EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

How to beat your bitter rivals

England v Wales is one of the go-to rivalries in rugby

Certain matches will motivate you and your players more than others and you will particularly want to win these. Here are four ways to make sure you do.

There will be games in a season where you come up against a team where there is a bitter rivalry. Though rivalry is healthy, bitter rivalry comes from senses of injustice in previous matches and bad sportsmanship. You know those clashes are coming, and there is always an edge.

Careful management of your players as well as good tactics can make good use of the energy generated by this sort of occasion. But don’t make too big a thing of it otherwise, your players might not cope.

FOCUS THE MENTAL HEAT

Players will already be “up-for-it”, but you need to get their minds right in two ways:

  1. Soak in the pressure and intensity Players need to be ready to play under extreme pressure. Replicate this in training with high-pressure, intense games or activities.
  2. Cool when things go wrong Inevitably, in a game against your bitterest rivals, some tight decisions will go against you, or something will go wrong. Players must react positively and not become downhearted. Again in training, play a game where one side can cheat (or let one side cheat more), or you are extra tough on certain players. Show them how, if they are negative, it can affect their game.

COOL LEADERS

You will have two or three players who are vital to the team. They need your strongest guidance on how to maintain the right levels of aggression. If they are solid and positive, this will influence others. 

Help these players by going through situations they might face and asking them how they will react. You can give them good phrases to use. For instance: “Play the whistle, listen to the referee”, and “Focus on the next minute, not the last minute.”

CHANNEL THE AGGRESSION AND FEED FROM IT

Your players will be pumped up. This will be great if they can turn this energy into bigger tackles and stronger engagement at rucks and mauls. But use trigger words or phrases to remind them of good technique. Otherwise, they will be penalised or players will over-compensate and be in poor technical positions to make tackles. 

For instance, they could say: “target the ball”, “chop the ball carrier”, or “keep the legs driving through the contact” to remind players of their roles.

TACTICS MATTER

The first 10 minutes will be fast and furious. You need to play percentage rugby to start with. Play in their half, so kick long and hard and come up as a line. And set your defence tight. That means you are happy to give away the edges and wide, but you won’t allow them to come through close to the rucks. There is a risk here that they go wide, but it is likely they are pumped up and the first thing their big centre or 8 will want to do is come at you. And you will be ready!

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