Periodization in Rugby - Tudor Bompa - ebook

Periodization in Rugby ebook

Tudor Bompa



As most other team sports, rugby is a sport of technical finesse, tactical boldness, and refined and complex physical development. In this book, only one, but the crucial element of this sport, will be addressed, namely the physical conditioning. This topic represents the foundation of all the other elements of the game. To make this book very practical and easy to apply, a huge amount of different and important aspects for a good training and the anticipated successes and also specific proposals for the abilities of each position and their development is announced in particular. After a description of the fundamentals of rugby and the general physiological demands of the sport, a player profile is suggested in order to present specific testings and trainings. Also short term and annual training plans are shown and explained in detail to improve the different skills of the players. The most important motor abilities, like power, speed and endurance, have their own chapters, where extra training for them is provided as practical as possible, with many examples and drills. In the end, also the recovery and the nutrition are exactly described, whereby the necessary energy for playing and training is warranted.

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Tudor Bompa & Frederick Claro

Periodization in Rugby

Meyer & Meyer Sport

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Bompa/Claro: Periodization in Rugby

Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd., 2009

All rights reserved, especially the right to copy and distribute, including the translation rights. No part of this work may be reproduced—including by photocopy, microfilm or any other means—processed, stored electronically, copied or distributed in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher.

© 2009 by Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.

1st reissue 2015 of the 1st edition 2009

Aachen, Adelaide, Auckland, Budapest, Cape Town, Graz, Indianapolis,Maidenhead, Olten (CH), Singapore, Toronto

Member of the World

Sports Publishers' Association (WSPA)

eISBN: 9781841268453

E-Mail: [email protected]



Chapter 1: Fundamentals of Rugby

Technical training

Tactical and psychological training

Dominant biomotor abilities for rugby

Chapter 2: Physiological Demand of the Game

Training the energy systems

Time-motion analysis of the game of rugby

Ergogenesis and the dominant motor abilities for rugby

Limiting factors for performance

Specificity: Position-specific training

Chapter 3: Testing

Rugby-specific tests

Player’s profile and position review

Utilization of player’s profile for program development

Chapter 4: Planning Periodization

General concepts

Short-term planning

The annual plan

Periodization of biomotor abilities

Chapter 5: Strength and Power Training

General considerations

Periodization of strength and power

Rugby-specific strength and power training

Position-specific programs for MxS and power

Chapter 6: Agility and Quickness Training

General consideration

Periodization of agility and quickness

Rugby-specific agility and quickness training

Specific drills for agility and quickness

Chapter 7: Speed Training and Reaction Time

General considerations

Periodization of speed

Rugby-specific speed training

Suggested drills for rugby

Chapter 8: Endurance Training

Aerobic and anaerobic endurance

Periodization of endurance

Methodology of endurance training: The intensity zones

Position-specific endurance training

Chapter 9: Recovery, Fatigue, Overtraining, Detraining, Injuries

Training and game recovery

Fatigue and overtraining

Strategies for better recovery and preventing staleness

Immediate care for injuries

Chapter 10: Nutrition

General considerations, food for sports

A periodized nutrition plan


Photo & Illustration Credits


The authors would like to take this opportunity to thank the persons who have been of tremendous help in the realization of this book. We would like to express our gratitude to our Canadian editor Sarah Green and the editing team of Meyer & Meyer for their valued advices to help us writing the most understandable book there is on the subject.

Special thank you goes to the New Zealand Manawatu Rugby Football Union, its CEO Hadyn Smith and fellow coach and friend Kelvin Tantrum for their help in providing the action pictures illustrating this book.

Thank you to fitness instructor Rob Frederick of Fitness Together in Bedford, Nova Scotia and Strength Training Specialist Matt Goreski in Ontario, for their graphic contribution with the strength and power segment of the book.

Last but not least, a huge thank to both our wives, children (and grandchild) who always are a tremendous source of inspiration and allow us to keep going on the path we chose.


“Clock’s ticking, clock’s ticking … one minute to go … we must score now to win this game and get in the final … I’m tired, legs and lungs burning … 10 meters from their line, clock’s ticking … lungs burning … 7th frame of play … legs burning … been tired all week … pick and go … YES!.. Legs burning … our prop is through, off-load … lungs burning, time’s ticking … scrum half through … legs burning … I’m inside, I must get the pass … slow, too slow, can’t make it in support. I’m late … lungs burning, clock’s ticking … knock on! Referee whistles … scrum … opposition clears, it’s all over … ”

We simply hope this doesn’t sound too familiar to you as a player or a coach, but it has honestly happened to all of us. “What went wrong?” The answer can be simple or quite complex, and one of the purposes of this book is to help players and coaches identify and develop the step-by-step methodology needed to optimize overcoming fatigue, and produce individually and collectively, the best rugby performance possible according to the level and objectives of the team.

