Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Trials and miserations by David Clarke
July 13, 2009, 8:10 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, Rugby Team Management | Tags: , , ,

I helped select the final 30 boys for this year’s Osprey U16 squad for the winter 2009 campaign yesterday.

The process is not quite over because we had a trial match which was videod, so that footage needs to be reviewed.

We all know the most difficult part of the process: telling the boys who didn’t make the selection. No amount of the good words and advice can quite remove the disappointment felt.

Deciding on the marginal players is the most taxing part of the selection meeting. The good ones take little time to decide on. It is the “third” hooker or scrum half who vexes minds the most.

We are lucky this year. We have been coaching these boys since January. They have already been through one trial match, plus an intensive six week training programme. Another trial match yesterday confirmed a number of things, plus just tipped the balance for some others.

However, we must not forget that it is game. The pleasure of human movement, of the contest, and the camaraderie is delicately intertwinned in all this. If these players stop smiling then I am not sure it is all worth it.

Better Rugby Coaching


Why the Lions selection is a reflection on the referee by David Clarke

There are two issues in world rugby that most vex coaches at the top level: the breakdown and the scrum.

Each referee interprets the breakdown differently. Many commentators say that referees “guess” the infringements at the scrum engagement.

Therefore you need to pick a team that will win the game given what the referee will do, and not necessarily what the opposition will do.

The Lions have picked a front row that will scrummage, but not destroy the South Africans. What is the point of destroying a scrum if the referee ignores this and resets the scrum every time.

They have picked a pack that will get to the breakdown quickly, so there is less chance of the ball being stolen.

So though the likes of Gethin Jenkins (loosehead) and Wallace (openside) have been on great form, their selection meets those criteria perfectly.

Better Rugby Coaching

If you wanted to win the league, who would you coach? by David Clarke

Imagine you had any team or any player to choose from. Money was no object. Your only aim, to win the league you are in, or even, the World Cup.

Who would you coach? Who would you want in your team?

It would be interesting to pick a World XV now. Ok, there may be problems in gelling a team, but let’s say you had the Argentinean front row, the South African locks, the All Black back row, the Welsh half backs, the Australian midfield and the French back three. You would probably think you might beat any other team.

Looking at it another way, having the best players makes it easier to coach and to win a cup.

If that is true, then perhaps we should focus our coaching more towards coaching our players to be the best they can be, rather than spending lots of time on tactics and plays.

A balance has to be struck. Some coaches would say they don’t have the time or resources to develop players. Others with say that better players will emerge from the normal training processes anyway.

However endless team run throughs, and hours going through preplanned moves will not, in my opinion, develop what you really want: players reaching their personal potential. Your players playing at their utmost will achieve more.

Better Rugby 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

A Tough Rugby Week Ahead for Some by David Clarke


It is going to be tough time for 40 boys in the Osprey region (Wales) next week. The Under 16 and Under 18 squads need to trim their numbers by 20 each after trials over this weekend and the start of next week.


It is not only the boys who suffer, but also their parents who have invested time and travel expenses ferrying their sons to and from the training sessions.


For both squads it has been an intense four weeks, with three evenings a week of fitness and skills (some of these from me!). The players are fitter, stronger and more attuned to a higher level of rugby. But for some it will feel that the dream ends now.

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