Rugby is a game of a series of episodes of play that commence with the re-start and end with the referee’s whistle being blown for whatever reason. The episode has an outcome, which may be to the advantage or disadvantage of the team. The outcome may be measured in terms of territory, possession or both; as well as the scoring of points.
Like all outcomes they are the product of performance, successful or unsuccessful. The difference between the two is that the outcome is something we can do little about on the practice field while the performance of the skills of the game throughout the episode is something over which we have degrees of control.
Just one point here, in a sport in which closed skills are performed a high degree of perfection can be achieved. A perfect “10” has been scored in some sports in the past.
However, in sports in which there is a contest between 2 opponents to score points against each other the skills are open skills and can seldom be performed perfectly. It is part of the skills of the game to know how to adapt these open skills to the competitive situations to achieve a greater degree of success than your opponents.
This is why we have some control, not total control.
As the episode is played out there will be a range of incidents that contribute to the outcome. Identifying these incidents is the dominant coaching skill. The skill is to replay the episode, for most coaches, in their mind, to identify the critical incident so that they know where the focus of their coaching should lie.
By identifying the critical incidents during the event the information can be communicated to the players. In the past I have recommended that the focus should be on one critical incident, the most important critical incident, so as not to overload the players information.
Given that there are around 20 episodes in each half, more in games of lesser skill, the amount of information may be sufficient within the context of the current game but more information may be needed when it comes to practicing for the next game.
The point is that it is difficult to get an order of priority when the most a particular critical incident occurs is 2-3 times. By extending the number generated by each episode the number of the most critical will stand out as there will be many more.
This is particularly important in the contemporary game because episodes are lasting a long time going through a number of phases of play and a number of turnovers before play is called to a halt.
But we have to be careful we don’t go too far as a degree is discrimination is needed here. There needs to be balance between the two needs, the needs of the current game and the needs of a week of training between games.
This accuracy of the coach’s discrimination between performance in one incident and another is based on 2 things:
Rugby knowledge and coaching intuition.
The Pareto/80:20 Principle.
Rugby knowledge and coaching intuition:
During a game it is hard to be comprehensive, to cover everything. Rugby knowledge and intuition make the accuracy of the trained coach very high in recalling the episode and identifying what incidents may be critical and which one is the most critical. Over the years coaches accumulate a bank of intuitive knowledge in their sub-conscious that can be drawn on.
In life generally this frequently occurs. We are able to react to situations we are frequently exposed to intuitively with great accuracy Everything from crossing the road without looking “right, left and right again” to a surgeon’s reaction to the unexpected in an operation, creating a life threatening situation, require quick thinking based on intuition that has a high degree of accuracy.
In our trade, which is the coaching of rugby, quick thinking during a game, in particular, is essential if we want to be successful. Long exposure to the game and it’s mode of play provides coaches with a bank of information, from which our intuition can draw information to make an accurate enough decision to be successful. Come to think of it, this equally applies to players. From all the cues that are being fed into the player’s brain they must select the best one for the situation.
This enables the coach to focus on the most important things when developing a team profile and the steps that follow.
Initially coaches will have great accuracy in the things that happen frequently but eventually they will be accurate in those that occur infrequently. In addition reference needs to be made to the teams checklists in particular their patterns of play and game plan for the current game.
This enables the coach to focus on performance not outcomes as something can be done about performance as explained above.
The Pareto/80:20 Principle:
We now need to decide on how many of these incidents are enough for the team’s training to address the important issues.
To do this I would put forward that the Pareto/80:20 Principle gives us a guide.
The principle states that in many aspects of life 80% of the outcomes/results are determined by 20% of the performances/tasks. This means that the outcome of each principle can be achieved by performing 20% of the actions successfully.
We are now in a position of using the major limiting factor of our coaching, which is time, more successfully because the return from focusing on the 20% gives us a great return. Implied in this is the assumption that the coach is able to prioritize accurately to focus on the 20%.
Clearly it is not worthwhile going beyond this to the 80% of outcomes because the return is so much less.
In this way we solve the problem of doing many things superficially. We are able to focus on practicing a smaller number of things well.
Maybe all I have done is formalize what coaches currently do informally without any structure.