As most other team sports, rugby is a sport of technical finesse, tactical boldness, and refined and complex physical development. From the 1990’s, the game of rugby has evolved so abundantly that the comprehension of all aspects of the game, from technical/tactical and psychological to the science and methodology of training, is undeniably more challenging for the coach and players than ever. And yet, the higher your knowledge of the complexity of the game, the higher the chance is to produce top players and elite level teams.

Over the years, many rugby coaches and players have followed a different school of thought. To increase the chances of winning, some coaches have relied on technical/tactical refinement with exciting offensive play or more recently, with hermetic defense systems. Other coaches, however, have stressed physical training to overcome eventual technical/tactical shortcomings, with the belief that stronger conditioning will give them a chance to rollover the opposition, particularly in the last part of the game, and increase the probability of winning.

If, however, you are looking for perfection and winning the championship in your league, none of the above models will satisfy your coaching ideals. Perfection is an abstract term, very difficult to achieve. However, to improve the probability of winning you must look for perfection in every aspect of the game: technical, tactical, physical, and psychological. Furthermore, there are other elements of athleticism of equal importance for the final outcome of the game, such as an athletic lifestyle, rest and recovery, social environment and nutrition and supplements. To strive for perfection in your game you need to take each of these elements separately and try to perfect them. Game perfection can be accomplished only when every component can be chiseled into the ideal form. This is the only way to elite athleticism!

There are several books on the market discussing either a specific topic, or all the elements of the game. In our case, however, we’ll address only one, but a crucial element of the game: physical conditioning. Why only physical conditioning? Because it is very complex in nature and a large body of information needed to be discussed in detail. Physical training represents the foundation of all other elements of the game. To improve your chances of winning you must be properly trained; winning comes naturally only to well-trained teams! Therefore, we’ll discuss in detail all the elements of conditioning and show you the road you need to travel in order to train your players to reach the highest level of physical competency ever.

Why conditioning? Why is it so important for rugby?

The main scope of conditioning training is to overcome fatigue! You’ll do well if you’ll consider fatigue as Enemy #1. Let’s try to analyze how fatigue affects the ability of a player to play effectively:

Fatigue affects technical and tactical proficiency.

Most technical mistakes are made when a player’s concentration is affected by fatigue, which is more acute during the last part of the game. Consequently, considering a training program that enhances player ability to tolerate fatigue would be of most importance. This is why we like to say that

“The winner of a game is often the team who fatigues last!”

Expose the team to a better strength and conditioning program and you’ll see a different group of players, a team where skill proficiency and consistency is extensive not only at the beginning, but more importantly, at the end of the game.

Fatigue affects the accuracy of passing and kicking.

Passing and kicking (i.e. tactical kicking or penalty kicking) inaccuracy is the result of a high level of fatigue, which is the outcome of a poorly conditioned team. A player with a fatigued central nervous system (CNS) cannot concentrate on performing accurate, well-directed and precise passes. Consistent skill performance increases only when a player’s conditioning potential increases. Don’t expect miracles! Miracles in rugby happen only to the best trained team!

Fatigue affects tactical judgment.

As players fatigue they will have a tough time “reading” the game in order to quickly and correctly react to specific game situations. This is also true in offensive play when players are attempting to create scoring opportunities.

A highly fatigued player is more prone to injuries.

Exhausted players tend to have diminished body control, lower concentration and inability to control and coordinate the body’s actions, especially the lower limbs. As such, this peculiar scenario of poor body and limb coordination may result in injury.

A player’s motivation is higher when he/she is well-trained physically.

The vast majority of players are highly motivated for a game. Traditionally, rugby players are fighters, a highly determined type of athlete. Therefore, an ineffective play in the second part of the game should not give you grounds to conclude that the players have demonstrated a lack of motivation! The contrary is true. Players are well-motivated but have been exposed to substandard physical training. Poorly developed motor abilities can never represent a strong physical support for an effective technical and tactical game. Some players cannot cope with the fatigue of a highly disputed game, especially near the finish when the rate of technical and tactical errors increases. Furthermore, the deterioration of power, speed, agility, and quickness will consistently negate a good performance.

How is this book organized?

