Rugby’s Inside Man: Part 9: Live by the Sword, die by the Sword

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The Inside Man is focusing on the lessons he is learning after moving to South Africa to do a Sports Diploma at a prestigious Rugby University. However, all names and locations have been altered for legal reasons. The Inside Man discusses coaching styles, difference in playing styles and specific issues within the team and season, as he dissects the incredibly professional and intense structure of South African rugby.


Part 9: Live by the Sword, die by the Sword

Rugby is a game of fine margins, and more often than not games can be balanced on a knife-edge, without it necessarily showing on the scoreboard. Often it can be simply a case of two structures that are diametrically opposed, one try can tip the balance and turn a game into a rout.

However in rare cases a team can come out and attempt to play like their opposition, in last night’s case a high-risk high reward strategy. And as I mentioned above, it was a close run thing. The score will say it was a blowout but the truth is it was simply a case of one try going the other way that tipped the balance.

We came out and we tried to run and gun, fighting fire with fire. We played their style of rugby, the only problem with that? They have been playing their style of rugby for a lot longer than us, and are a lot better at it than us. We had our style, a style that would have beaten them, and it showed, every time we played our way we marched up the field and scored, every time we played their way we made a stupid mistake gave them turnover ball and they scored. As a coach you hear about teams that ‘did not have a Plan B’, but the truth is that more often than not it is not so much a case of not having a Plan B, as not implementing your Plan A correctly, that lets teams down. The wider problem with the ‘fighting fire with fire theory’ is that you have to appreciate that not only are you playing a high risk strategy (if its not your natural game plan, it tends to be high risk because you are not used to it), but also you have to factor in the mistakes you are almost guaranteed to make. In our case four mistakes led to four tries.

Varsity CupAgainst the fast, counter-attacking teams, conservation can often be the better part of valour, keep the ball, starve them of the broken play they so desperately require, when you kick make sure to turn them and chase as a line. The problem is that this can work for less imaginative teams as it is all they have ever known, keep it tight be boring. The issue with our team is we can attack with the best of them, therefore at some point we will try our luck, and if it works then we score, due to the foundation the forwards have set up within our structure. If it fails? Well, four mistakes, four tries.

The self discipline required to simply focus on boring route one, build phases and pressure rugby can kill teams, often they lose patience and try something to try and break the monotony. Whilst this desperate attempt to break the boredom is a great thing for the beauty of the game it can lead to mistakes, and tries for the opposition. Last night we played on the razor blade, so close to fulfilling our game plan, and just not quite able to maintain the dullness.

Argentina_fans_sadAbove all else if you take nothing from this article, remember this you can have the most boring game plan in the world, kick chase, route 1, whatever you want to call it. But play it and play it well, back yourself to make it work and do not doubt it. You, as a coach, came up with it, so clearly you are playing to your team’s strengths. DO. NOT. MAKE. MISTAKES. Easier said than done, but if you can limit the errors you make and maintain the ball whilst doing it, then your chances of winning are multiplied exponentially. It is something you will have heard a million times, but error free rugby coupled with starving the opposition of the ball will do wonders for your win to loss ratio. No 50/50 offloads, no stupid flick passes, in some moments keeping it boring can be a good thing. Not for the beauty of the game but for the beauty of your season.

Catch you all next week for the final installment of the series, Inside Man.

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RWU Co-host Johnathan Wicklow Barberie is the contrived Kiwi rugby personality who can't go ANYWHERE without being asked for an autograph. He always obliges... Matt McCarthy handles the more serious interviews and handles the RWU Sports Desk.