Mastering the basics

Many rugby players, in non-traditional Rugby countries, don’t learn the basics of the game as a child. This robs many athletes of the opportunity to be satisfied with learning the game at a “child’s pace”. What do I mean by this? Well, when a small child learns to play any game they focus on the successes no matter how many failures they stumble through to get to that success. As an older athlete (16 years old and up), we tend to focus more on the failures than on how far we have come. We focus on being able to throw spin passes, make big tackles and kick torpedo punts because these are the things that good players do. However, in our haste to master the more difficult skills we forget that many of the good players mastered the basics as children and have continually developed over 10-15 years of playing rugby. So what does this have to do with a new rugby player? Focus on doing the little things right. Here is a list of critical skills that I think every rugby player should master and be able to execute under pressure.

1. Pop pass – this pass is the one that you leave in space for the receiver to run onto. Hold the ball in two hands with your thumbs on top, drive your arms from one side of your body to the other and finsh with a flick of the wrist. There is no spin and it is a short pass that must be accurate to allow the receiver the best opportunity to exploit the defense.

2. Block tackle –  this is a tackle around the legs. This is an unglamorous tackle as it arrests the ball carrier simply by taking away their legs. The focus should be on getting your lead foot close to the ball carrier and driving your shoulder into their upper thigh at a slight angle. This will allow you to knock the ball carrier of his/her course as you drive them into the ground. It will also allow you to end up on top of the ball carrier so once you quickly recover your feet to poach the ball.

3. Catching passes – as strange as it sounds, this is a critical skill to master. Run with your hands pointing towards the ball carrier this will allow you the best opportunity to make each catch. You will need soft hands as you receive the ball into your fingers an additional skill is to catch and immediately throw a flick pass without tucking or re-adjusting the ball.

4. Clearing out from low to high – this means that you dip as you come to the tackle contest, get underneath your opponent and modify his/her body position so you can win the ball. You need to aim your shoulder lower than your opponents, make solid contact and continue to drive until you have cleared the threat.

5. Catching kicks – this is more difficult as it requires someone who can kick in different ways. Learn to move your body into position so you end up facing east-west on the rugby field, this will allow the ball to travel backwards if you bobble the kick. Your footwork is critical in this component of the game as it will allow you to get into position so you can catch the kick by cradling the ball to your chest.

Why these 5? If you can do these 5 things proficiently you will have enough technical skills to play AND enjoy rugby. Everything after this just enhances the game, but without mastering these 5 skills rugby becomes a struggle to compete. So what does it take to master these skills, constant practice of these skills. At the start of each season you should revisit these skills and work them into every training. If you do they will continue to improve until you complete the skills without thinking, it is then that you begin to master the skills.

These are the highlights from the A5N Division 2 final Philippines vs. India. There are somethings that the Philippine Volcanoes did well and used the basics and other times we tried to go for too much and made mistakes. The basics win games!

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