The entire discussion regarding physical training begins by defining the fundamentals of rugby (chapter 1) followed by attempting to define the physiological demands of the game (chapter 2). This chapter is essential because within it we will define time-motion analysis of the game, specify the dominant energy systems and motor abilities used in rugby (also called ergogenesis), and introduce the concept of the demand for position-specific training. To better serve your needs, game-specific testing will be presented in chapter 3, where a player profile will be suggested and used for specific training program development.

We strongly believe training effectiveness is quite impossible to achieve without being organized. So for your convenience, we have included a comprehensive discussion about planning periodization in chapter 4. In this chapter we’ll present short term and annual plans, and the methodology used to create them.

In your attempt to peak for league games or some important international tournaments, you will need to be versed in the area of periodization of the motor ability specific to rugby. This actually refers to how to structure your training programs to achieve and maintain optimal performance prior to and during these very important games.

A considerable amount of this book will be used to discuss the dominant motor abilities needed for an effective game such as strength and power (chapter 5), agility and quickness (chapter 6), speed (chapter 7), and endurance (chapter 8). All our discussions about the methodology of developing the motor abilities specific to rugby are as practical as possible, constantly providing rugby-specific examples and drills.

Unlike other books, we uniquely understand that a rugby team is made out of different players, each of them playing a specific position, which requires a position-specific physical demand and a position-specific motor ability to be developed if that player is expected to excel during the game.

To make this book very practical and easy to apply we are also making specific suggestions how to develop the abilities needed for each position with practical examples and drills. Finally, this book reveals the ever important, and often neglected method used for recovery following the game and training (chapter 9), and how to avoid fatigue and over-training. Since you cannot play or train without having the necessary energy, we are also discussing optimal nutrition and how to periodize nutrition.

Selected thoughts before you turn this page

Do what’s important! New training ideas are springing up almost daily. Some are recycled ideas, others are plain lies. The stores, on the other hand, are full of all kinds of novel training equipment and gadgets. Some are good but others are more than questionable. Salesmen will sell you anything to make a profit while others will tell you “This really works!” Let’s assume all ideas are good and the equipment works well, the questions you need to ask yourself are: “Do I have the time to use all these gadgets?” and “Do they have a real impact on training methodology?” This is why you have to be very selective and manage your time very carefully and above everything: Do what is important!

Learning and skill correction. Training is very complex. Players need to learn technical and tactical skills and train for rugby-specific motor abilities. Players learn skills during training and then apply them during the game, whereas technical retention is most effective under conditions of mental and physical freshness. However, the corrections of technical mistakes must be done under the conditions of fatigue. In other words, you need to correct technical mistakes under game conditions, when the players experience high levels of fatigue. By applying this method you are in fact achieving two important goals: training your players to cope with fatigue and correcting mistakes in an environment that causes the mistakes in the first place.

Train hard but smart. The planning chapter is designed specifically to demonstrate that working hard is not good enough anymore. On the contrary, working smart is as important, or even more important, than working hard. To increase your training effectiveness, and as such to work smart, you have to consider the following training principle: Alternateenergy systems. During the game, energy is supplied by all three energy systems: alactic, lactic acid and aerobic. High intensity training, on the other hand, is taxing to the first two systems. Most training methods using alactic and lactic acid systems are very taxing both physically and mentally. To tax these two energy systems every day of the week will clearly lead to high levels of fatigue, staleness and will eventually result in overtraining. Therefore, the best method you can use to avoid critical levels of fatigue and staleness is to plan days of high training demands with days of lower training demands. This actually means to alternate the energy systems during the week so that you’ll allow time to restore the energy stores of each energy system and facilitate recovery and regenerate between days of hard work (for more information please refer to chapter 4). Please remember, that the game will always reward the team who not only trains hard but smart!

Some final food for thought:

Training is both an art and a science. Improve your science to refine your artistry.

Training is nothing else but a manipulation of methods intended to induce superior adaptation.

When adaptation increases, so does the quality of your game.

Players charge their batteries during the preparatory phase.

Good conditioning improves the rate of recovery.

When you are well-trained, winning comes naturally.

What you don’t train will detrain.

In training nothing happens by accident.

Do you want to be successful? Plan for it!

Chapter 1

Fundamentals of Rugby

Like all other team sports, rugby has fundamental components ultimately influencing and regulating the way the game is played. These components are namely technical, tactical, physical and psychological skills, and knowledge. The game, as it is played, is a mixture of all these elements, and must be well understood by players and coaches alike to optimize performance. The best players and the best teams are the ones who can maximize development in all aspects of the game, with the ultimate goal of harmonizing the team as a whole, and therefore unifying individual and collective skills, concepts and mental resources in one entity thriving for a common objective.