It is in this way that “best practice” is made accessible to all coaches and it may enable coaches who do this in their sub-conscious to know it is a common practice from which they may fine-tune what they are doing.
To provide greater rigor to the process the following questions may provide logical steps as part of the process:
Is your team in attack or defence?
What were the critical incident(s) for each episode?
For each incident what was the player’s functional role?
For each role what were the functional role’s key factors?
Below is a simple table into which information can be entered if the exercise is used for team analysis after the game.
Critical Incidents Summary Sheet: Team ______________
|Attack / Defence||Critical Incident||Functional Role||Key Factors||Strengths/ Weaknesses|
The critical incident and the key factor may be one and the same.
PRINCIPLES OF ATTACK
Kick Starts and Re-Starts
From a shallow kick off have support right around the ball.
The best kick off that puts the ball in the air for the longest time while at the same time allowing the kicking team time to contest it is the angled one that draws the ball down the 10metre line with the catcher angling from the touchline side. The ball travels at least 25metres while the attacking catcher runs about 10metres. Also the angle of running is more towards the ball, the ball is not moving away from the catcher.
If you have many variations you may never get one of them right. Maybe you should focus on 1-2 options and get them right.
22metre Drop Outs
Does the options of being able to kick from anywhere along the 22metre line offer possibilities?
To reduce the number of variables the jumper must be up and stable in front of an opponent to give the thrower a real target. At present line-outs are lost because both the ball and the jumper are in motion and the instability of the jumper means he is using his arms for stability and not to catch the ball.
It was interesting to see one team throwing in as soon as the defending line-out has the minimum number of players in the line-out, which is 2. It is worth a look. At the very least it will make the opposition hurry to the line-out.
I watch the quarter back throwing in NFL with a ball approximately the same shape. Variables in distance, flight and targets are not “telegraphed” by the throwing action so why is this throwing technique not used? It is the most natural way of throwing in a variety of ways.
In my time in the game I have seen technical advisers from outside the game, outside the country or both needing to bring in something different to make their mark.In most aspects of the game we are very prudent about change and we force our own people to justify their views. But, like some other aspects of New Zealand life, we find those from a different background who talk differently irresistible, no justification needed.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The current conventional way of throwing is bio-mechanically and tactically flawed. For the first time in a long time I think I saw a lobbed throw clearing traffic and falling on the designated catcher. So there are options but the throwing technique mitigates against them.
Finally,maybe it is early season but teams don’t seem to have done enough homework to contest ball in the air.
Adjust to the screw/ wheel; don’t play against it even if it is where you intended to go.
Gain-line in attack from set pieces and phase play.
Attack Line Alignment
The players in the attack line are standing so flat that the defence can rush up with confidence, as they are able to arrive with the ball. They are able to multiple tackle.
Players running onto the ball and running straight threaten the defence and this leads to the defence hesitating. OK I realize that if you are flat and manage to penetrate you are away but this is not happening through many phases.
Should the great number of phases be an indictment of either our attacking ability, the ease of defending or the Laws of the game not creating space as a reward something I have raved on about elsewhere?
Teams are passing to players in a worse position than themselves further from the gain line.
Getting Over The Gain Line
Taking the ball flat with the tackler arriving at the same time is the main reason for handling mistakes.
Because the attack lines are standing too flat and the players are not running onto their passes there seems to be a need to go to at least two phases before the defence is disorganised enough to allow the attack to get over the gain line.
When players “take it up” they are seeking contact and not stepping into space to ensure their hands are free to offload or place the ball. If a player does take the ball flat and, running slowly, to avoid a forward pass, steps and then drives as far forward as they can, they get further down the field.
When teams come from depth, commit a defender and have support coming from depth off the ball carrier’s shoulder, teams are getting well over the gain line. This also occurs when a flat, close standing line offers an option but becomes a decoy with a second line coming from depth wide out.
It is the role of the front line to hold the defence creating space for the second wave. This will not happen if the front line is ahead of the ball and, as a result, they are no distraction. The defence just drifts. At best the front line obstructs which maybe a penalisable infringement.
Most attacks are single line attacks with no players entering the space from outside or inside the space between the ball carrier and other players. This means the space between the defenders is not being attacked.
Using The Overlap
Where there are large numbers and you have an overlap, say 8 Vs. 6, it is difficult to exploit an overlap as too much can go wrong. You are better to set up phase play that recreates space, using the off-side line, and then exploit it when there is a 4 Vs. 3 or something similar.
Where to penetrate
There is a weakness in tackling at #10 in most teams.
Set pieces offer more space to attack and penetrate.
Are players so tied into patterns that, when a gap does occur, they don’t take it?
Penalty kicks made for territory and line-out possession are very much like Rugby League kicks, a gain of 10-15metres, but at least 50% of the flight of the ball is over the touch line.
Territory is important.
I know that they want to find touch but the gain can be greater especially if the spiral punt is used.
Blind-side Wing From Scrum
Have a close look at the defence formation from a scrum. Either the blind-side is available or using the blind-side wing as the penetrator on the open-side is a good option depending where the defensive blind-side wing is positioned.
|Supporting Role of ball carrier and support players.||
When a player penetrates lateral support is allowing the defence to isolate the penetrator, as the pass must be lateral. A pass to linear support coming from depth is difficult to interfere with.
When making the pass, especially when playing through the tackle, imagine the ball is a camera and only pass to a teammate if you can take a complete picture of him.
Depth is everything as it allows the support player to adjust to the situation; hopefully this is a pass into space. A lack of depth leads to the passer forcing the pass. This is happening when a team is behind on the scoreboard and is desperate to score. This is why the turnovers occur.
When the defence tackles at the level of the ball, teams are combatting the situation by driving strongly with the legs. This is helped by support adding to the drive and this usually prevents the turnover. This can be further helped by the ball carrier having a low body position.
Support At the Tackle
In one game the players in the attacking team became grouped on the far side of the field as they all chased the ball with the sole exception being the open-side wing. I wonder why this is occurring?
The Number of Phases Doesn’t Count
The number of phases is not indicative of superiority as the illusion of movement is by the movement of the ball not by the defence or the attack. The defence just shuffles maintaining their alignment. There is a lot of east-west movement by the ball and not much north-south movement by the ball carrier, which is the movement that counts.
What makes matters worse is the greater commitment of the attack in support to re-cycle the ball. This takes some time and leads to slower and slower support as each phase is played.
What is happening however is that a succession of reverse attacks does cause the defence to compress and the overlap can result. Numbers in 15’s make this less likely to occur than in Sevens.
Just remember that each phase can offer the opportunity for the ref to get involved and the later this occurs the greater is the waste of effort if your team infringes.
Is it strategy to use post tackle infringements to gain a penalty? These are winning games along with scrum penalties or, at the very least it is creating a lead that then makes the defence more cautious. I guess this is the positive spin.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Think about Gregan when he used to use forwards taking the ball up by running across and feeding it to a runner in the channel where he was being tackled. The tackler is committed and has trouble tackling both players.
Longer memories do create options, everything hasn’t changed.
On The Ground/Out Of Play
I know that this is the Law so why are “rucks” composed of players on the ground mainly, if not all, from one team with the bodies making little effort to get away. If the ball is to be contested Law has it that the foot be used, yet there is no ground for the supporting leg. It has to be put on a body.
Currently players who bind and drive through the gate and past the line of the ball arrive in fresh air beyond the opposition halfback or between this player and the ruck. Here they loiter using their body angle to create a channel for pick and go. They move off to the side and then wander back to their side of the ball blocking the running line of the defence.
Another strategy is to line up defenders and manhandle them away. This is so common that, when an opposing player is bowled away from the play, they get up, shake themselves down, and rejoin play. I don’t think you are able to play the man without the ball especially from an offside position. Remember attacking players can be offside.
Milking the Penalty
A similar strategy is to pull down the opponent who is trying to contest the tackled ball. I guess this helps the ref, as the player is unable to retain his feet. At the very least you can get rid of one or two good tacklers from the defence by delaying their re-entry into play. The player on the ground is out of play but it is difficult for the ref to see what is going on.
To get the greatest gain delivery should be while the maul is still moving forward.
A Post Half-Time Strategy
Any losing team worth its salt is going to throw everything at the team leading on the scoreboard, immediately after half time. To take away their “fire in the belly” the leading team needs to develop a strategy. Retaining possession, putting the ball behind them and chasing to a pattern; and playing to the corners come to mind. There are others.
