Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Day 24 of the August pre season training tips: attack by David Clarke

August 24


Good attack requires good core skills. Your core skills also defines your ambition. Attack with your strengths.

Coaching attack means how you intend to take the ball forward. In pre season, split your attack training into three areas:

1. Attack through the opposition: using plays, moves and techniques to smash through the defensive lines. Training should be against an organised defensive line of players.
2. Attack around the opposition: training against a defence that has spaces on the edges. Reduce the number of defenders the players face in exercises to encourage more passing to spaces.
3. Attack to disorganise a defence: either by using kicks or quick rucks to break up the defensive line.

All attack exercises must be against a live defence as soon as possible to add realism and create the right circumstances.

Better Rugby Coaching

Day fourteen of the August pre season training: game plan by David Clarke

August 14

Game plan

Half way through pre season training and your game plan for the first few games should be taking shape.
Think of a game plan as a list of what you do and when. Instead of the players making it up on the spot, they know that from various parts of the pitch they will run certain moves.
There are many ways to design a game plan and even more game plans you can have.
However, you will want to start running through these plans on the pitch from now on in.

Here is a simple plan for you to develop:
1. Exiting the 22m area. How are we going to move the ball away from the 22m area and out of danger. Think about kicking, scrums (back row move?) and lineout calls.

2. Putting on pressure between the 22m areas. How are we going to use the ball between the 22m lines to gain ground or force opposition errors. Again, think about kicking, where to attack, what moves from set pieces. Some teams play “phase, phase, break or kick”. If they cannot break down the opposition defence after two phases, they kick deep.

3. Scoring in their 22m area. What are our killer scoring plays? Which lineout can we use for a catch and drive, a scrum back row move, and a backs move to split the defence.

4. How do we defend?

5. How do we counterattack?

Better Rugby Coaching

Looking back at a famous victory by David Clarke
July 1, 2010, 10:29 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Team Management | Tags: , ,

From The Sunday Times October 22, 2006
Here is an interesting story of how a team won the European Cup and some of the mental toughness needed.
Caught in Time: Bath win European Cup, 1998
By Nick Cain of the Sunday Times
By the time Bath reached the 1998 Heineken Cup final against Brive on January 31, they had already had a beast of a season. Not only had they had to weather the unsavoury fall-out from a Simon Fenn ear-biting furore — which resulted in one of their props, Kevin Yates, being banned for six months — they had also endured a poor first half of the season in the Allied Dunbar Premiership.
Their captain, Andy Nicol, says the club was besieged on all sides, ridiculed after an unsympathetic fly-on-the-wall documentary and deeply embarrassed following the injury to London Scottish flanker Fenn, with the Tetley’s Bitter Cup mischievously renamed the “Tetley’s Biter Cup” in some quarters. “There were some tough times, including conceding 50 points to Saracens, and then being knocked out of the Tetley’s Bitter Cup at home by Richmond the week before we played our Heineken Cup semi-final against Pau,” recalls Nicol.

By that stage Bath fans were deeply frustrated by the sharp decline in the club’s fortunes after a period in which they had dominated the English game, winning 10 domestic cup finals from 1984 to 1996. So frustrated, in fact, that they were calling for the heads of Andy Robinson, newly installed as coach, and his player-coach assistant, Jon Callard.

Callard remembers it well: “There was a ‘Robinson and Callard Out’ campaign, and I’ll never forget after the defeat by Richmond. As the crowd left the Rec, one bloke shouted at us: ‘You bloody pair, we’ve spent £700 on trips to France, and we want our money back’.”

The turning point, according to Nicol, was a crisis meeting in the week before they beat Pau 20-14. Even so, Bath arrived in Bordeaux for the final as overwhelming underdogs against Brive, who were not only the reigning European champions — they had smashed Leicester a year earlier in the final in Cardiff — but who also had arrived to defend their title after edging out the aristocrats of French rugby, Toulouse, in the semi-finals.

Victor Ubogu, the Bath tighthead prop who symbolised their defiance during a match-turning seven-scrum siege on their own line early in the second half, says the side’s self-belief never wavered, especially as they had already won at home against Brive in the pool rounds. “What everyone forgets is that Bath had never lost a final, and many of us in that team were part of that culture,” he says.

