Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Tale of two coaches (part six) by David Clarke

See previous parts…

Phil sits with his head in his hands. It has been one of the most stressful Sunday mornings of his life. A mug of tea stands cold next to a bottle of beer with only a few sips taken from it.

All around the rest of the family go about their normal Sunday afternoon routines. His youngest son is reorganising his cars, talking to them as if they understand every word he says. Of course, they do not move, so he has to push and manipulate them into the correct position before standing back to admire his work.

His son Rory, is glued to the computer game: “Club Penguin”. Rory skilfully manoeuvres his character around a series of scenarios, interacting with other online members. Rory is the real reason why he has decided not to pack in the coaching job.

Finally, his wife Louise is speaking to him. She does this as she clears up the remnants of breakfast and starts to cook the “late” Sunday lunch.
“We can’t expect the kids to eat so late every Sunday,” she says. “Couldn’t Rory have had something to eat at the rugby club after training.”
Phil does not answer – he knows Rory ate two bags of crisps and a chocolate bar, eschewing the hot dog provided. That’s about all he remembers of Rory after the training session.

“I’m okay Mum, “calls over Rory, “Dad got me some stuff and Piers let me share some of his food too!”
As a debate ensues over eating arrangements, Phil reflects that it was calmer than at 8.30am that morning…


Phil wakes at 5.30am on Sunday morning. Well, he is not sure, because he does not think he has slept at all. The coming first session goes through his mind again and again. What was it Nigel, the Club Coaching Coordinator had told him? “Be bold, be positive and enjoy.” Nigel had said that approximately 15 minutes after Phil had phoned Nigel to confirm that he was not going to stand down from being coach.

“That’s great news Phil”, a relieved Nigel had replied. “What changed your mind?”
“To be fair, it was in part down to the great recruitment day you put on by the professional club. Rory enjoyed it so much, he begged me to carry on coaching. I think he knew I was thinking of giving it up. Truth is, I am still pretty nervous.”
Nigel was quick to come up with ways to overcome these fears. He put Phil in touch with one of the current Under 11s coaches who had been through the same problems. He sent him a DVD on contact rugby for new players. Finally, just before he uttered the words, ”bold, positive, enjoy”, he said he would be down at the first session to help out.

Phil rehearses the opening minutes of the session again: Quick welcome, make sure every player has a ball between two, and do some simple handling in the grids. “I must have the grids marked out beforehand, I have put the cones in the back of the car already, do I have the balls in there already…” The mental list is similar to the real one he has by the front door, next to his boots, whistle and folder.


The alarm shocks him. Is it 7.30am already? He slides out of bed and immediately goes down to his list and paperwork. Rory meets him in the hall, already changed. His other son Matthew is also there to greet him, wearing a rugby top. He is desperate to come along to despite the fact he has never shown any previous interest in rugby at all.

By 8.30am, at least 45 minutes before Phil intends to leave the house, he is ready. He texts Nigel and then also his friend Si, who has said he will help, to check they are on course. Nigel replies immediately. He is at the club sorting out pitches. Si texts back that he might be late because he has to drop his eldest off at another club for a match.

At 9.21am, Phil and Rory drive into an almost empty car park. He recognises Nigel’s car and pulls in beside. Rory leaps out and rushes around to collect the kit. Phil’s heart is racing and he becomes all fingers and thumbs as he tries to pick up all the balls, cones and bags at the same time. Eventually, he decides to put it all down and find Nigel. He has not got a clue which pitch he is on.

10.07am: The car park is full and there are cars parking awkwardly along the road outside the club. Phil has his pitch set out, shown Nigel his plan (“Good stuff, but you might find you don’t get through all of it”), and he is welcoming the first few players. There is a queue of parents around him as he passes out pieces of paper to fill in. Meanwhile the boys who have arrived are chasing around with the ball.

10.25am and five minutes before the official starting time, he has 15 boys and two girls. He is still answering questions and passing forms to and fro. Nigel appears. He tells one of the mothers to take over from Phil and then almost drags Phil onto the pitch. No sign of Si!

10.29am Loud blast of the whistle and Phil asks the boys to come in to him.