A Post Scoring Strategy
It is the same after your team has scored. You are not compelled to give the opposition their turn to score. The aim should be to ensure the next stoppage in play is in the opposition’s territory after playing to a pattern that retains possession and ensures this happens. Just remember that every tackle offers the potential for an infringement.
Pick and Go on Their Goal-line
Teams are showing patience and commitment when they are attacking on the goal line. On TV you do see many defenders around the ball. Is there an overlap somewhere?
Teams make matters worse for themselves by forcing passes and getting too flat. Interceptions may be the result.
PRINCIPLES OF DEFENCE
Receiving Kick Offs
Follow your opposite number and duplicate their role.
|Going Forward Patterns at scrum, line-out, tackle, post tackle, ruck and maul using the gain-line.||
It may have been enthusiasm but defenders in the line are getting ahead of those closer to the source of possession. In doing this they lose their peripheral vision, especially inside, and a “dog leg” gap is created. It exposes the player to the inside break also.
Spacing Between Defenders
The defence line from set pieces tend to be spread so that each player is in a one-on-one with their attacker. As a result each defender tends to be isolated. They must work as a unit defending inside out forcing the attack to drift or be tackled.
I did think one team was defending outside in. This created gaps inside. Maybe it is a matter of practice.
It may be useful for each defender to defend a “pair of hands” numbering out from the source of possession to avoid uncertainty. If your pair of hands passes the ball, so long as you have an angle of running that enables you to make a strong tackle, you can drift with each player moving onto the next pair of hands.
With greater numbers in the defence line from phase play each player can defend a lane and, when the ball is passed beyond the player’s lane the whole line shuffles across but also retains depth to cover the inside break.
When there is an overlap wings are coming off their man leaving their opposite number free. They should stay out and run to stop the pass to the wing being made. This allows other defenders to drift to defend the gap inside.
Tackles made when the ball carrier steps lack “body” in the tackle. Tackles are being made with the arms. This allows the ball carrier to play through the tackle.
Drive with the legs, through the body and the shoulder to destabilize the ball carrier and then wrap with the arms. Some players are going very low and are only able to grab a foot or two. There needs to be body in the tackle. Opponents will exploit this especially to run a penetrating player from depth.
|Preventing Territory being gained
It is demanded that the tackler on the opposition side of the ball rolls away. I guess the player can roll away from the ball so long as he knows where the ball is. If they don’t, do they roll towards the opposition halfback or roll back towards their team’s side of the ball or is the answer to pull out sideways? Some direction is needed.
Defending Goal-Line “Pick and Go”
Tackling against the pick and go on the goal-line can be best done by tackling outside in as it gives access to the legs and the player directly in front is in a position to contest the ball.
THE WAY THE GAME IS PLAYED
The Mode Of Play
Because the defence is more likely to be called for infringing at the post tackle their commitment is limited especially within kicking range. This means the attack is likely to retain possession. But, because of the greater commitment by the attack to ensure this, the defence line outnumbers the attack line.
Little space is available hence the continual hit-ups.
A principle of rugby is the creation of space to reward the team that is able to win possession. In Law scrums and line-outs do this. In the mode of play rucks and mauls were legislated to create a contest and create the same reward, space to attack.
What we have now is when the ball is easily won there is no space across the field to attack through.
Much of this is in the interpretation of the Law favouring the attacking team in the mistaken idea that this will lead to space as a reward for winning the ball. The speed of re-cycling is thought to do this but this doesn’t occur as the defence just forms their line and doesn’t contest the ball..
To overcome this the ball carrier must anticipate an “escape route” for the ball prior to contact so that it can be immediately executed.
So far this season attacks haven’t used the maul to create space nor have they used linear support.
Equally the defence has shied away from counter rucking.
Who is responsible the prop who pulls down on the arm of their opponent or the player who goes down because of this? In the games the first seems to be the case which is contrary to what the IRB is about to experiment with in the Pacific Nations Cup in which binding must be on the torso at the “touch” stage of the engagement. At first sight it looks like a good idea.
There are so many possible infringements at the post tackle the referee can never be wrong but the game is brought into disrepute when there is inconsistency. The answer is to reduce the number of infringements and stick to them.