We shall look into fundamental concepts of technical, tactical, and psychological development for rugby players, and determine the dominant biomotor abilities of the sport further in this chapter. The main focus of this book understands the physical component of the game, but we shall not enter the detailed schemes of technical and tactical training, which have been discussed by numerous books and would also deservedly be the major topic of an alternate study.

Technical training

We can confidently say that the technical part of any team sport, including rugby has two major components:

The individual technique: Where players develop step-by-step motor skill abilities from the initiation to high performance stages.

The team technique: Which usually is the sum of all individual techniques, put together at the service of a collective goal, and where players are each responsible for a portion of the work to be done. A new dimension of the game is created when the peak technical performance of a team is beyond the sum of all individual techniques. This happens when the best teams reach a certain fluidity and superior coherence in all aspects of their technical/tactical field performances.

Basically, a technical skill or motor skill is the specific manner in which a player performs a physical exercise, be it passing, kicking, tackling, rucking, or simply sprinting with the ball in their hands. It is using a set of movements to achieve a specific purpose. A perfect technique saves energy and adds fluidity to the motion by biomechanical adaptation.

The goal of each individual player should be to develop a perfect technique in order to achieve high efficiency. It is reasonable to say that each function which has a role in the game has an inherent technical aspect including standing still waiting for the next action to develop. Therefore all of it must be trained for optimal performance, individually and collectively.

Motor skill development is segmented through the stages of the players’growth and should also follow some basic learning rules for later optimal performances, such as:

Law of primacy: Learn the right technique first, no trial and errors allowed.

Law of exercise: A motor skill will be learnt until automation only after a tremendous amount of repetition.

Multiple researches have shown that depending on the complexity of the skill to be learnt, between 5,000 and 15,000 correct repetitions of the skill are necessary to achieve automation and technical literacy. How many general basic skills must a rugby player master for proficiency? How many more skills are position-induced? This is why motor skill development is an ongoing process from the initiation stage up to the high performance level.

Motor skills are mastered through individual biomechanical adaptation of a technical model used as a reference for every technique to be performed. This model is an accepted standard of perfect technique, which players and coaches will follow, and biomechanically adapt for optimal performance. It is important to note that as the game evolves in time, technique also evolves, and what was good yesterday is not as efficient today. This is also why players and coaches must stay tuned-in to rugby’s evolution and incessantly search to develop new techniques or perfect older ones. It is the core of the process in achieving an edge over the opposition.

It is generally admitted that motor skill acquisition occurs in four phases:

Phase 1: Neuromuscular adaptation to the new skill. It is the phase where the players are uncoordinated.

Phase 2: The phase of tensed and sloppy execution.

Phase 3: The motor skill “makes sense” and there is good coordination in the neuromuscular process.

Phase 4: The stage of mastery. Movements are highly efficient, fluid, and the player has developed the ability to adapt skill performance to situations or environmental changes.

Collectively, a rugby team is functioning as a unit whose work is interdependant on one another. Each unit has individual and collective skills coherently interrelated to optimize the performance of the team. Forwards are divided into the tight five and the loose forwards, the backs into the inside backs and outside backs. All players must develop the fundamental skills of a rugby player, enhanced in the early stages of formation, where passing, kicking, tackling, running with and without the ball, rucking and mauling for example, are taught and put into practical application session after session. Moreover, at the stage of specialization, players will learn more specific skills inherent to their position of play. All these skills will also have an impact of the physical and tactical development of the players. As we will see later on, the involvement of tactical aptitude will occur once a player reaches phase 3 and 4 of motor skill development, and it will become extremely important for players to be able to adapt their technical skills to set or game-induced tactical orientations.

Tactical training

There will always be some debate concerning the definitions of “strategy” and “tactic,” which are both originating from military terminology. Strategy refers to the general plan of motion, and utilization of the army’s forces made by the general officer in command. Tactic refers to the actual actions taking place on the battlefield. Adapted to rugby terminology, a game often referred to as a “collective combat sport” (Pierre Conquet, 1996), strategy will refer to the general game plan of the team, or how the team will play the game according to its’ own philosophy, strengths, and weaknesses. Tactics will refer to a lesser game plan, functioning according to the general strategic framework and adapting it to the strength and weaknesses of the opposition to be faced.

Tactical development, like its technical counterpart, is developed step-by-step and is based on three major elements:

Sound motor skill abilities

Sound understanding of the game

Optimal physical development

Each player should have a clear and thorough understanding of the game. Tactical training is designed from the early stages of development to high performance, to allow players to master the principle of rugby strategy, and to correlatively develop their physical and technical abilities in order to play the game at their best.

