By Ian Kennedy, 4 Jun 2012

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Are you bored at the way rugby teams now endlessly bash into each other over and over again - barge & bash - trying to overcome an efficient defence to no purpose? It is like 'Ring a Ring of Rosies' - 'Tishoo, Tishoo, We All Fall Down'.

There is a better way.

Professional rugby seems to have become mostly brawn and little brain. Even allowing for the unpredictability of Refs, many of our top professionals are making unbelievably bad, basic errors in major games and thus losing points, even in the World Cup! What hope is there of our youngsters playing proper rugby? Where are their models? All professional players should have to pass a 'Player’s Licence'.  Before they are let loose on the field, they should be tested on both theory and practice, to be sure they at least know the rules - abbreviated, of course! (See 'Rugby Union Rules, A Player's Guide', Eddie Knights, 1997 Ward Lock/Cassell - Some rules may need up-dating)

New Zealand play so close to the wind, that, although tries may not be scored against them, the penalty points mount up and they can still lose games by penalties – so much for the world's best team! While watching games, it is useful to keep notes of silly errors by players. This book is based on dozens, possibly hundreds of recent games, including the World Rugby Cup. There is deliberate repetition to re-inforce certain points.

Basic Plays & Errors

What is the solution?



Ball Handling



Some Food for Thought


Did We Really Win?


  1. Stay on your feet. Why fall down? -  Stay on your feet? 
  2. Keep the ball off the ground. - Balls on the ground get lost.
  3. Pass the ball. - Passing scores lots of tries. 
  4. Tackle low. - With high tackles, opponents just keep gaining ground.
  5. Don't kick the ball away. - Possession is 9/10ths of the game, too.
  6. Run straight. - Don't push your wing into touch.
  7. The most basic rule. - DON'T BARGE - PASS!

Errors repeated every game are (not a happy list!)

These cannot be avoided by better fitness training. It is about practice, ATTITUDE and common sense.)


1. STAY ON YOUR FEET – One man on his feet is worth ten on the ground! DON’T DIE WITH THE BALL. – This is the main change in play needed and the one most likely to be fiercely opposed. Because diving players appear to gain ground and miraculously, seem to get the ball back, even though it wastes so much time, it seems to be the only way coaches know how to play! It wastes precious time and you may always get a turnover, - SO, STAY ON YOUR FEET.

2. GET UP AT ONCE, if you do go down. - You are useless lying down. Bounce up! – AT ONCE! Do not wait till the ball is out. Why do players lie on the ground? Whenever and for whatever reason you go down, let go and get up immediately. You may even be able to Use Your Feet, instead!

3. DON’T CHARGE AND BARGE – with, or without the ball. One trick seems to have vanished from the rugby field. You do not have to fall down! Instead of barging and falling flat on your face, as you engage, Stay On Your Feet, Keep Your Head Up, Turn and Give Your Back and Brace. (Give your whole back, so you can assess what is happening behind and you don’t pass the ball to an opponent. Some players do seem to turn the back, but accidentally, not intentionally. It must be intentional.)

Advantages  of turning  your back, over barging:

  1. You can release the ball to your mates following up, or at least have them take the ball and push on in a maul, rather than trying to pick it up off the ground in a ruck, which just becomes a mess. (Playing New Zealand, you have lost it! – my obsession, but it is true! – see below)
  2. It is much more difficult to bring a man down, or take the ball from him, when his back is towards you. Also, you are much more likely to have the ball taken from you, if you are facing your opponents, than if they can only see your back!
  3. If you can not turn, still stay on your feet, but try to put the ball on the ground, (is this a ruck?) and hack it back to the scrum half, instead of just falling down. (Is it ever done, at present?)


Avoid rucks. Rucks stop the flow. RUCKS are a piled up mess – Avoid at all costs. You never can know what the Ref is thinking, so don’t take chances.

Barging is counterproductive

What use are you in a pileup of bodies?

The “STAYING  PUT” trick

‘Put the best foot forward’

Or Boot it!




Mauls can be pushed along, but are very tricky - keep it straight, or you have lost it! The biggest problem with mauls is uncontrollable turning, when the opponents tackle the man with the ball. Get rid of it. The spectators love the pushing and shoving of mauls, but most of it is wasted energy and gains very little ground. Only near to the goal line, can it really work, but do not persist, if it is not moving. Use it, or lose it.


Your back must be parallel to the ground, to be able to push properly, like a formal scrum. If you push at 45 degrees, you have no purchase. Also, don't spend useless time trying to pull your opponents off by their jerseys, or interfering with them any other way – just concentrate on where the ball is and push. If you hope to play an 80 minute game, save your energy. Remember, in a maul, you are allowed to take the ball away from your opponent! This should always be in your mind in any contact with your opponent.


PASSING – Passing Scores Tries!