When a referee sees play from a position as close to the play and from the same perspective as the assistant referee surely he should back his own decision. A scenario is when play continues and yet the ref comes back for the infringement. The delay of the “advantage” signal seems to mean that he is not backing what he is seeing. The ref should backs his own point of view, all things being equal.
Teams are all playing very much the same with the exception being games played at altitude.
Contained in this module are criteria for each playing position. This is somewhat misleading as the criteria for selection must be in context i.e. they must reflect the character of the players from which selection is being made and the style that will be successful in the competition in which they are entered. This implies a knowledge of that competition, a knowledge of each of their opponents, thus putting selection in context.
It is impractical to use criteria which is appropriate for an international team when a club team is being selected. Equally there is no point in having, say, the ability to pass accurately with right and left hands as criteria for an international team when these skills should be able to be taken as given.
Using the Pillars of the Game
There are further “pillars” of the game other than technical skills that also provide categories for selection from which criteria can be generated.
These pillars are:
- Decision-making and Game Sense / Tactical.
- Fitness / Physical.
- Psychological / Mental Skills.
- Self management / Personal Skills.
This division does not take into account the way each of the pillars integrate with each other.
The performance of a skill is complemented by:
- The development of a menu of skills by the player,
- The ability to make a successful choice of skills as well as
- Having the physical and mental attributes to implement the skills.
By dividing the attributes into the pillars the criteria for a particular task is made easier.
In addition it may be worthwhile to add some objectivity into the selection process by ranking the criteria and giving each a value based on the ranking. This will enable comparisons to be made between players for the same position.
This should not overlook the part the coach’s intuition plays in selection but it will delay its onset, which should take place after the objective analysis of the players for a position has been completed.
So what we will do now is to analyse each of the pillars as they may be used for selection.
To ensure the relevance of the selection process to coaching use functional roles analysis and key factor analysis for each of the roles.
For each playing position there will be specialized roles without which there is little point in selecting the player.
e.g. the ability of the hooker to hook the ball at scrums as implied in the position name and to throw the ball into the line-out for which the functional role will be thrower.
Secondly there will be roles held in common by the backs, on the one hand, and the forwards on the other.
e.g. the ability of the backs to be a distributor passing the ball to the place in the attacking line where they will attempt to penetrate, while at the same time committing the defence so that they are delayed in moving to this space.
Finally there will be roles common to all players. e.g. the ability of a support player to have depth to run onto the ball when receiving a pass and the role of the playmaker to pass the ball only to a player in a better position than themselves.
Specialised skills are the most important followed by unit skills and individual skills For each of these roles there will be key factors whose performance will result in the role being performed successfully.
In addition there is the ability of the player to choose the most appropriate skills under the circumstances.
As a result skills may not only be given a value based on their importance but each of these categories may be given a weighting. For example specialized skills may be given a 3, unit skills a 2 and individual skills a 1. Each of the totals achieved by a player in each of these skill categories would be multiplied by this value to give the player a score.
If the eventual ranking of the players doesn’t seem to be what is expected then there is a need to have a close look at these weightings, the ranking of the skills and the value placed on each of these.
This process of prioritization and weighting can be applied to all of the pillars that follow.
Decision-making and Game Sense / Tactical Awareness.
Tactical awareness is based on the game planning process that takes place after selection. So you would think that it is of little use for selection.
This can be overcome by the selectors completing an initial attempt of the process based on previous knowledge of the team’s play, the play of the individual players and that of opponents in the competition.
The game plan is based on:
- The team profile of those who have been selected,
- The team aims both outcome and performance,
- The game profile, what the team is to achieve,
- The patterns of play, how the team is to achieve the game profile and
- The game plans that emerge from this for each team they are going to play – the how for now.
Once the team has been selected the selectors and coaches should revise this process. Depending on their coaching and management style they may involve some or all of the players in the process. In recent times leadership groups drawn from the players have been used to do this as well as them acting as a point of liaison between the team and its coaching/ management staff.
By doing this the players will be able to put their own individual and collective decision-making in context.
It is their ability to sum up the situation and perform the option that is likely to be most successful that is the key to individual decision-making.