The Bath players were all struck by the sizzling atmosphere generated in the 37,000-capacity stadium, with the 7,000 travelling visiting fans battling gamely to be heard among the overwhelmingly French throng. Nicol was aware of the tensions generated by the fighting that had occurred in the pool round between Brive and Pontypridd, including a vicious bar-room brawl. “The Stade Lescure was being redeveloped for the soccer World Cup, so we had to change in a school just behind the ground, and there was an incredibly long tunnel down which both teams had to walk side by side,” he says. “I remember turning around and looking at the two massive packs separated by a line of stewards, all about 5ft 3in, and I had a little chuckle. I thought of delivering a few stirring words, but decided against it because things might have kicked off, given the trouble between Brive and Pontypridd.”

Considering the quality of their backs, Brive, who had a comfortable 15-6 half-time lead thanks to the goalkicking of Christophe Lamaison, surprised Bath with the sterility of their tactics when they had the English side trapped in their own 22 after the break. “Their scrum-half, Philippe Carbonneau, kept looking to the Brive coach for direction and he kept saying, ‘Go for the scrum’,” says Nicol. Ubogu says that it broke Brive, not Bath. “Ronnie Regan, Dave Hilton and I knew that if we were driven over, it was game over, and on the seventh scrum I said, ‘We’ve got to drive them off the ball’. We did it, and won a penalty, but we were shattered. Then I looked at their scrum, and they were in bits. It was the turning point.”

Bath came back with a try, Dan Lyle and Jeremy Guscott making inroads before Guscott put Callard over. The drama was not over. An Alain Penaud drop goal and a Callard penalty pushed Brive out to 18-16 before Callard struck the winning penalty 80 seconds into stoppage time. Bath had one last scare. Nicol fumbled; from the scrum Lisandro Arbizu missed a point-blank drop goal, but Bath held on for the most famous English club win on foreign soil. Their celebrations went on long into the night in a Mexican bar in Bordeaux, but not before they had stunned their supporters, and Brive’s, by wandering into a McDonald’s for their celebration dinner.

Guscott takes up the story: “There was a mix-up with the post-match dinner, so we pulled in for Big Macs in the city centre — the look on the faces of the supporters as we came in with the cup was priceless. But it had to be doubles — we’d just won the cup.” [The numbers refer to a photograph, which is not carried on the website]
(Note this article is from 2006!)
1 Dave Hilton Still going strong at 36, the former Bristol butcher propped for Scotland before becoming a key part of the “Bris” revival.

2 Ricky Pellow Cornish scrum-half who went on to Exeter, Worcester, Manchester and Cornish Pirates. Now a fitness/skills coach at the Rugby Football Union’s southwest academy.

3 Richard Butland Works in Canada as a mechanical engineer. Benched against Brive, the fly-half then spent two seasons at Stade Français.

4 Matt Perry Bedevilled with injury since touring Australia with the 2001 Lions, “Pezza” is still England’s most-capped full-back. Now in his testimonial season with Bath, he was bumped by Jon Callard for the 1998 final.

5 Nigel Redman The England U20/Academy coach and also a tactical analyst for Sky TV. He was at the core of a pack that refused to buckle.

6 Jon Callard Recently upgraded to kicking/catching coach for all England international teams, he scored all 19 points in the final.

7 Russell Earnshaw Integral to Doncaster’s push for promotion, Earnshaw was an athletic flanker who got on for the last 10 minutes of the final. Has property rental interests.

8 Jeremy Guscott Sunday Times rugby columnist, BBC commentator and peerless former England and Lions centre who still cannot believe that he gave Callard a scoring pass with the line open.

9 Martin Haag Underrated Bath lock who, as Bristol forwards coach, has again showed that he knows his trade inside out.

10 John Mallett Forced into retirement by persistent back injuries, “Shep” (after Shepton Mallet) teaches rugby and physical education at Millfield.

11 Nathan Thomas Part of the Scarlets back row, arriving via Cardiff and Leeds Tykes. Hoping to add to his nine Wales caps.

12 Phil de Glanville Called “Hollywood” because of his matinee-idol looks, the former England centre works for Sport England as a business development manager.

13 Mike Catt Evergreen playmaker who went on to become a 2003 World Cup-winner. Captain of London Irish.

14 Eric Peters The Scotland back-rower was benched in the final before retiring due to injuries. He works for King Sturge, a property services company.

15 Ieuan Evans The lethal Wales and Lions wing is part of Sky TV’s rugby squad as well as being a newspaper columnist.

16 Andy Nicol A BBC TV and radio commentator. He also works in finance.

17 Andy Robinson The former Bath coach is England’s head coach.

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!

