Damian McGrath’s Rugby Skills Games

50 games to sharpen core rugby skills, have fun, and help reduce those embarrassing basic errors
Damian McGrath

How many times have you seen a try-scoring opportunity wasted because of a dropped ball or a poor pass? Spectators put their heads in their hands with embarrassment – but help is at hand!

Simple errors are frustrating for coaches and onlookers at all levels, and author Damian McGrath has seen players make them at all ages and all levels – from mini rugby to international standard.

In his best-selling manual endorsed by England and British Lions legend Dean Richards, Damian show how players must master the basics to play the game well. And these basic core skills are not something that can ever be left to look after themselves. They must be practised regularly for both forwards and backs.

“I coach players from 12 years old to adult and make frequent use of this publication. I find it clear and easy to put across to my squads – which in turn helps them to develop. An excellent publication.” – David Ball, Ryde School, UK.


Damian McGrath has taught the country’s top young talent in three forms of rugby – union, league and sevens.

His best-selling manual, Damian McGrath’s Rugby Skills Games, offers 50 of the most useful skills games, and is suitable for coaches of players at all levels. It should equip them with the ability and understanding to perform crucial elements of the game when it really counts – under pressure on match day.

Damian McGrath – 30 years of experience coaching rugby skills


No Mistakes = No Progress

It is vital when practising that your players are tested to the full. They need to push themselves and you need to help them.

A player should never be left wondering whether he has the ability to throw a two-man miss pass on match day. You will have helped him realise that potential in training.

These games constantly challenge your players and offer them opportunities to improve. They must be given choices and forced to make the correct choice under pressure.

“Quality Underpins Success”

This phrase is fundamental to profitable training sessions.

Damian’s games encourage your players (and in many cases forces them) to play to their optimum level. This way their basic ability, confidence and, consequently, their overall performance will improve.

The manual provides clear pointers with each game so you can be sure your players are getting the utmost benefit from each game.

After a short time you should see your players’ game understanding and skill levels increase significantly. It’s on such small margins that matches are won and lost.

So why games?

Games are fast-becoming the preferred training method in many team sports, not just rugby.

And here’s why. They are:

Competitive – tries are scored and points awarded. Players strive to beat each other and win.

Relevant – players practice under match conditions so you can recreate pressure situations in a game.

Easy to set up – you only need a ball and a few players to run a constructive training session

Active – even with lots of players, games keep everyone constantly active and prevent them getting bored.

Flexible – players take responsibility and are free to experiment, make mistakes and learn through experience. Games are suitable for players of all ages and standards.

Outcome focused – games concentrate on winning more matches, not on creating a team of “robots” who merely go through the motions of a drill.

Constantly changing – 50 different games means 50 different decisions to make, problems to solve and skills to use.

Energetic – games are a “sneaky” way of introducing fitness and footwork into your training regime

Teamwork focused – games foster team spirit, enforce team values and motivate the players in training

FUN! – The best reason of all! Games are fun to participate in, watch and coach… no monotony and no referee is needed!

Players have nowhere to hide!

The small teams involved in each game ensure all players are constantly involved. There is nowhere to hide for the reluctant prop forward!

By replicating match situations you can isolate a situation in a game, such as a 2v1 overlap 10 metres from the try line, and focus on players’ ability to score.

Situation specific training

Specific rules for each game allow you to focus even more on a certain area of the game. You can disallow rucks or mauls to encourage speed of play, or only allow rucks and mauls if you want your players to be able to cope in atrocious weather conditions that dictate a different style of play.

Buy this manual and you will help your players understand the need to react to circumstances in the game… how to snatch victory, close out a game and so on.

Understanding through playing

By playing games, players will understand what will and what won’t work in a match. They will also naturally find the best way to beat an opponent.

For example, your backs will realise running sideways ruins an overlap and forwards will see how drawing a man and passing is sometimes a better option than trying to run through them!

And they will pick up this knowledge instinctively through the games they play. Not by you bawling at them, which is so often ignored and can create resentment.

By confronting players with all the various situations they will face in a match, they will feel far more confident on the pitch and be able to execute the right decision more frequently.

Improve your players’ skills in every possible way

Better understanding, more confidence and increased skill levels… no wonder games are being used by all the top clubs across the globe.

And you can rest assured that the cutting-edge games in my coaching book will challenge and improve your players in every possible way.

Damian’s Rugby Skills Games manual covers all the following skills:

  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Catching
  • Passing
  • Handling
  • Support
  • Running Lines
  • Vision
  • Game Sense
  • Defence
  • Kicking

These skills are presented along the side of each page in tabs so you can see which of these skills your players will learn in each game. This allows you to tailor a session exactly how you wish.

A clear easy-to-understand format

The manual was designed with you, the coach, in mind. Each page follows the same format:

Introduction – A simple explanation of the type of game and the skills and techniques it focuses on.

Coaching notes – Ways to adapt and develop the game to suit your players, or to introduce the game into a session.

What you need for this game – A simple bullet point of equipment needed for the game.

Set up – Showing how you need to arrange equipment to run the game, including the suggested number of players and the size of the area.

Rules – Simple rules laid out to act as a reminder for each game.

What you do as coach – A simple step by step explanation of how each game works and how to run it in conjunction with the illustrations.

How you can progress the game – Ideas on how to advance the game so that players are still challenged, even when the game becomes familiar.

Game rating – The ‘playing level’. Each game is categorised as Easy, Medium or Hard

Key – Allows you to differentiate between runs and passes, pitch markings and try lines in the illustrations.

Skill tabs – Each game contains at-a-glance tabs to the skills used in each game. This allows you to focus on particular skills that you feel your team need to work on.