While players may do this intuitively, when problems emerge functional roles analysis and key factor analysis can be helpful in selection.
“Is the player able to make the right choice of role in the situation and perform that role under pressure? “
Making successful decisions involves mental toughness which is the ability to handle situations successfully. A person who has mental toughness does not become apprehensive, does not hesitate, stands up for what they believe and performs to their potential.
Criteria that may be useful, depending on playing position are:
- Accepting responsibility without whining or making excuses.
- Thinking positively.
- Courage – putting up with mental and physical pain.
- Self belief.
- Commitment to the team and the way it wants to play.
- Having a positive attitude to all team activities.
- Performing to the best of their ability.
- Confidence no matter how difficult the situation.
- Self control and discipline.
- Focusing on the player’s performance and not being distracted by the performance of others, the performance of the opposition and the score board.
- Focusing on the present sitution, “living in the present.”
- Learning from mistakes and moving on.
- Maintaining intensity.
This is a pretty comprehensive list. They may not all apply to every position. In addition they can be ranked by position as explained previously re. prioritisation.
Mental toughness shows in the following situations:
- Big games.
- Easy games.
- When the team is down on the scoreboard.
- When the referee makes a bad decision.
- After the team have scored points and after points have been scored by the opposition.
- When players are fatigued.
- At the start of the game, just before and just after half time, and just before the end of the game.
- When patterns of play are not succeeding.
- When the player makes a mistake.
- When there is an injury.
- Playing away from home.
- Playing in in extreme climatic and ground conditions.
Fitness / Physical.
The criteria for selecting based on physical criteria are listed below. Position specific bench marks are available at higher levels of play that enable these criteria to be applied objectively. These benchmarks will be for standardised fitness tests because their continual use has enabled sound data to be available for each level of rugby. These are constantly being refined and updated so I won’t list them below.The list below is a checklist for a coach.
The specific tests for each compenent can be obtained from fitness trainers.
Using each of the following areas of fitness helps to further refine selection:
- Aerobic fitness.
- Anaerobic fitness.
- Flexibility and Agility.
Psychological / Mental Skills.
Mental toughness has been included in the section on decision-making above however it could equally be applied in this section. As a result there may be some overlap between the two.
To further refine selection the following psychological attributes can be ranked by position:
Once a player has been selected a number of different techniques can be used to improve the players playing ability.
This may be called a mental plan and come of the techniques are:
- Goal Setting.
- Imagery/ Visualisation.
- Self talk
- Mental rehearsal
- Player profiling by both the player and coach.
From this mental plan some goals could be written to set some achievable targets. As with the mental plan action steps to achieve each goal would be listed to enable the player to take small, progressive steps towards achieving stable scrums.
The goals should be performance goals, those the player is able to perform, and the goals they are aiming to aspire to will be outcome goals.
Imaging / Visualisation
The player would need to spend time practising the mental plan and rehearsing the action steps based on the goals. He should be positive and always see a positive outcome. He may be able to spend time with the coach verbalising his imagery. The coach could give different scenarios and the player verbally image a successful outcome.
Based on what the player has said during discussion, ways could be listed to keep relatively relaxed and clear headed under pressure.
Breathing patterns, self awareness, body tenseness / relaxation, voice control, body language, confidence, narrow or wide externalisation of focus depending on the play at the time and avoiding internalization – focusing on the player’s inner self.
Be confident. Few involvement in play will be 100% correct, it is not in the nature of a combat sport for this to be the case, they generally have levels of success based on their outcome. Don’t look back at mistakes ( internalisation ), deal with what is in front of you at the time ( narrow externalisation )
Use self talk at breaks in play. Self talk is positive, self reassuring. Use cues to assist. Back yourself. Don’t give in.
Centering is an effective short term technique to control arousal ( becoming too nervous ) and to help the player focus his attention onto the job at hand. At a particular time in play, especially at a re-start be able to concentrate on the drills in your mental plan and disregard the noises and comments from outside your area of control. You can’t control the sideline comments so centre on what you can control
Narrow internalising rather than broad externalising
The summary of changing our mood state can be summed up in three category’s
- situational changes – to the situation which may minimise mood state effects
- mental changes – to our ways of thinking, imagining and talking to ourselves
- physical changes – to our body’s functioning