By Richard Anderson
The first rugby training session will be significantly more nerve-wracking for you than it will be for your players. The rugby team will pay more attention to every word, drill, and goal you discuss as they make their own impressions for the coming season. So if nothing else in that first session: KEEP IT SIMPLE. Go for drills and instructions that you are both 100 per cent certain will work AND 100 per cent certain the players will both be able to understand and perform almost irrespective of playing ability.
You might end up making it too easy of course. But it's easier and morale-boosting for the players to start simple and build up than it is to have to simplify downwards ten minutes into the first session.
The first session also needs to be diagnostic in nature. You need not only to gauge ability and player attributes, but also fitness levels and the ability to maintain intensity. So make sure the warm-up is as vigorous as possible and then get into the fitness.
There are two running drills in particular that will give you much of the information you need: one a formally-measured sprint endurance test, the other a bog standard bleep test.
For the sprints, get the players into pairs and set each pair up with six cones at 5m intervals in front of them. Player 1 must sprint to the first cone and back, then the second, then third etc etc for as far as he can in 30 seconds. Player 2 can count the distance run by adding up: first cone and back is 10m, second 20, and so on - so fourth cone and back is 10+20+30+40 = 100m. Then Player 2 goes while player 1 counts. The pairs repeat six times. Backs should be aiming for at least 800m total, back-rowers 750 and tight fives no less than 650. The whole drill should take about ten minutes, a bleep test about 20. For the harder-nosed, you can also introduce a long-distance bleep test, where players must maintain a 100 sec pace for a lap of the pitch for as long as possible.
Subsequent to that, it will serve to spend the rest of the first session working with the ball and the handling. Easy handling drills are numerous, even down to just running up and down the pitch passing balls along the line, but the really important thing here is to be AUTHORITATIVE. Look at technique, chastise people for forward passes, cajole those falling off the pace, make sure the hands are pointing where the pass is going, berate those who do not keep a good straight running line when the ball comes their way. When it comes to the matches, you are going to need players who can do the basics no matter how tired they are, so it's something they need to be doing in training the whole time. Always keep making those mental notes on who is keeping up, passing well despite fatigue, communicating under pressure.
One example of a good, varied passing drill is in the diagram (see image above): the players start in groups of five at point A, run up the narrow channel giving inside pops to each other, then turn around as per the red arrows and give short passes down the wider channel. Then the third channel is wider still, and the final channel is widest of all, meaning the players would have to spin pass rather than just give. You can increase the challenge by changing the passing rhythm in the wider channels, or adding defenders here and there for variation, and you'll also have to mix up the start points so players pass the different passes off both hands. This brings a lot of different skills together and will help you gauge the more complete players.
That's the first session: fitness and simple handling. Depending how it went, the second session can be a repeat, although certainly it should finish with a greater degree of difficulty - more defenders and perhaps some elements of semi-contact. While the fitness needs to have the same elements (make a note of how much distance you put the team through in the first session), obviously it will not be such a formal test.
Session three will head - after the ubiquitous fitness session - into contact. Simple one or two-man rucking drills, ball-carrying practice, tackling (preferably position on position for now). Again, be draconian on technique. Ball carriers must have their spine in line (meaning parallel with the touchline) when taking the ball into contact. If they are hitting contact or a tackle with their right shoulder, they must go into that contact off their right foot, and left shoulder off left foot. Ruckers must not only seal the ball, they must dominate the space beyond the ball and drive the defender off, also with spine in line and going into the ruck with head and hips level.
One good ruck endurance drill is to line up one-third of the players with pads (if you can, otherwise just the players cross-armed and holding elbows works as well) 5m apart from each other and opposite a pair with a ball. The ball-carriers all take contact, with the rucker driving off the defender and then all pairs move one to the right - with the pair on the extreme right sprinting over to the left side to continue. Repeat as long as you see fit - five rounds will normally have social players on their knees!
Session four gives more of the same: fitness, contact and contact techniques - again, build it up a little more. Where there was one defender, now put two for a little counter-ruck. Where before it was just acceptable for the ball carrier to hit the pad and go to ground, make him drive more first. Where tackling practice was position on position, now mix the positions up.
You can also interchange sessions two and four to give a weekly program of handling on Tuesday and contact on Thursday, but the first two weeks need to establish a routine. By the end of it, you have a fitter squad, getting back into the swing of making different passes and the different types of contact. With two more weeks to go until the first game, it's now time to start putting the elements together which we'll look at next time.
More Rugby Coaching Articles from Richard Anderson
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The Barbarians are one of the top invitational rugby sides with a long history and classic rugby jersey.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Lions get ready for their matches with this green training jersey. It's what the players wear. Get in the Gear!
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The Lions are ready to get their Australia tour underway. They arrive in Perth on Monday.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.