Developing tactical skills of rugby will include:

Knowledge of fundamental strategies for the game (like penetrating a stretched defense and outrun a compact defense).

Analysis of the strategy of opposition teams, and the level of physical and technical development of these teams.

Develop with players a sound awareness of the laws and regulations of the game. This will lead to a tactical edge on the field for the team.

Develop individual and unit tactics for the games to be played, and rehearse any of these in training until complete assimilation and automation has been achieved.

Tactical development will follow the same path as motor skill development. It is based on multiple repetitions of theoretical concepts, following a general game plan. An important factor for successful implementation is that all specific tactics elaborated from the general game plan and the opposition strategy analysis must be agreed upon by all players. All players must agree to follow the plan because only then will the chance for success be optimum and practice will become motivational allowing the players to focus on a common goal. Tactical training is directly dependant on the quality of the technical and physical abilities of the players. It is unrealistic to follow tactical options knowing that the level of fitness and the technical abilities of the majority of players will not be up to the task.

How can a team decide to exert a constant physical pressure on the opposition if half of the players are unable to sustain the pace dictated by the plan? It is extremely obvious in the modern game of rugby, which is increasingly faster and more intense than ever, that the physical abilities of the players at any level could be a limiting factor of the technical and tactical development of the team. The structure and elements of a tactical plan involves both attack and defense situations. Each time, there will be an implication for the individual player, who is part of a unit, which is working with the other units for the benefit of the whole team.

Let’s see what is happening in the offensive tactical structure of a team: The individual player will interact either as a ball carrier, or as a support player and will be involved in running, passing, kicking, rucking, mauling or all of the mentioned actions. This player, by position-specificity, is a part of the team’s units and will act according to the model expected from that position as well as what has been collectively decided for each unit to perform. The unit of the player is pursuing the goal of the team in symbiosis with the other units of the team. The same concept arises for the defensive tactical structure of the team, where a player will be involved individually, and as a unit member, part of the team in regular defense patterns such as: pressuring the opposition, marking an opponent and channel, guarding fringes of rucks, cover runs, line defense (man on, man out, drift, etc.), cooperate with unit members, tackling, recover the ball, etc.

In each of these game situations, the player will individually contribute to the team’s success in developing awareness of game situations anticipating expected moves from the opposition or planned moves from the team. The player will be asked to develop game understanding and vision, creativity, communication, technical and physical abilities, and selfless fighting spirit. These individual qualities will meld into the player’s unit work rate to realize the team’s goals. The key to success in this instance will be mastering skills and achieving the highest possible physical development to ensure that all tactical and decision making processes on the field will follow the overall strategy of the team with maximum efficiency. This, combined with a smarter way of training by periodizing all physical, technical, tactical and psychological aspects of the game, will ensure a definite competitive edge for the team.

Rugby is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic team sports in which technical and tactical development of players and coaches are constantly evolving. Rugby players and coaches are always discovering new ways to improve different aspects of the game to ensure a technical and tactical edge for their team. Tactical improvement is not carved in stone, although the best teams have a general game plan established in accordance to the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and it is of paramount importance to keep players through training, focused on solving problems occurring on the field. The best teams in the world often make the final result favor them through outstanding decision making of all players. How many times do we see teams realize that the tactical decisions being made are not working and accordingly would like to switch to plan B only to find out that plan B is almost nonexistent? Teams adapting to multiple technical, tactical and environmental situations will always be more successful.

We will see, as we further unfold this book, that if a plan must exist for the best possibility of improving all aspects of the game, this plan must allow for flexibility to implement necessary changes in the wake of knowledge and further skill development. Moreover, competent implementation of any tactical plan is based on sound skill ability and physical capacities. Rugby has evolved into a faster game, with more intense contact and less time for recovery between action bouts, as we will see later on, and therefore tactical development cannot succeed without a high level of fitness and stamina to cope with the increased fatigue level associated with thoroughly managing energy stores throughout the game. To manage these elements, a periodization model is adequate to ensure the functionality of all elements of training. A physical, technical, tactical and energy sources periodized plan is the ultimate tool for rugby development management.

Psychological development

As players get involved in the more technical and tactical aspects of team development, they will also cope with an increased psychological demand associated with training and playing rugby. To name just a few, players may be excited, anxious, emotional, sometimes scared of losing against reputedly stronger opposition, overconfident, shy, in state of denial once injured, and/or stressed by external factors that are occurring in their lives. In most instances, the coach will handle all emotions on a day-by-day basis, and will become the privileged listener of the emotional state of the player.