2. Always, try to pass, BEFORE YOU GO DOWN. - Most players try too late, when there is no one to pass to. Repeatedly, you see players making no effort to pass. This is criminal. Selfish play loses games again and again. How often can you really make ground by barging against a good defence? (This seems to be how the silly 'phases' idea started)



Why do fly halves have to bounce the ball first? Why does everyone kick too far?

ALWAYS FIND TOUCH if you kick for touch; better a poor touch than a give-away counter attack. If you can’t find touch, you shouldnot be kicking. Every kicker must be able to kick touch with both feet, even the forwards in an emergency. (Why do we imagine forwards can’t kick?)

PRACTISE all the time. Low, long kicks to touch, can gain ground over and over again. Watch Ireland's Jonathan Sexton & O’Hara. Always kick the ball into the stands, or follow up at speed, so the opposition can not throw it in, before you get there (New Zealand again!). This makes more sense than the ghastly ping pong.

CHIPS AND GRUBBERS – ‘Chips with Everything!’ At last, some players have re-discovered how valuable short chips can be. (RSA's  Bjorn Basson and Sias Ebersohn). Keep chipping to break the barge habit!

KEEP KICKS WITHIN REACH and, if not kicking for touch, kick into the center field. (How many good movements are wasted by the ball just going into touch? If you want the ball to go ten yards, kick it five and you will be amazed at how far it travels - always further than you want it to. Chips and grubbers are safer than up-and-unders. 


It is pathetic to watch a large forward careering along with two or three professionals hanging uselessly onto him. A player with the ball always tries to move forward. You can only stop him by - getting his feet off the ground, stop your opponents, dead. Target thighs, not waist. As long as your opponent is on his feet, he is a threat. Put him down immediately. Don’t fool about, allowing him to gain yards. The commonest reason for failing to stop a player, is going high. The only sure way to stop a man is to tackle low and stop his feet moving. You may even stop the deadly wriggle, twist and turn, to escape from the tackler! 

The high tackle to smother the ball, or prevent a pass, is mostly a fallacy, because, if you watch how people play, in most cases, they make no attempt to pass! They are too busy barging! Better stop him moving forward.

There are roughly four kinds of stop-tackles: 

  1. You and your opponent are more or less standing. Try to grab mid-thigh, hold tight and stop his legs moving. Apart from heaving him over with maximum force, that is the only way you can be sure to bring a man down. As soon as he goes down, let go, get-up and concentrate on the ball, using feet if necessary. An interesting alternative, is to pick him up and carry him away from the goal line. This can not be illegal, because you are on your feet and he is not lying on the ground. With today's monster heavyweights, it may be hard, but if you are big and strong, too, it should be possible over a short distance and will catch everyone napping! This happened almost on the goal line, in one of the World Cup matches! – Samoa, I think - brilliant.] How do you stop a head-on stomach barge? Grab his middle from above and flip him onto his back. You should then be able to lift the ball out of his hands, since he must release.
  2. If your opponent is moving slowly, grab his thighs and keep pushing. He will fall down.
  3. If he is moving faster, you will not be able to push. Grab thighs and hang on, using your weight, or twist your own legs round his.
  4. At high speed, you just have to dive and grab any part of his legs and try to hang on. This is the try-saving tackle and Austin Healey was particularly good at it. Even if you fail to stop him, you may slow him down enough for your mates to take him. This is the only place where a higher tackle may save a try. If you tackle low, he can still reach out and ground the ball. If you take his torso with speed and your full weight, you will topple him over and he will be unablle to score – that is the theory!

What use is it, diving onto the player as he scores? It may help your conscience, but does not help the game and you may both be injured, for nothing


As soon as you see a man has the ball, go in and tackle.




In most games, the two lines of players just barge and neutralize each other, over and over again, whichever side has the ball. What can be more boring? Chip and grubber kicks are the only way to open up the game and score points.

If you make as if to kick, the other side is never sure of what you are going to do, so they start to hang back, giving you time and space.

b) CORNER KICKS don’t always produce tries.

In spite of all the effort, unless you have a pack that is obviously much superior and, if you want to win, put points on the board. The spectators won’t like it, but once the points roll in, they will see why. A successful kick can change the whole game. (It seems, New Zealand can only be beaten by kicks!) 

Don’t exhaust your forwards, trying uselessly to get over a well-defended line, over and over again. Get the backs moving, when close in to the line. With more space, they are much more likely to burst through. 


It always amazes me how quickly the defence can come up and neutralize an attack. 15 a side, is too many on the field. I am surprised 10 a side rugby has not made more headway - there is more room to move! (7 a side is too simple and repetitive. I have stopped watching.)

Defence has become so dominant, that backs are afraid to line deep. The result is, that when they get the ball, they can’t get up speed and theirteammates over-run them, leading to forward passes. Nowadays, the back line is cluttered up with loose forwards thinking they are useful, but who just get in the way. They may be fast, but the back line is for backs. Give yourself space. If the forwards hang back, they can form a second line of attack for looping. 

d) LINEOUTS (Just a BIG mess!)