Better Rugby Coaching

Rugby drills and rugby tactics by David Clarke

I am looking at developing some tactics for one of the team’s I am involved in.

I am going to try to introduce the tactics through the “drills” we use.

Now the word “drill” makes some coaches wince. Coach educators would say don’t use the word because it reminds us of repetitive actions will no decisions at the end. I can see this, but don’t mind using the word if those around understand what I mean and are willing to try something out.

To set up the tactic I want to create a number of potential scenarios the players face and then let them decide what tactic to employ. It is an experiment to a certain extent, because I don’t know how the “conditions” I am setting on the game will change so the players will face different types of defence.

The key is to provide opportunities to try out some methods of attack and then see if the players respond to the potential tactics.

More on whether it works next week.

Playing the B team by David Clarke

Tomorrow night a team I coach will be playing the “best of the rest”. The “best of the rest” are the boys who did not make the Young Osprey U16 squad at the start of the season. They will now have a chance to prove a few points.

This game has many positives.

1. It will vindicate many or all of our selections.

2. It might bring to light a player we missed first time, either because they were not developed or they were just did not do enough when we were making the selection.

3. It gives us a chance to look at our wider squad with a couple of the “best” players rested.

Approaching the game is an interesting coaching exercise. Our game plan will not change from a normal game, but it is mentally a different thought process.

I look back on the times when my team was either playing down against a lower league team or playing up in a cup run.

It was quite a good position to be in when playing against a lower league opposition as a winger or fullback. It allowed me more space and time because often the opposition organisation was weaker, even if my opposite number was my equal. It was often the forwards who bore the brunt of the onslaught!

The key mental attributes were patience in attack and physicality in defence. Not bad approaches whatever your game plan. However against lower league teams, you need to back your fitness, organisational ability and all round skill.

It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the game is. I know my team is very excited, but not half as excited as the boys and their parents from the opposition.

It won’t be a stroll in the park. Dare I tell you the score on Thursday morning.

All Blacks coach’s journey by David Clarke

Alun Carter, the former Welsh international performance analyst, gives us an inside view on Steve Hansen when he was coaching Wales from 2002 to 2004.

Hansen, now the forwards coach for the All Blacks, took over from Graham Henry and saw Wales run some of the big sides close. His team almost beat the All Blacks in 2003 World Cup and arguably started the momentum for Mike Ruddock’s team to take the Grand Slam 2005.

Alun Carter’s interview is quite revealing on how coaches can influence a team for better and for worse.

A new rugby tactic for the weekend by David Clarke

I am working with the Welsh Women’s squad this weekend in Cardiff. I have been allocated a number of sessions to work on rugby skills, techniques and tactics, based on their game plan.


Of course I am not going to tell what the tactics are, but it has led me to check the Better Rugby Coaching archive for the words “rugby tactics”. I put in rugby tactics, but then thought, this is a rugby site anyway, so I changed it to just “tactics” and I got over 40 articles.


Here are the results.


Better Rugby Coaching search for "rugby tactics"


What is my new tactic for the weekend


When receiving a kick off deep in the 22m area, there are normally two options. Secure and kick for touch or long down the side of the pitch, OR secure, run open and either kick long or go for the break.


Struth! That’s four tactics already.


So here is the next one. It is a variation on one of themes.


Secure the ball. Take the ball towards the touchline, but not over the 5m line. From the breakdown, pass the ball behind the forwards waiting to take a short ball to the fly half, who passes it to the inside centre (12). That should give enough space for this player to take the ball forward, kick over the defence and for the outside centre, winger and blindside winger to follow up. The defence will be expecting the kick, will be spread further across the pitch. Risk and reward…what do you think?



My rugby coaching to do list is looking too long by David Clarke

I am just writing out my season plan. On my list I have nine areas I know I need to cover in training:


1. Tackling

2. Handling

3. Footwork

4. Kicking

5. Rucking

6. Mauling

7. Scrum

8. Lineout

9. Match tactics


I am ignoring rugby conditioning at the moment. If I have four weeks, I have worked out that I should cover four areas a week, with match tactics thrown in for the last few weeks.

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Rugby Tactics – Post Match by David Clarke

The Rugby Coach catalogue of DVDs is out today.

Here is one that slipped through though.