Develop a gameplan: the Adaptive Game vs. the Planned Game

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.

Rather then just repeat that presentation I have put the hihglights on this page. Below you have lots of references to related material.

One can question the method of coaching rugby....

how to start

Definition of decision making for rugby

Definition of decision-making: the capacity of the player to execute an action following some conscious [or unconscious!] tactical or strategical choice.

Definition of rugby:

A game, which includes both confrontation (with the opposition) and collaboration (within the team), in which two opposing teams fight to gain possession of the ball, with the aim of scoring against the opposition, as a result of their individual and collective efforts.

It is the relationship between attack and defence, and the way in which these two alternate with eachother in the course of the game, which lends a particular sense to this definition of the game. This requires that every player must learn to interact not only with his team-mates but do this in relation to the actions and reactions of the opposition.

These three most important rules / aspect of our game influence how we play the game:

  • Where to score: the defense has to cover the width of the field;
  • Not passing forward (off-side): the confrontation between attackers and defenders;
  • Releasing the ball after the tackle: the contest for possession;

Our definition of tactical skill is the ability of the player to perform appropriately in open play. Open play is defined as the movement of the players and the ball once set play is over and the players and the ball are moving on the field. Most of the time the players have very little time to make these tactical decisions, you have to train your players on such a way that they become unconscious.

Strategic skill is the ability of a player to make the right choices and to perform from set play (scrum / lineout / penalty / kick-off / drop-out). In these situations there is more time to think about a general gameplan and conscious decisions are made.

The Pierre Villepreux presentation on which this page is based deals with:

Make a choice: Which style of rugby you wish to play?

First you have to decide what style of rugby you want to play. Pierre Villepreux distinguishes two styles: the Adaptive - and the Planned Game.

The Learning Process, problems arising?

How to deal with this Adaptive Game and have a learning process that allows the players to be trained? How to give them the appropriate tools to develop both an individual and a collective game? And how to build the game, based on the potential of the individual player and the group?

The ultimate aim of coaching is to develop the teams capacities for adaptation. To train creative players while allowing them the freedom to play an adaptative game in which they are responsible and willing to take initiative.

The learning process (training method) is based on learning using the game itself:

The different methods

There are different methods used to coach the game of rugby:

  1. Technical approach / analytical way. The acquisition by all the players on the team of an ever-increasing number of individual technical skills, with no relation to the reality of the opposition.
  2. Free play: no restrictions, let the players explore.
  3. The development of each player's tactical understanding of game situations, in direct relation to the actions and reactions of the opposition. Learning using the game: competitions + prescribed exercises

How to develop the ability of rugby players to adapt?

One of the primary roles of the coach is to create for the players game-like practices which will help them to better analyse all the problems posed by the defence. All players need some common "code" to help them read the game in a similar fashion, especially in open play. The objective is to enable players to apply this code at game speed. This provides the players with a set of consistent reference points and enables them to analyse the characteristics of the various situations in the game. Once the players have acquired this code, they are able to do the following:

  • To analyse simultaneously any problem presented by the defence.
  • To anticipate what will, happen next.
  • To choose an appropriate action as quickly as possible.

The player will then be able to move into the best position to be able to participate in whatever individual or collective action is going on.

Types of play

In open play, the number of basic situations is relatively few and includes the following:

  • When the defence is grouped together, the obvious choice for both the ball carrier and the support players is to go wide.
  • When the defence is spread across the field, both ball carrier and support players must try to penetrate.

The coach's task is to help both the ball carrier and the support players to come to a similar conclusion about what to do, at any given moment, in light of their perception of what is happening in front of them. This means that every player:

  • can perceive how the defending players are arranged on the field, at any given moment;
  • can perceive his own position in the attacking alignment and can get into a position to be effective according to the needs of the moment (close support, wide support, immediate intervention, delayed intervention).

So the coach must create practices for the players, which cover all the possible situations of the game:

  1. in open play (15 v 15)
  2. unit play (forwards against forwards, backs against back, etcetera)
  3. individual play (2 v 2, 2 v 1, 1 v 1)

Rugby Team Play

In a general team sense when there is open play, this means that the players must understand how the disposition of the defence changes in response to the movement of the attacking players (15 v 15):

  • penetration causes the defence to come closer together and be concentrated in a small area close to the ball
  • attack out wide causes the defence to spread across the field

If penetration has really caused the opposition defence to be concentrated in a relatively small area, then all the conditions are favourable to attacking out wide.

Conversely, wide attack creates the conditions favourable for penetration through the resulting gaps created in the defence.

Rugby Unit Play

The unit play includes, for example, forwards against forwards, backs against backs forwards against backs and vice versa.

Rugby Individual Play

For the individual player, this means the capacity to recognize all the specific situations in the game which involve a small number of players, for example 4v4, 4v3, 3v3, 3v2, 2v2, 2v1, etcetera.

This ability of the player to situate himself in the diverse movements of the players and of the ball, and to take into account the disposition of the defence is the essential principle of decision-making during the game.

How to develop?

How to develop the tactical capacities of attacking players in a game situation where the ball carrier does the decision making: players have to understand they can belong to different "families" and have te (re)act accordingly:

  1. Players who carry the ball
  2. Players inside the ball, late arrivers
  3. Players outside, early arrivers
  4. Players in the deep axis

The "why" before the "how"

Work on the tactical understanding of the player, then on the technical and positional details will fit in.
[The Rijks Universiteit Groningen called this development cognitive behavior, declarative knowledge before procedural knowlegde, Martin]

The are lots of things to consider in order to make the right decision, the above diagram also shows the process of seeing what is in front of you, recognise the pattern, decide and act upon it. [Note: with our focus on the the technical aspects of the game we only work on the last bit; Martin]

Why start the learning process with general play?


1. It allows players to be confronted with all the situations:

  • from the general (team against team)
  • to the individual (1 vs. 1)

2. It allows players to work from the simple to the more complex. By changing the elements:

  • time
  • space
  • numbers of players
  • distribution of players in attack and defence

In the General Play we look for:

  • adaptability
  • creativity and variety of actions
  • accuracy and efficiency in skill

The process of decision-making in rugby

It is useful to recall our use of the terms tactical and strategical:

  • Tactical: the ability of the player to perform appropriately in situations where there is some uncertainty about the outcome (e.g. in general play);
  • Strategical: the ability of the player to make the right choices in Situations where the positions of the players involved is evident (e.g. in scrum and Lineout).

Principle to attack a defence

Go to play where it’s easy to play! Think about specific roles in relation to the ball and ball carrier:

  • Role of ball carrier
  • Role of the support near the ball
  • Role of the support more distant from the ball

Focus of the attacking team is how to maintain the going forwards with lateral passing to avoid the lateral movement of the cover defence?


  1. Which game do youwant to play?
  2. What type of players are required to play it?
  3. What type of training for your players?

Tommorow's players will, in order to break down organised defences, will have to learn to play at a higher pace and to read the game quicker and have a greater variety of skills.

Very important: to see and understand the immediate action and anticipate the most effective option before the opposition can respond.

  • to choose the appropriate skill
  • to utilise good technique
  • to change the option if necessary raise this tactical - and technical aspects the player will also have to simultaneously:

  • develop fitness levels
  • master emotional pressure
  • develop mental strength

in the moving game the players’ specialist rol becomes less relevant.

Related topics are: