This page is based on parts of a presentation by rugby guru Pierre Villepreux from the FIRA website and a presentation of him I found on the Internet. I am very fortunately to have met Pierre several times now and participate in his lectures of the game. You can download a copy the FIRA presentation in French and English here.

Tactical Problems in Rugby today

How to beat the flat defensive line? Pierre Villepreux observes:

  • There is too much individual confrontation! Based on power and hardhitting defenders;
  • Teams are organised to utilise the individual (powerhouse) player who can penetrate the defence (linebreaker)
  • Playing against the wall; rather then creating and using space;
  • Go forward by keeping possession without disorganising the defence (from one phase to another, trying to reach the goal line or to get a penalty (rugby league game).;

The questions to be answered are?

  • How can we (by collective positioning and actions of attacking lines) make it more difficult for the defence to stop the attack?
  • How can we develop this in training sessions?

Effective play is achieved by the team, which is capable of ensuring a complex series of sequences of play linked together, whatever the origin of the possession or when it occurs in the game. The most effective play (in terms of points scored: tries/penalties) is achieved when the teem is capable of putting together at least 2-3 phases of play.

The majority of points are scored from ball, won back from the opposition at the breakdown or in ruck or maul, or in broken play, e.g. producing counter attack, and much more often than from scrums and line outs. Because the defence is much more organized at set play. In fact, few points are scored directly from set moves off scrum or lineout. Points are more likely to be scored from second or third phase play following these set moves.

Taking this analysis one step further, we find the following:

  • The team that wins the game engages in less ruck/maul situations, but when they do form them, they always produce quick ball;
  • When the initial set play produces penetration down the middle of the field, it is more likely that a complex sequence of play will produce effective continuity;
  • Kicking in attack can be either very effective, or ineffective. If the ball is recovered after the kick, a try is scored approximately 90% of the time;

This analysis suggests that the coach's first preoccupation should be to make the players as effective as possible in broken play. To do this, the players need to understand the game of movement so that they can then understand each other.

If the objective is really to develop continuity in the game, thanks to the capacity of all the players to play in a coherent way, linking the game of the forwards to that of the backs and vice versa, then it is essential to practice in the areas of improving understanding the game and the decision-making processes of all the players. This is the only way of creating some kind of logical link between the actions of each individual player within the game.

So, we need to produce players able to adapt their game to the reality of the opposition, with skills, which enable them to assume any role in either attack or defence.

It is the connection between ATTACK and DEFENCE which conducts the positioning of the attacking players. How to give to the players the understanding of their positioning in relation with the reaction of the defense?: by letting them practise in controlled games!

How to play?

First you have to decide what style of rugby you want to play. Pierre Villepreux distinguishes two styles:

  1. the Adaptive Game
  2. The Planned Game

The Adaptive Game

Played by teams who:

  • attempt to keep possession of the ball using a collective system of play;
  • allowing the movement of the attackers, (designated positioning and relevant repositioning) to whatever the situation requires on the pitch;

This collective organisation aims, by means of running, passing and the exploitation of gaps and open spaces to avoid the incidents of ruck - and maul situations or if this is not possible, to deliver the ball at the right time to stop the defence effectively reorganising.

  • in case of a turnover, attempt to use the ball immediately;
  • when the situation requires it, attempt to use kicking strategies;

The Planned Game

The Planned Game is played by teams who:

  • try to maintain the possession of the ball by making the defense move back without disorganising it;
  • adopt as a priority, individual physical confrontation, increasing the incidents of tackles where a large number of players are involved;
  • use kicking but not as a last option;
  • do not take advantage of turnovers;

[Note: The Adaptive Game is ofcourse the exciting game we want to play, we use to describe the french way of playing "French Flair". The All Blacks seem to have this adaptive style of play in recent years.

The Learning Process, problems arising?

Look on other pages for more information on the Adaptive gamestyle and the associated game based learning style. Yes, you can develop the tactical decision making skills of your team!

Related topics are