Training tips

Hi Coach,

The first weekend of the Six Nations proved how hard it is to break down defences. Usually the defenders start narrow and then spread across. This means that they are squeezed together from the side of the ruck and then, as the ball gets passed wider and wider, they shift out.

One way to trouble this sort of defence is to employ the cross kick which rapidly sends the ball wide to where there may be only one or two defenders.

Top tip

Make sure there’s a low trajectory from the kick, so the defenders have less chance to get under the ball. Today I have a drill for you that works on precision when kicking, so that when it comes to game time, your players can aim closer to the touchline.

Yours in rugby,
Dan Cottrell,
Head Coach, Better Rugby Coaching

Precision kicks closer to the touchline

By Dan Cottrell

Dealing with a kick that stops 5m from the goal and touchline is a nightmare for the covering back three players, especially when there is a good follow-up from the kicking team.

Being able to consistently kick the ball into this area demands a high degree of skill and precision.

Set up

A 25m x 30m box, several balls, cones.

What you get your players to do…

Use only your backs for this specialist exercise. Split the group into pairs: A kicker and a retriever, with one ball.

The objective is to kick the ball and get it to stop in the 5m square in the corners.


The initial activity works on the players coming to terms with what type of kick to use and getting a feel for it.
The kicker aims for the corner coned-off target area. The retriever gathers the ball and then kicks to the target area at the other end. K=kicker, R=retriever

Kickers are fed the ball and immediately kick it as they would in a game. The retriever waits outside the target area and recovers the ball. He then kicks for the 5m target zone at the other end with the previous kicker now the retriever. Players can kick the ball any way they want.


Different forms of kick: Spiral, ball rotating backwards or ball rotating forward.

A consistency to their accuracy and more importantly the weight of kick.

The ball is caught and kicked immediately to bring a little pressure to the practice.

Players regain the ball quickly and repeat the exercise.


Increase the size of the practice area to 30m x 40m.

Set up three attackers and make two passes to the outside player (following a pass from a feeder) who kicks for the corner area.


Develop the activity where passes are made to the wide player who kicks to the corner.

Develop this into a match-like 6v6 activity where any player can kick for the corner.


A 6v6 match-like scenario. The attacking team uses a kick to the corner once in every three attacks.


The first receiver can be the main kicker who aims for the corners, however, it can work much better if it’s a later kick from one of the centres, because the defensive winger will have started to move forward.

How to stop crowding at the ruck

A common issue for rugby coaches is dealing with crowding at the ruck. Use this game to get your players spreading out!

Set up

Run the game with three “positions”:

Wingers – self explanatory.
Nutters – basically think of them as flankers. Their job is to get the ball and, at first, you can set it so only the nutters are allowed into the rucks.
Tacklers or Killers – everyone else.

How to play

Only wingers can score and, only in the corners (that is, the ball has to go wide).

Only nutters can contest a ruck (be careful though, you need to keep it so the nearest player is happy to quickly pick up a ball and pass it – different from “contesting”).

The most important position is killers. They basically play zone defence across the pitch (which is where training in channels can help).

They are responsible for killing (tackling) anyone who comes into their zone and then getting back into the zone defence.

It may take a while for them to get it, but once they start to understand what nutters do you can also use it as a reward – that is, if you do your job as a killer well you can play as a nutter for a while.

So, play where only wingers can score on the wing, limit rucking to nutters only, and switch the positions regularly and after about three months you’ll start to get there!

If you have a game this Sunday, try going with the three positions and saying only nutters can ruck. If you make it a real “honour” to be the nutters, the kids will self-regulate and the nutters will ensure the killers and wingers stick to their jobs.

Scorpion stretch for flexibility

From Training Young Athletes

Each stretch to be performed for 30 seconds each side every day (after a warm-up).

Tell players to stretch the muscles and joint(s) to the point at which mild discomfort sets in (but not beyond). Breathe in and then out slowly as they relax into the stretch.

The scorpion

Tell your players to…

Lie on their front with both arms outstretched to their sides, hands level with shoulders, legs straight.
Tilt their head to the right, to look at their right hand then move right foot over their bum so that it touches their left hand.
Point their knee up to the ceiling.
Repeat on the other side. (NB: If they can’t reach their opposite hand, just go as far as they can, but look to progress.)

Standing back-peel

Tell your players to…

Stand with their back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart and about 20cm away from the base of the wall.
Place their chin on their chest, hands on thighs, and slowly bend forward from top the of their spine.
Imagine that each vertebra is leaving the wall one by one. Try to keep the small of their back on the wall for as long as possible.
Stop when they feel mild discomfort in the hamstrings or lower back. Hold that position.
Return by trying to put the vertebrae back on the wall one by one in reverse.