Beyond showing compassion and helping their players, coaches will need to develop coping skills for players to overcome the negative effects of training. A very important skill to develop with the players is to help them stay focused even when they are in high level of fatigue, and expose the players to simple and then more complex technical and/or tactical situations in training followed by exhibition games. Coaches can provide players with a mental plan to fulfill and teach them to visualize tactical development before fatigue sets in. This will allow players to visualize the game under fatigue conditions. Once a player is able to function beyond a high level of fatigue they tend to experiment, boosting the individual and collective confidence, as well as positively increasing the teams overall chance of success. This doesn’t mean, of course, to train to exhaustion, but to introduce psychological elements, to perfect technical and tactical automation with the players, their units, and the team as a whole, that help players solve technical and tactical problems occurring during a game, specifically under the condition of fatigue.

Two major negative psychological effects to overcome for players are:

Low self-esteem after a loss: This can lead to individual and collective doubt, frustration, apathy, lack of motivation, fear of losing again, guilt, anxiety, loss of sleep and appetite, mental staleness and even depression.

Overconfidence after a win. This can lead to individual and collective exaltation, exhilaration, “top of the world” feeling, condescendence, and a feeling of invincibility.

Of course, feelings are natural in human nature and make us what we are, but it’s the role of every player and coach to avoid succumbing to the influences of the “tricks of the mind”. There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed after a loss or being happy after a win, it is the excess of either we need to be wary of. Certainly one of the best ways to overcome any excessive reaction is to constructively analyze the game played, offer positive reinforcement without complacency to what went right and go through what went wrong step-by-step to ensure all parties understand and ensure it is a priority for remedial coaching in the training sessions before the next game.

It is essential to understand that there is always a “why?” for what happened in rugby or any sport. By being clinical in the aftermath of a game, we erase the “I” and replace it with a “we,” smoothing therefore emotional reactions and defusing the negative effects of sometimes dealing with the “after.”Laurie Mains (All Blacks coach 1992-1995, and Super 12 coach 2000-2003), one of the most proficient coaches in modern day rugby puts it like this: “Strip the action back to the bare bone to know why it didn’t work, there is always an answer, look at it technically and fix it with remedial coaching.” This way, for example, the center doesn’t have to feel specifically guilty after knocking on the ball, if the lift in the lineout would have been more efficient, the jumper would have had more time to adjust his off the top pass to the scrum half, who himself wouldn’t have lost time in getting the ball to the fly half, who would have been able to adjust better his miss pass to the center, who himself wouldn’t have to adjust his run to catch the low ball, ending the movement by knocking it on … The most common mistakes in the game of rugby are often the result of chain-reactions unfolding for the better or worse. We, as players and coaches, must get the small details correct step-by-step, beginning from initiation to the high performance stage. We are all in for a long commitment! Getting this message across from the earliest stage allows players to understand it, and it will get us a long way, and save us long painful guilt or bragging brainstorming.

Phases of technical and tactical training development

In order to develop these two fundamental aspects of the training to maximize game efficiency, the path is established by two parallel trajectories:

The knowledge and abilities of the coach. Skills enhanced by his/her experience, knowledge and pedagogical skills.

The ability of the players to assimilate new skills and tactical elements. A players’ level of retention of the presented information will directly depend on their capacity to process new information in correlation to their current understanding of standardized models, and their individual biomechanical and biomotor abilities.

Generally, players will improve their technical and tactical skills in three phases as presented in figure 1.1:

Figure 1.1The three phases of skill and tactical development (adapted from Bompa, 2003and Teodorescu, 1986)

The goal of players and coaches is to achieve the highest level of technical and tactical development because of the challenge it provides and it is fun to progressively play better and smarter. Therefore, it is extremely important to initially practice the correct techniques.

Players and coaches must follow the learning law by primarily stipulating that in a learning process, best assimilation is achieved by learning the right things first, then in accordance to the law of exercise, to practice and rehearse the correct skill until technical automation is complete. The same theory applies to tactical development. In some instances, technical and tactical improvement will not be possible as they are directly dependant on physical factors not yet acquired.

For example, if a team decides to apply a forwards unit penetration game based on pick and go around the fringes of the breakdown in order to cross the gain line rapidly and recycle the ball quickly before the retreating defense regroups, sucking in the defense line and opening spaces to be exploited later on the outside, then players must be physically and technically conditioned for multiple pick and go actions with support, low body drive, optimal body position in contact and in getting to the ground late, allowing the ball to continuously flow and keep the exact momentum essential to destabilize the opposition’s defense.

