations and Tri Nations to sort out.

With the Six Nations starting this week, here are my predicitions for each team and then two things that we can watch for and apply.

England – they should win overall. They have an all court game that didn’t exist two years ago. Perhaps still a couple of centres short, they will be the front runners. Watch out for how they use runners off the fly half.
France – probably second favourite. Plenty of talent available, but can it be melded? Will we see a pragmatic approach, with lots of set piece, or will they let loose?
Wales – could beat England or France but unlikely to win both. Struggling with key injuries to their front row. I will be looking to see if they will continue to play to the touchlines before opening up.
Ireland – sleeping giant. Leinster and Ulster are looking so strong, Munster a shadow of themselves. Which province will reflect Ireland – I can’t see Grand Slam confidence seeping through at the moment. I will be looking out for their defensive structures. Will they drift from second phase?
Scotland – jock in a box team. Cleverly marshalled by Andy Robinson, they are more than a kicking outfit. How will they create try scoring opportunites?
Italy – still the poor relations. As the other teams accelerate, can Italy make a real impression? Unfortunately, it is down to a couple of key players having big games, and hiding some of the weaknesses.

And the two things:
1. Ruck defence: will teams send in players to compete at the ruck after the first defender and where will the players line up for semi quick ball.
2. Kicking out of the 22: will they or won’t they. Teams are running more…will England and France especially let loose their flying full backs from this deep?

Better Rugby Coaching

The ultimate high ball challenge by David Clarke
December 13, 2010, 10:18 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby News | Tags: , ,

It is Christmas, but worth a little look!

Former England goal keeper, David Seaman, and current or former (not sure at the moment!) Wales international Gavin Henson attempt to catch the highest “high ball”.

Better Rugby Coaching

Great interactive games for your players by David Clarke

The Australian Rugby Union website has some great educational games for your players to have a go at.

Follow this link.


Better Rugby Coaching

Super rugby will be showcase for World Cup by David Clarke
September 16, 2010, 10:40 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby News | Tags: , , , ,

Super rugby, the competition for the top 15 Southern Hemisphere regional teams, has announced a new format for next season. There is one new team for this year, the Melbourne Rebels, and there will be a three conference format.

This means that in the regular season each team will play 12 of their 16 games in their home country, with home and away fixtures, before moving to a play off system. This will boost crowds and reduce the debilitating effects of travelling abroad.

In a World Cup year, there are fears that the international players might be asked to do too much, with Tri Nations games following straight after the competition. This will require careful management of playing time, but it is unlikely that the All Blacks will risk resting players in the way they did in 2007.

I think this new format gives Sanzar national selectors the best opportunity to look at a broad range players. Certainly the standard of rugby is improving. Will the Heineken Cup be able to match this?

After watching the Tri Nations tournament, I think the answer is no. Even though the South Africans have had a poor tournament by their high standards, they were kings of the Super 14 last season. A few selection tweaks and they might be too far ahead of their European counterparts.

The English teams need to go into a similar tournament as the Super 15, with the top sides from the Six Nations battling it out. The Welsh regions could go down to three teams, the Irish three teams, and the French could have four. Italy and Scotland two. If the English had four teams, then that would make 18 teams. A conference system could mean 14 week season, with a play off. Then into the Six Nations, with the normal clubs going into their own competition.

Radical I know and would not happen because of all the politics concerned. It is interesting to speculate who would make up the regional teams. Here is my selection:
England: Bath (west country), Leicester (midlands), Wasps (south london), Saracens (north london)
Wales: Ospreys (west wales), Cardiff (central wales), Newport (east wales)
Ireland: Munster, Ulster, Leinster
Scotland: Glasgow, Edinburgh
Italy: Aironi, Treviso
France: Paris, Toulouse, Bairritz, Clermont

Better Rugby Coaching

Dangerous rugby tackles: get real by David Clarke
July 26, 2010, 8:18 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, rugby defence, Rugby News | Tags: , , ,

Three hours after the Jacques Fourie and Quade Cooper received yellow cards in the Australia v South Africa international, I watched one of my players being taken to hopsital after a tackle. I am happy to say the player was able to travel home that night.

Don’t be misled by the immediate reactions to the Fourie and Cooper incidents, and the Jean de Villiers and Rene Ranger tackles of the previous week. Let’s put tackling into its true context.

First, a tackle in rugby law is the only legal method of preventing the progress the ball carrier in open play. The tackle can be made anywhere on the body, but not the neck or head. The tackle must be made with the arms (hands), and the ball carrier cannot be pushed. If the legs of the ball carrier are lifted above the hips, this is judged to be a dangerous tackle.

Second, tackles are a mental tool to impose pressure on the attacking team. A strong tackle plants the seed of doubt in the mind of a ball carrier. A very physical tackle does this more. This has always been the case.

A player who is braced for a hard tackle is different to a player who is the act of passing or is twisted by a previous contact. “Tip tackles”, which are a slightly less dangerous version of the “spear tackle” are most likely on the “unaware” player. A tip tackle has the ball carrier tipped onto his shoulder, whereas the spear tackle drives the ball carrier into the ground.