Judgement vs. impact at the ruck

Winning rucks is not just about good technique, the key is to also know where to enter the ruck and what action is required. The arriving player has to scan the situation, weigh up the options and then take the right action.

The session

What you tell your players this session is about…

Learning to make quick decisions at the ruck.
Improving body positions and angles when arriving at the ruck.

What you tell your players to do…

Look at the situation and decide whether you are going to drive through, protect or stay out.
If you are going to enter the ruck, go through the “gate”, not in at the side, to make a real difference.

What you get your players to do…

In the middle of a 7m square, set out four cones in the shape of a rectangle – three strides wide, by two deep. The cones represent the tackle “gate” and players cannot enter from the sides of this box.

Place a ball in the middle of the cone box. Split the players into teams of four and two and put them outside the square.

When you shout “GO”, both teams enter the square and try to win the ball. The team with four players has to work out how many players they want to commit to the ruck.



Developing the session

The training session can be developed as follows…

Add players to both teams.
Put two players from each team in the square and an equal numbers of attackers and defenders outside the square (and perhaps make the square bigger).
Develop second phase attacks.

A game situation

The session can be developed further by playing a 10 v 10 game (depending on how many players you have) on half a pitch. Use passive five man scrums, allow kicking, and if the ball goes into touch have a contested two man lineout. For penalty offences, have a free kick with the opposition standing 5m back.

Otherwise, normal rugby laws apply except you judge whether players are making a difference at the ruck. Blow the whistle and question players if necessary. Have any spare players shout judgements from the sidelines. Change the teams to involve all players.



By Dan Cottrell


How to decide when to cancel training and some power training tips

How to decide when to cancel training

By Dan Cottrell, head coach of Better Rugby Coaching and coaching e–magazine Rugby Coach Weekly.

Consider the pros and cons of training in wet weather before you make the decision to cancel training.



You want players to come back next week. If they are cold and wet from a previous session they may not be motivated to return and parents might be influenced by a wet player and muddy kit.


Players cannot catch a slippery ball. Contact skills are also compromised by wet weather because players lose their footing.

The pitch

Groundsmen will tell you the damage done to pitches in wet weather can take a long time to recover from because it is not prime growing season during the rugby months.



You can make wet weather sessions fun and build team spirit. Kids love mud and it can be an excuse to move away from a mundane training session and try something completely different.


You have to play in the rain, so practise the skills you need. Players get to understand the limits of what they can do. If you are going to train in the rain, stick to the S–S–S plan: Short, Sharp, Scarper.

Coach players to fall correctly

By Ian Diddams, RFU coach tutor with over 20 years experience in coaching at grassroots level.

Minis coaches spend much of their time teaching young players the art of tackling – but there are always two sides to every tackle.
The attacker should be maximising his chances of retaining the ball, this requires good falling and presentation skills.


While holding the ball in two hands from a standing position, players fall on command to the ground absorbing the impact with their knees, hips and shoulders while preventing the ball from hitting the ground.

They should tuck the elbows in to prevent jarring.

As they fall, ensure they end up facing their own team mates in order to present the ball cleanly.


Build up speed from standing to walking, to jogging and finally to running. Emphasise the need to absorb the fall to keep the ball.


Strengthen your position before contact

A strong body position at the contact situation allows the player to exert the “maximum shove”. The principles remain the same for scrums, rucks or mauls. This session concentrates on the moments just before contact, highlighting the need to be in position quickly and efficiently.

Tell your players the purpose of this session is…

Getting into a strong body position just before contact.
Bending at the hips and knees with the head in neutral position for “maximum shove”.

1. Start by…

Correct body positions

The player stands straight, neck neutral. He bends at the hips, then the knees.


2. And then…

Maximum shove in contact

Each pair works for 30 seconds. One player hits alternate bags six times whilst the other passes.

They then swap.The reason for two simultaneous activities is…

Keeps mind alert by switching from ball skill to physical test.
Replicates game situation.
Decision–making becomes more difficult as tiredness creeps in, again replicating game situation.

3. The game…

Maximum shove game


4 players attack 3 defenders. They attack one way, then the other if they score a try or fail.

Things to think about…

How near to the contact situation should players get before bending?

It is better to bend early to avoid being too high before the contact situation. Sometimes players can touch both hands on the ground, which helps them “square up.” However, the player needs to be balanced so he can react to the changing contact situation in front of him.

How quickly should a player approach the contact situation?

Avoid long run–ups to the contact situation in training because this rarely happens in the game. Players are better off slowing down and using leg drive from a strong position to create go–forward at the contact. It is better to be accurate rather than quick.

6 powerful exercises for a more forceful team

Rugby requires the execution of skill in motion, and almost all of these motions become more effective when executed with more force in less time. Power may be described as the optimal combination of speed and strength to produce a dynamic rugby movement such as a ferocious tackle or a great offload.

Power exercises must involve a rapid initiation of force production – even if the load is heavy, your aim is still to perform the movement quickly.

Systems of Power Training

Power training is characterised by long recovery periods (3 – 10 minutes) between sets of exercises to allow for the replenishment of the anaerobic energy (phosphocreatine).

Your major training options for power development are:

Power Speed Sled – towing a weighted sled over short distances
Weighted Vest – accelerating and jumping drills while carrying an extra weight created by the vest.
Medicine Balls – explosive throws with medicine balls weighing between 1–10kg
Power Speed Resistor – partner resisted drills using a harness
Plyometrics – see below
Olympic lifting – see below. Just treat the word Olympic as “power!”
Olympic lifts are multi–joint exercises that involve all major muscle groups, similar to most rugby movements. More players and coaches are turning to the Olympic lifts and their variations to enhance power. They are ground–based exercises so you have to exert force against the ground, which is specific to rugby.



When performed correctly, these exercises constitute one of the best ways to develop power, which successfully transfers to rugby. By their nature, all Olympic style lifts provoke a high power output as they allow you to move a relatively heavy weight at a high speed.

Fact file: Extremely high power outputs are generated during Olympic lifts.


Plyometrics are jumps or combinations of jumps that produce quick, powerful movement using a stretch reflex. A stretch reflex occurs when a muscle lengthens (stretches) and then immediately shortens – the reflex action occurs when the muscle changes from the lengthening to the shortening action. These drills are a specific training mode for rugby because the movements replicate the game’s mixture of vertical and horizontal acceleration against the ground and the triple extension of the ankle, knee, and hip joints. Plyometric drills enhance power, speed, and agility.

Plyometrics may be introduced only after you have successfully completed a core stabilization and strength phase of training. So that these drills will also help to prevent ankle and knee injuries, multidirectional movements are incorporated to reflect the multidirectional nature of rugby. These drills have a strong proprioceptive component (they challenge balance and the self–awareness of muscles and joints) and positively affect agility, coordination, and stability strength.

Top tip: More players and coaches are turning to the Olympic lifts and their variations to enhance power.


Play to attack from a midfield scrum

This move is an excellent play to attack from a midfield scrum, this can occur when the opposition have made a kick off error. I can clearly remember my U18 school team using this to great effect to score the winning try against an unbeaten side. I think you will find some success with it too…

Best from

A scrum in the middle of the pitch. Normally this happens when an opposition kick off goes straight out or does not go 10 metres.


Why it works

The play goes right. Since the opposition 9 normally stands on the left of your scrum, he is taken out of the game.
Since there is plenty of room either side of the scrum, stacking the backs on one side forces the opposition to match up.
If it is well executed, even if the opposition spreads their defence evenly, a strong running 15 can cause a lot of damage.

Good if you have

A good scrum.
A 12 or 13 with a good long pass from left to right.
A strong running 15 who likes to attack from deep.

What players should do

10 takes the ball standing still and runs sideways towards 12. He passes to 12 who is running the other way.
12 runs in the opposite direction to 10 to take the switch pass. He then passes across to 15.
15 starts behind the scrum and runs on a wide angle to his right to take the pass from 12.
14 stays wide to keep his opposite man occupied.

Common mistakes

10 takes the ball up too far, allowing the opposition 9 to intercept the pass.
10 and 12 don’t switch early enough, allowing time for the opposition back row to get in between the passes.
12 does not pass the ball far enough in front of 15. He needs to draw the receiver onto the pass.

Think about

12 cross kicking for 14.
15 and 14 performing a switch pass.

Rugby quotes

“Jonah Lomu was a giant of a man who leaves a giant space in world rugby. He will forever be a big part of rugby’s story”

Bernard Lapasset, World Rugby chairman.



Dan Cottrell

Youth Rugby Skills

How to make sure those 3v1s always result in a try.

by Colin Ireland

How often have you seen a 3v1 become a 1v1? No wonder coaches get exasperated. A 3v1 should be successful every time – so use our checklist to make sure it is.