10.29am and 17 seconds. Phil shouts “Stop kicking the ball and everyone into me”. He has surprised himself.

10.30am Phil spots Si rushing across to him with his son about four paces behind. He turns to the group (there are two more players now) and tells them to get in pairs with a ball.

11.37am Phil wraps up the session after a game of grab tackle and turns to speak to the parents. They are worse than the players at coming over in a group. He starts to say thanks and well done and still some of the mothers are talking whilst one or two of the fathers seem to be wandering off.

11.48am Phil is picking up the cones with Si (who has not stopped apologising for arriving late). Nigel comes over to ask him how the session went. Phil can hardly string together two words at first, but then rushes through everything:

“They are impossible to control. They don’t listen, but the first thing seemed to work okay for a couple of minutes, but it took ages to bring them back in. Then, they kept running off for water and then we tried out a drill, but we had too many players for the drill, so they were mucking around. Eventually we had a game of grab tackle and that seemed to work well, so we played that for the last twenty minutes, may be longer. I don’t know, I don’t think they learnt anything. But they seemed to enjoy themselves, though Rory did say during the drill that is was boring and when were they going to play a game.”

Next time, we see how Doug finds his first session.

Better Rugby Coaching


Three of the easiest ways to help win games by David Clarke

Make sure you have done the easiest methods of winning games first, before sweating over the hard stuff.

1. Referees return
Straight after the game, always thank the referee AND do so enthusiatically. Make him want to come back to referee your team. This positive attitude will reflect well on your team and you. Referees want to work with positive teams and will give them the leeway to play and act positively. Build this over the seasons.
2. Plan your substitutions and injury replacements
In the heat of the game, an injury can cause untold disruption if there is not clear plan. It only takes a couple of minutes before the game to write out the possible substitutions and replacements.
3. Remind the players about the first minute of the game
You know what you are doing with your own kick off. You should also know what to do with a kick off receipt. These are the last words to the players before they take the pitch: what we do for the first moments of the game. It takes a minute to remind them and that focus can set the tone for the whole game.

Better Rugby Coaching

Wales coach Gatland on international management by David Clarke
November 12, 2010, 9:31 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Coaching, Rugby Team Management | Tags: , , ,

This is an excellent insight into the modern coaching methods of an international coach. Warren Gatland tells a leadership training site ( how he approaches his players. Like many coaches of the top teams, he says he is surprisingly hands off. He wants the players to make the decisions – he wants to empower them so there is mutual trust.

Listen to his frank interview by going to this website. You have to register, but there is plenty of good management content to view and it is free.

Better Rugby Coaching

Woodward’s 10 Commandments on winning by David Clarke

Here is an article written just before the 2007 World Cup.

It was written by Spiro Zavos September 7th 2007 in the Roar. The sentiments make for interesting reading.
Clive Woodward is one of only five coaches who worked out how to win the Rugby World Cup.

In ‘The Times’ he has given his 10 Commandments on ‘How To Win The World Cup.’

1. You need the whole game behind you. 2. Try to arrive as favourites. 3. Experience. 4. Playing in your own hemisphere and particularly your own country 5. A settled team. 6. A tried and trusted way of playing. 7. Leadership 8. The need for world class people in support of the players. 9. Deal with the energy sappers and the termites. 10. Totally understand your opposition.

These 10 Commandments are very similar to the 7 Factors that I described in ‘Watching The Rugby World Cup‘: Home ground advantage, Capabilities of the Coach, Chemistry of the side, Quality of the first five-eighth, Leadership qualities of the captain, Kind of game played, Momentum.

Woodward points to the build-up by the All Blacks, 38 wins out of their last 43 tests as being similar to that of England in 2003 with their 35 test wins in their 40 games going into the 2003 RWC, as the factor that makes them favourites to win the Webb Ellis trophy: ‘In most sports, favourites tend to win.’

However, he says that being favourites does put a team under huge pressure: ‘I await with interest to see whether New Zealand can withstand it.’

‘The big danger,’ Woodward suggests, ‘comes from France.’ And also the Wallabies: ‘Australia will not be afraid of New Zealand on neutral ground so an All Black triumph is not a foregone conclusion.’

Better Rugby Coaching