Work your way through the circumstances for a tip tackle and you will see it does not need to happen. Basically it is a cheap shot. Watch the two tackles in the clip and neither are particularly aggressive tackles. The tackled player is not braced for the tackle because he has passed the ball.

Recommendation: Yellow Card
Why? Because if players know that they will spend 10 minutes in the bin for this action, then they won’t do it.
Suspensions as well?
Why not…for the same reason.

Better Rugby Coaching

Game trends conference by David Clarke
April 30, 2010, 12:13 pm
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby, Rugby News

Taken from the site:

Game trends on IRB Rugby Conference agenda

 Game trends on IRB Rugby Conference agenda
Leading stakeholders from the international Rugby community, including a number of the world’s top technical directors, coaches, referees and administrators, will gather in Dublin next month for an International Rugby Board Conference on the playing of Rugby.

The May 13-14 Conference and will bring together representatives from the top 20 ranked Member Unions and is the first of its kind since the 2007 Woking Forum which recommended the inclusion of Argentina in an annual international competition.

Delegates will consider the central theme of global playing trends and will present their individual and collective insights into the playing of the Game at both the elite and participation levels as an invaluable part of seeking solutions to identified issues.

The Conference agenda is entirely stakeholder-driven with all 117 of the IRB’s Member Unions having been given the opportunity to contribute via a survey to help identify the main topics for in-depth discussion over the two days.

While Union feedback determined that the Game was generally in good health as Rugby enters an exciting decade of Olympic Games inclusion and three Rugby World Cups, the process identified five key areas for consideration:

• the tackle
• the scrum (collapses and resets)
• excess kicking
• physicality of the Game
• the Law making process

“Rugby is currently enjoying unprecedented growth all around the world, reaching out to new countries, communities and audiences. Yet it is important that within that growth we collectively remain focused on the core values of our sport and ensuring that Rugby is as enjoyable to play, officiate and watch as possible while promoting the best-possible player welfare practices,” said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset.

“The object of the two-day Conference is to take stock of the Game and holistically consider global playing trends as we embark upon an exciting and pivotal decade for the Sport which includes Rugby Sevens Olympic Games debut in Rio in 2016 and the next three Rugby World Cups.”

“The Conference will provide a forum for leading technical experts and playing representatives from around the world to gather to exchange information, discuss playing and coaching techniques and trends, currency of Law and player welfare considerations. The IRB is delighted to be able to facilitate that dialogue and I would like to thank the Member Unions for their collaboration and input to date. I am sure that it will be a very interesting forum,” added Lapasset.

While the IRB Rugby Conference is not a decision-making forum, any outcomes will be presented to the IRB Rugby Committee for consideration at its October meeting.

The Conference is also a key element of the next four-year cycle of the Law Amendment process that will shape the way that Laws are evaluated, but any experimentation and/or amendment will not take place until after Rugby World Cup 2011.

Watch out, ruck and scrum laws may be moving again! by David Clarke
January 25, 2010, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby News | Tags: , , , ,

News from the Super 14s and Tri Nations

Here is something from the New Zealand RFU on the latest rulings on the ruck:

SANZAR reviews rucks and scrums – attackers favoured

Both the rights of a tackled player and scrums will be subject to changed conditions in 2010, after meetings with SANZAR officials ensured that the focus on the ruck and the forward engagements will be policed to allow a cleaner game.

The new changes will ensure that the attacking side has the advantage at the tackle area. Essentially the tackler will no longer have carte blanche to steal the ball, and the ball carrier more rights to enable his support to recycle.

It has been agreed that often the tackler wins the penalty in a ruck situation, which is going against the premise of promoting attacking rugby.

At scrum time, poor techniques, questionable tactics and repeated resets have led to a huge increase in time spent on what has become in the eyes of many a vexed set piece.

The International Rugby Board has assessed that 12% of an 80 minute match is spent resetting scrums. This is close to 10 minutes.

Offenders, namely in the front rows, will now be under the direct jurisdiction of the respective countries scrum coaches.

Mike Cron (NZ), Pat Noriega (AUS) and Balie Swart (SA) will now oversee their respective countries franchises/teams.

SANZAR referee’s manager Lyndon Bray spoke to the Dominion Post about making rugby a more open game, and ensuring that more time is spent with ball in play.

“We’ve agreed philosophically to change what the tackler can and can’t do,” Bray said.

“He is doing too much. We’ve allowed, in the evolution of the game, to let him remain in contact with the ball and ball carrier after he leaves his feet and he stays on the ball and jumps up and rips it away.”

This has seen the game develop into a situation where teams are afraid to move the ball wide, for if the ball carrier is isolated, it inevitably leads to a turnover.

“It looks great in the one-on-one scenario, but it’s actually against the law. It creates in the game a repetitive scenario where the ball carrier ends up with no rights because he can’t do anything with the ball.”

“The tackler inevitability gets the penalty which philosophically goes against what we are trying to achieve. We’ve agreed the tackler must release everything when he goes to ground and not hold on as he gets to his feet.”