All involved players will need to not only technically train to optimize performance in contact, but also be able to physically sustain such a tactical option repetitively. As long as players are not physically ready, their technique will not improve and the sequence of play will suffer technical deficiency under the condition of fatigue.

Fatigue is also a limiting factor of the learning process. Although it is valuable to technically and tactically train under the condition of fatigue, coaches must imperatively avoid teaching new skills or concepts when the players are tired. Other impeding factors in the learning process could be logistical, such as poor quality or worn out equipment, as well as an imperfect field surface for proper skill development. We all have memorable tackling stories on tough pitches or inappropriate surfaces. In this case, scratches, bruises and the fear of injury can deter the players to practice the best tackling techniques they have previously learnt.

In time, another factor coaches will have to deal with appreciates that not every player learns at the same speed. Some individuals are fast learners and master concepts and techniques quicker than others, which can create a disparity throughout the team. It is therefore important to defuse all potential negative effects and frustration this situation can create. A good way to do this is to anticipate the needs of the individual player and ensure proper and clear communication when approaching more complex skills or tactical situations. Use concise briefings, state of the art demonstration, and utilize senior players and fast learners as tutors for slower learners, involving everyone in the process of development.

When the season is planned, the best time to develop technical and tactical training is during the preparatory phase of the team’s annual plan. During the majority of the season there will be no competition, so there are weeks and months to train technical and tactical improvement, which will be first tested in game simulation training sessions then through the exhibition matches of the precompetition phase and from then on, remedial coaching will deal with actual technical and tactical failures occurring during championship games as there will be no time to develop further. During the preparatory phase, technical and tactical sessions must be practiced at different speeds and velocity and the closer the team comes to starting the season, all skills involved in field action should be rehearsed at an increased speed. It is indeed very common for players to master skills and moves at a low pace with limited opposition, but this is not what will really transpires during championship games when the opposition will throw at them everything but the kitchen sink! Therefore, the higher the velocity that the skills and moves will be achieved without compromising quality, the better it will be for future competition applications. Moreover, we all know that fatigue will drastically impair technical development and the lucidity of the player to be able to make the right decision. It is then a valuable concept to occasionally train under fatigued conditions and rehearse tactics attempting to push the limits of mental and technical blankness. Some tasks, such as lineout throws or goal kicking, will need to be performed under a very high fatigue level, meaning as we will see later on, that a high level of lactic acid will pool in the muscles and flow into the blood stream. It is therefore always a good idea to get the throwers, lineout pods, and goal kickers practicing while they are tired.

The game plan and tactical applications

The general game plan is the plan-of-action the team will follow during a specific competition, and reflects the team’s philosophy and concepts of the game of rugby. It is usually written, read, and agreed upon by all members of the team and coaching staff. It is conceived based upon these different vital elements:

Strengths and weaknesses of the team

Analysis and knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of the opposition teams

Adaptation to fundamental game strategy

Address both offense and defense issues

Define the individual and units roles both in offense and defense

The goals of the game plan are to:

Inform and remind players how the team will play the game

Set realistic and agreed upon objectives for the team to pursue

From the general game plan, tactical concepts to play individual games will be drawn into tactical plans, which will address the manner in which the team will play game-by-game in the competition. Each of these plans will follow specific guidelines dictated by the team to be played. Flexibility is a key word here, as we all have experiences of getting involved in matches, either as players or coaches, and realizing that what was planned didn’t really work well on the field. Adaptation and decision making skills are the key to change the course of events. Reading the game and adapting to it will always remain the best option rather than sticking blindly to a tactical game plan which doesn’t work, not having a plan “B” to switch to, or drilling players into absolute submission to sequence play that, in turn, annihilates their feelings and sense of adaptation to an unpredicted situation. By simply analyzing what is going on in front of them they would be able, in most instances, to revert to a successful back-up plan to take control of the game. For this reason, rugby teams must develop decision makers and leadership throughout the team. Traditionally, this specific function was given to a few players designated as tactical decision makers (TDM) lead by the captain of the team. Modern rugby tends to develop every player as an efficient decision maker and, as with the increased velocity of the game, a player is unable to refer to another team member for guidance and decisions must be made instantly to carry on the momentum. There are still positions regarded as tactical positions such as scrum half and fly half, but in the modern game of rugby, developing a TDM in every player is an increasing necessity.