It is pathetic to watch players running backwards and forwards and jumping too early - what for? Don’t waste time, pointlessly trying to keep up with the other side; you obviously wont reach the ball. If all the forwards stay put and just jump as high as they can as the ball comes in, it is bound to work sometimes. Or, form a quick maul and push the other side away. But don’t leave gaps for New Zealand to sail through!

e) SCRUMS (Why do scrums keep collapsing?)




  1. The normal defensive screen is broken up and so it is easy to penetrate the gaps and once through, the field is wide open with lots of support.
  2. All your side, including the fullback, are rushing forwards and it is difficult to suddenly turn back and try to catch the opposition. 


j) VARY YOUR OPTIONS – But warn your mates - if your side can keep awake!







With the largely unnecessary(barging), physical battering of modern rugby, it makes sense to build up muscle for protection. The question is, 'Have we overdone it?' Are our muscle-bound heavies slower than they would be, if not so bulky? Should the amount of muscle developed, be just enough for mobility on the field? Is weight so important in the scrum, or is pushing power more use? (It must be measurable!)  (And the lightweights? Are they to be denied any chance to play?)

Sometimes we are surprised that, slim, lightweight players (South Africa's Aplon, France's Yashvili) run circles round their muscle-bound opposites! Intelligence is what counts!  The S A Stormers Club's 'Siya Kolisi' is slim, but is very strong and throws around opponents much bigger than himself !

It seems a lot of time now, is spent in fitness and body-building, with no real skills rugby-practice and no opportunities to correct mistakes in play.

In the old amateur days, weekday ‘practice’ meant the A team playing the B team, perhaps with the forward packs switched, to balance things up. If the coaches keep blowing the whistle till they are satisfied, it will work wonders, in spite of the complaints! With game practice, there is always the risk of injuries and some players may not take practice games seriously, but that is up to the coach. It is also valuable for confirming, whom you want to pick for the team - committed enthusiasts! Professionals have all the time in the world to practise.

[Ideally, we need edited videos of actual play, with critical commentary, to highlight what I have been describing, but videos of the main games are all copyright and so unavailable. Amateur films tend not to be good enough to show what needs to be shown. They also need expert editing, which is not readily available and very time consuming.] 

The best PRACTICE is ACTUALLY PLAYING RUGBY. That is what it is all about.

Watch old videos of amateurs' play. It is a pity the films are not close-ups like today, but they are still worth studying. You can learn a lot. If everyone in the team played this way, you will be amazed at how much better you’d play and what is much more important, you will enjoy it more, because you will realize what a great game rugby can be!

Players joining a team should be made to sign a pledge – ‘I promise stay on my feet, keep the ball off the ground and always to tackle low.’


Will anyone listen?  Has anyone ever tried it? What I have written may seem 'revolutionary', even reactionary, but it is just common sense. How do we changethe 'DON'T DARE TO BE DIFFERENT' attitudeof coachesOne coach I showed this to, said, "That's what we do." My reply was, " Then why can't we see it on the pitch?" How do we change coaches' fear of breaking with convention?]

It is accepted, that it is very difficult, almost impossible for some, to alter the habits of years. What I suggest is, to run some trials, or pilots, to test these theories, for theories they are, since virtually no one plays this way. That is the challenge.

There is a counter problem. With any new idea, it takes time for it to sink in. First, some brave souls accept it, against the opinions of their peers, then more and more accept it, until it becomes the new convention, fashion, or 'culture'. This is the danger time, because there are always some of the new enthusiasts, who haven't grasped the principles and start practicing their own version, which will be a parody of the original. That is human nature, but let's give it a try!

We now seem to have a Top Heavy Rugby Bureaucracy – What do all those coaches do? They are not improving the standard of play!


Rugby Can Be Frustrating.

Often, the obviously better team loses and even if no side has crossed your line for a try, you can still lose on penalties. Some would say, 'Serves you right', but surely we can do better? 

At all the big games now, computers keep track of every player's performance - unforced errors, runs, kicks, tackles, passes, ground gained etc. Would it not be more sensible to award or deduct points for things like possession and territory, unforced errors, fouls and other free kicks etc. and base the win on a combination of all these? This would give a much truer picture of how the game was played and is much fairer. I leave the IRB to work out the points, and it could be done on an experimental trial basis like a change in the rules.

Suggestions for Winning-Code Points:

  1. Possession
  2. Territory
  3. Errors and unforced errors
  4. Lost Scrums and Lineouts 
  5. Rucks & Mauls - Phases lost.
  6. Missed kicks at goal and to touch
  7. Missed tackles and high tackles
  8. Poor passing and intercepts.
  9. Sin Bins 
  10. Not retreating 10 metres
  11. Distance run, ground gained.
  12. Deliberate fouls & free kicks.
  13. Fights – Penalise both sides!
  14. Arguing with the Ref
  15. Tries
  16. Conversions and successful free kicks
  17. Why is a conversion 2 and a free kick 3? The kicks are of the same difficulty!

Contact me and I would be happy to encourage downloading of the text for training or discussion. 

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