This will give tackled players more time to place the ball, and will ensure that players not making a clean release after the tackle and getting to their feet will be penalised. However the infringement for holding on will still stand, albeit a potential scavenger needs to follow a specific process.

The days of specialists such as Richie McCaw holding onto a tackler or ball and essentially using that as a counterweight to swing to their feet and attack possession may be over.

Last year referees and coaches met, and planted the idea that the game would benefit with different approaches to key areas.

Key amongst this was ensuring a defending team did not have more rights.

Secondary was ensuring that the scrum was a set piece platform, and not a time consuming minefield that could ultimately deter fans from watching the product.

“We came up collectively with the fact that we had to create a greater ownership for changes in behaviour and essentially that was around the technique used at the tackle and at scrum time,” Bray said.

“We agreed that if we carried on doing the workshops we had in the past and came up with decisions on the run that the onus always came back to the guy in the middle with the whistle. We decided that wasn’t going to cut the mustard for 2010. We said we had to listen to the criticism of where our game is at and we have to produce a cleaner and more attractive spectacle.”

“If our reason for existence is to have one of the best competitions in world rugby then we have to recreate time and space on the field and recreate the attack with confidence that we used to have in Super 14 … it means more control from the ball carrier and more control for the attacking team.”

Changes in the scrum will take a more direct tact.

Offending players will be scrutinised and approached. If they cannot remedy their approach, then they will essentially be publically exposed.

“If the Hurricanes scrum for example have poor technique or use a poor tactical technique in week one to disrupt the scrum we will be going in privately and saying you have a problem and we will use Mike Cron to deliver the message, which gives it teeth,” Bray said.

“We will expect a change of behaviour from them. If they don’t deal with it then we have the right and permission from teams to go public.”

This will also apply to referees.

In summary


The ruck will favour the attacking team

The tackler’s rights will no longer be deemed as being unlimited.

A tackler must released the tackled player and ball and get to their feet before scavenging.


Offenders will be approached by the country’s scrum coach

Teams, players and referees will be made aware of the issue

Media will be made aware of the repeat offenders

Better Rugby Coaching

More on rucking by David Clarke

Here is what Stephen Jones, a Smart Session user and main rugby writer for Sunday Times has to comment on the matter.


Stephen Jones debates the biggest issues in rugby union in his weekly e-mail

Wednesday, January 6, 2010. 1630 BST

Brendan Venter, the Saracens coach, had the air of a man on a mission as he took his seat in the media room at Vicarage Road last Saturday evening. His breathtaking 40-minute assault on the mess of the laws at the breakdown, the random interpretations, the frustrations, the lack of incentive for teams to attack – all of it was perfectly judged.

Frankly, I cannot bring myself to condemn him because his verbals were not contained in some hoary procedure laid down by the Rugby Football Union. Why should such matters be contained behind closed doors when they affect so many tens of thousands of people who form the paying and watching public? Are we supposed to banish from the debate the 14,000 people who went to watch the Saracens-Leicester match and witnessed such sporting poverty?

But as the debate rages on, let’s just take aim at one of Venter’s targets. Never mind about demanding that coaches shut up. What about demanding that referees shut up too? Venter savaged the fact that every player killing the play at the breakdown gets too many chances.

Under the guise of communication and preventative refereeing, the official issues a final warning – number one, roll away; number two, hands off the ball; number three, back onside. It is only if the offender refuses to comply with the referee’s instructions that he may be penalised. I recall one appalling case when a Munster forward was killing a ruck in a match against Clermont Auvergne and the official told the forward five times (repeat, five times) to roll away.

As Venter says, once the ball has been killed for just a second, even if the miscreant reacts to the referee’s warning, the ball has been slowed down and the defence is back in position.

Just as an experiment, why don’t refereeing officials tell their men to wrap up and to penalise the offence, without warning, as soon as it is committed. To hell with preventative refereeing, it is a cheats’ charter.

Referees, this is your final warning!

Brendan’s anguish

Here are the top five complaints contained in Brendan Venter’s assault on refereeing and the laws of the game, made last weekend (due to a space shortage, we have only been able to include a fraction of his complaints!)

1 . The lottery at the breakdown – Venter’s view, understandably, is that, instead of consistent refereeing we get a random and even alternate series of penalties, with referees choosing one from around 27 offences.

2 . Refereeing officials often agree with the coaches, not the referees. Venter revealed that, on at least two occasions this season when he has complained about refereeing of Saracens matches, he has been visited by officials from Twickenham, who have agreed that he had grounds for complaint.

3 . Venter believes, again quite correctly, that the incessant barking and shouting from referees to try to stop players offending is in fact a blatant cheats’ charter, giving all the killers of the ball two opportunities to desist.

4. He believes that the problem is chiefly an English one and that there is more consistency in the Super 14. Here, we can safely and completely part company with him, as all the problems he outlined are very much universal.

5 . He says that referees are not attentive enough to their duties in preparing for games. “We would study the last five games of our opponents,” he says. “So why should referees not be expected to watch at least the last three games that the two teams have played before they come along?”

Better Rugby Coaching