Points to get right

Always practise the 3v1 at game speed.
The initial ball carrier has to attract the defender before passing.
The initial ball carrier can run at an angle to pull the defender away from where the pass will go.
Time the pass so the receiver is past the defender when he gets the ball.
The receiver must take the ball at speed.
If the defender moves away early, hold onto the ball or throw a dummy pass.

Why it does not work

Most of the time bad outcomes happen because the three attackers are not performing the activity at any pace, allowing the defender to tackle or intercept the ball.

Players can also make it complicated by using switches, loops and miss passes.

It’s good that they are trying out these skills, but for a 3v1 they are not necessary.

Sometimes it’s the ball carrier’s fault as he fails to fix the defender or runs at an angle that cuts down space for receivers.

3v1 for interest

Work on 3v1s with different set-ups. Give each attacker a ball and then say which attacker is the ball carrier (see picture A).


The other attackers drop their ball and again, they have to develop their play with different angles.

On the same theme, spread out three defenders and shout out which one will be the defender for that 3v1 (see picture B).


Attackers have to deal with different angles. The greater the number of scenarios, the more chance that you will replicate possible game situations.

EasiCoach U9 & U10: Attack the defender and offload

Get the ball carrier to “attack” the defender before passing or offloading the ball to the support player.


1. Mark out a 10m x 5m area. Along one of the long sides of the area put a line of kneeling attackers facing a line of kneeling defenders, with a 2m gap between the lines. Put a ball just inside the area close to the attackers.

2. Call out the names of attackers. They get to their feet, with the nearest player to the ball picking it up.


3. At the same time, the first defender in the line gets up and they all go forward to create a 2v1, with the defender aiming to tackle the ball carrier.

4. Attackers aim to score at the far end by passing and running. The ball carrier must attack the defender before passing the ball to his support player. He can either pass before he is tackled or offload the ball in the tackle.


5. As soon as they score or make a mistake, you shout “Get out of here” and the players go to the back of their lines. Put the ball in the other team’s half and run againt with roles reversed.

6. Develop by calling out the name of any defender to come forward. Further develop by having more players come into the area

✔ Offloading in the tackle

Always aim to beat the tackler first, so there is forward momentum. After the tackle, turn the shoulders towards where the pass is going and throw it up and towards the receiver.



Self-release stretching drills that work to increase flexibility

There are various forms of flexibility training but more recently players and physiotherapists are turning to self-release drills with foam rollers to enhance muscle length and reduce “tight spots.”

Self-release stretching is a form of self-massage that reduces tissue tightness and helps to increase flexibility. This approach involves finding “tight spots” with a foam roller and holding that position until the muscle softens. Rolling the foam roller back and forth over the tight spots also releases it.


Types of Stretching

Static – slow and constant with the end position held with mild discomfort.
Ballistic – involves active muscle effort using a bouncing type movement to the end range, creating a slight injury risk.
Dynamic – involves flexibility during sport-specific movements, thus increasing sport-specific flexibility via relatively fast movements e.g. lunging.
PNF – proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation – usually performed with a partner – isometric and concentric muscle actions are used to achieve inhibition i.e. muscle relaxes and therefore allows greater range of motion.
Foam Rolling – self release stretching for releasing fascial and muscular tight spots.

Ruck move: 3-man blast

Best from

A slow ruck
Why it works

A ball carrier and two supporters take a flat pass from 9 and drive through the defence to set up a quick ruck ball. Because the ball carrier has two supporters there is a good chance of physically outnumbering the defence momentarily.
The three players drive forward, pushing the defence backwards and providing quick ball.

Good if you have…

A good ball handling forward who can attack gaps and organise others to work off him.
Two or more support players who are good at driving a ball carrier.

What players should do

The “pivot” player organises two supporters either side of him. He takes a flat pass from 9 and attacks a gap between the defenders in front of him. He drives forwards before going to ground as his supporters tell him to. He presents the ball as far from his body as possible.

The two supporters drive in behind the pivot, possibly binding onto him to give him extra weight. They don’t hold onto the ball. When the drive slows, they tell the pivot to go to ground and then drive out opposition players.


Common mistakes

The pivot goes into contact with the ball in front of him rather than on his hip.
The pivot and supporters drive in too high. The lower the better, as long as the ball carrier does not go to ground too soon.

Think about

The pivot and one supporter setting up a maul. The first supporter rolls off with the ball and drives on with the other supporter.
The pivot turning just before contact and feeding 9 coming round on a loop. The ball is then passed straight to a flat 10 who feeds a “three man blast” outside him.

From: Dan Cottrell’s Better Rugby Coaching.