Step by step illustrations – Clear 3D step-by-step illustrations with a double caption: the first explains exactly what is going on in the picture. The second explains what a coach should be saying or doing during the exercise.

Years of experience in one skills coaching manual…

These games can be used as part of a training session or can be used to structure a complete session.

You can use a few for a warm-up or just before a game to really focus your players’ minds. They are incredibly flexible.

You have 50 games – enough for a whole season. And with minor alterations you can use these games again and again. Remember these are not drills. Players will not sigh when asked to perform one of these games again. They are fast moving and require speed of thought.

You can order Rugby Skills Games today:

A spiral-bound book: This is extremely user-friendly. It has a plastic, weather-proof cover so can take it out onto the training pitch and follow the illustrations directly from the page. It’s spiral bound so you can easily keep it open at the page you want, while pointing out to youngsters where they should be!

PDF version: Order the PDF version and you will be able to download your version almost instantly. You can also print it out and share with other coaches at your club (we do request that you do not share copies outside your immediate club or school).

Or, you can enjoy the best of both worlds! Order both and you receive a special discount. You could store the PDF version on your desktop in a coaching library and keep the other in your kit bag ready for next week’s training session.

Without the essential skills at their disposal, your players will not be able to carry out the moves or adopt the style of play you want your team to achieve.

If you want your team to play a fast tempo game with lots of quick handling, it’s pointless if a player cannot catch and pass properly. And believe me, I have seen teenagers enter top club academies without basic handling skills.

So it’s in your own and your players interests to play skills games. And I’m sure you’ll find the games in my Rugby Skills Games challenge and motivate your players to improve and succeed on the pitch.

It’s a manual to keep and return to for the whole of your coaching career.

More about Damian McGrath

Damian started his coaching career at Leeds Rhinos Academy teams. Later he combined this with coaching the Yorkshire Academy and the Great Britain Academy team.

When the Super League was formed he was made first team assistant coach at Leeds.

While coach his team won the Challenge Cup and were runners-up in the first Super League Grand Final and Challenge Cup final.

He was then appointed assistant Coach to the senior England team and took part in the 2000 World Cup.

Damian coached both the Great Britain U21s and the Super League U21s, before being invited in 2001 to be the RFU Skills/Defence coach with the England A team and the England sevens.

He combined his England sevens role with being 1st team skills Coach at Leicester Tigers. During this time the sevens team made history by winning the Hong Kong Sevens three times in a row!

Following that Damian worked at the RFU as their National Academy Skills Coach, which involved reporting directly to World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward.

In 2008 he was appointed by the Huddersfield Giants to oversee all areas of the clubs youth development.

Between 2013 and 2015 Damian was England 7s assistant coach and then became Head Coach of the Samoa 7s team. From 2016 he has been the Head Coach of the Canada 7s team.


Ebook, Print, Ebook + Print

6 reviews for Damian McGrath’s Rugby Skills Games

  1. Avatar

    Graham Hill

    “Damian McGrath’s skills games manual has definitely enhanced my training sessions.

    It has provided more variety in the training sessions and more importantly the competitiveness of the games has increased the intensity of the training and skills levels of the players under pressure.”

    Graham Hill – IRB Educator – Golden Lions Rugby Union Provincial High Schools Coach – South Africa

  2. Avatar

    Eric Stokes

    Knowing his work in Rugby coaching over many years, and when your company published his book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

    The quality of the book makes owning it a pleasure, it is well presented. The content is excellent, simple to understand and apply to you sessions.

    Most players learn by doing and readily understand the theme being explored.

    Games provide attack & defence situations in a realistic and game like situation, they allow me to coach within the Game, and gives me and the players, Games for understanding.

    It is an essential publication for any coach at whatever level.

    – Eric Stokes – Director of Rugby, Coach St. Leonard’s Rugby Club – UK

  3. Avatar

    Bob Weir

    “If you are a believer in teaching Understanding through Games (and I am) Damian McGrath’s Skill Games for Rugby is a must have in your coaching toolbox.

    For the beginner it is a solid roadmap, for the advanced coach, you can deconstruct and rebuild with your own flare added”

    Bob Weir – IRB Trainer – USA Rugby Course Leader and MARFU Senior Women’s All-Star, Head Coach – USA

  4. Avatar

    Tim Perryman

    I regularly use Damien’s resource to support my sessions and to help guide coaches in other age groups.

    The simple consistent layout of each game which includes the resources needed to set it up have been very useful when sharing this with other coaches.

    The detailed table of contents with focus and number of players required also has helped in providing coaches from a variety of age groups with fun games that support the core objectives of their sessions.

    On a personal note I have found the progressions suggested with each game of great value in moving players on once they have the basic game understanding.

    – Tim Perryman – Head Coach Lichfield U13 & Club Coaching Coordinator – UK

  5. Avatar

    David Ball

    I coach players from 12 years old to adult and make frequent use of this publication. I find it clear and easy to put across to my squads – which in turn helps them to develop.

    An excellent publication.

    – David Ball – Ryde School – UK

  6. Avatar

    Travis Pulver

    48 Rugby Skills Games helped a lot, the drills that we had been doing make much more sense.

    Doing the same things but in the form of a game grasped the attention of the kids much better than before.

    The progress the whole team made was amazing and practice became much more fun!

    – Travis Pulver – Noblesville Rugby –

Add a review

Your email address will not be published.

Damian has coached at international level 7s for many years, including with England, Samoa and Canada. He has also worked as a leading skills coach with the RFU and WRU. He's background is in Rugby League, where he has had successful stints coaching premier teams.