The tactical game plan occurs in three phases:

Preliminary planning of the plan:

This is where experience and knowledge of playing other teams come into consideration, and the team’s coaching staff will select some appropriate solutions to anticipated problems to be encountered during the game. It is based on a sound understanding of the game, and useful knowledge of the opposition team. Every player and unit is informed of the tasks ahead, and training sessions will focus on developing a successful tactical game plan.

Application of the plan:

This phase will actually apply what has been decided on in a game situation. By understanding how the team will play, and by practicing offense and defense patterns in training, the players will theoretically be able to anticipate both their own teammate’s actions and the opposition’s moves to secure the most favorable position on the field. Communication between players in a unit, and from unit to unit, must be optimum and well-rehearsed.

Analyzing the application of the game plan:

This phase is designed to provide constructive analysis of what has transpired during the game and how to improve technically and tactically as a team. Audiovisual devices are used to comment on what happened during the game and to evaluate if the decisions made at the time of the game were optimal for the interest of the team. Video analysis is now widespread, as with the development of computer software allowing the classification and segmentation of a game set-piece by set-piece, ruck-by-ruck, maul-by-maul, and tackle-by-tackle if necessary. These options are systematically used currently at professional and international levels. This phase is also an opportunity to reinforce the positive and motivate players who might feel down, in the case of a loss for example, or what seemed to be individual mistakes.

Dominant biomotor abilities for rugby

Technical and tactical developments have a direct relationship with the physical abilities, also called biomotor abilities, the rugby players need to develop. These abilities include strength, speed, endurance and coordination. These four parameters can’t function without each other. Let’s analyze the physical implication of technical and tactical developments.

Technically, the major skills the players need to develop in order to play rugby are divided into two categories:

Skills with the ball

Skills without the ball

With the ball, players will run at a different speeds, pass, kick, go in contact, and change direction. Without the ball, which is not limited to defensive situations, players will run in support, get into position, change direction, jump, push, tackle, and support in contact. All these physical activities need strength/power, speed, endurance and coordination in order to be performed with maximum efficiency. A specific activity, for example, may need more power than another, but all the bio-motor capabilities are involved in some extent to play the game of rugby with a sound technical base.

Tactical play, according to general and specific game plans, will put the individual actions into a coherent collective effort towards the same goal in order for the team to perform the best it can. The game itself is the sum of action bouts split by periods of rest. During these collective action moments, arranged as coherently as possible, all biomotor abilities of the player will be put into action. All parameters being equal, it is safe to assume that the team that is the least tired will win the game. In that case, to overcome the opposing team, one must first individually and collectively overcome fatigue. This is the sole purpose of training, not actually playing the game. Players train to overcome fatigue and adapt to it, so they can perform at maximum capacity during games. To be able to perform at optimal capacity, players must plan to enhance all biomotor abilities in tight relation with their technical and tactical development. Hence, the lack of optimization of the physical abilities necessary to play will become an impeding factor for the team’s development towards excellence.

If we wish players to run faster, hit in contact more powerfully, cross the gain line faster, recycle the ball quicker to keep getting the advantage over the struggling regrouping opposition defense, and ultimately be able to place fast runners into the spaces created, or aggressively and powerfully defend going forward and pressurize the opposition until the team turns over the ball, then players will be required to use biomotor abilities at their optimal level. For high performance rugby, we cannot rely solely on good technical and tactical players. We need to develop more complete players who will thrive to perform optimally during the 80 minutes of the game, overcome fatigue to keep performing soundly technically and tactically, and make a real difference towards the end of the game. If players are able to optimize their biomotor abilities, all technical and tactical activities will be performed quicker, the team will gain in momentum and cohesion, and it will boost confidence and motivation therefore enhancing the psychological aspect of the process. As we can see, performance and outcome are tightly interrelated and must be addressed accordingly. It is a large task for those who decide to improve and play a total type of rugby, but luckily today it is facilitated by fragmenting, or periodizing, the training using the knowledge sport science has brought to us.

In summary, we can confidently say that all movements involved in rugby require varying degrees of:



Endurance (aerobic and anaerobic)


These are the dominant biomotor abilities for rugby.

Table 1.2 shows the biomotor abilities for rugby implied in technical skills with the order of importance to the specific skill from 1 to 4, 1 being the most important.

Figure 1.2The importance of specific biomotor abilities for rugby

As a result, although all elements are important to develop any technical skills, we can deduct from table 1.2 that strength/power is prominently important for rugby players whatever the position played. Of course the element of speed is also extremely important as are the others, and rugby can be classified as a speed & power team sport and training should be oriented towards this trend.