Discussion Topic

Junior Rugby – Keystones and Concepts

September 1, 2020

Junior Rugby – The Keystones that must be in place.

I played rugby all through school, have followed it religiously since but more importantly coached junior rugby for 8 years. To this day I am heavily involved in guiding my sons through their school and club rugby. During my years coaching I came to see first hand the key elements of junior rugby that were missing, or not having enough attention paid to them. Here are the 3 key principles and some additional concepts that are crucial.

Accuracy – Nuts and bolts is the bedrock. Without the basic skills mastered and more importantly be executed accurately you forget everything else. It just wont work. Young players need to understand and buy into this. I used to say to my team they should be able to catch and pass walking backwards in a dust storm with their eyes shut. Not realistic of course but you get my point. Nuts and Bolt skills should be able to be executed without thinking about them. With this sorted player are freed up to think of the next level.

Intensity – This is hard to teach. Young players need to find this themselves. The best way to help them is to make sure they understand why it is important. Everything you do in rugby needs a degree of intensity. The clue is in the word. You need to have intent.  Which if you do, by default means you are committed to what you are doing and will do it with everything you have to offer. It’s a physical game and winning the collisions and the physical battle can only be done with intent.

Urgency – This concept seemed to me to be one of the biggest problems. To me everything in rugby is urgent. Its urgent you make that tackle, its urgent once you have you get back to your feet and back in the line. It urgent you stay in the fight. Its urgent you hit that ruck as hard as you can. The list goes on and on. Match awareness comes into this.  How many times have you seen a junior team have a penalty awarded against them and get caught by a quick tap because there was no urgency to reset? Urgency is crucial to any team’s success.

So, they are the keystones which have to be in place. Around them there are some game machinations and concepts, that will succeed with the keystones respected, which also need to be addressed.

Decision making – Urgency is one thing, panic is another. Panic in rugby is a killer. Be urgent but be composed and make good decisions. I struggled to get this through to my team but when they got it, we went to the next level. Throw a 50/50 or take contact? Many a junior player has met with this decision. The simple rule is always pass to someone in a better position than you never to someone who isn’t.

Transition – I suspect this concept does not get it due attention. There is attack and there is defence and in the middle of these is the transition. Many juniors struggle to get transition right. It comes down to awareness and urgency. Drills to help them transition quickly are crucial. A quick transition can be a game changer. Get it right and it removes any need for panic or risk taking on defence and opens up many opportunities in attack.

Trust – This is incredibly important. I can’t tell you how important it is to get trust ingrained in your junior players. Particularly in defence. Eyes up and identify who you are defending against. Make your tackle and TRUST the guy next to you to make his. I found far too often players coming in and doing someone else’s job. The math here needs to be explained to them. If you are doing someone else’s job you aren’t doing yours.

Work Rate – Staying in the fight, showing urgency and looking for work are desirable attributes. Often you will see junior players do something good and then watch what happens next like their job is done. Pass and follow, get back to your feet, stay in the fight. I often told my team I will more notice someone’s work rate off the ball than on it.