Rugby coaching tips to evaluate match performance

I tutor coaches on their UKCC Rugby Level 3 courses. Among the many differences between the individual coaches, I have observed a particular split between coaches at clubs with "professional" and "amateur" players. "Professional" coaches often have access to extensive video footage of every game they watch. "Amateur" coaches are lucky to have any form of record of the match.

This isn't a surprise in itself, of course. However, I recall Brian Ashton's comments when he was reinstated as England's attack coach: "I seem to have watched a different game when I come to view the video".

Canny soccer managers keep their counsel on contentious decisions until they have seen the footage. "I didn't see the incident clearly" is often the reply to a TV interviewer's question.

So, what hope is there for the majority of coaches, when even the top professional coaches feel they cannot comment without recourse to the technology?

On the level 3 course, you are tested on your observation skills. When it comes to game evaluation, you will need them at half time certainly. Fortunately, there are ways that you can get more from the time you spend watching a match.

Players’ contributions vary enormously

A winger does nothing like the work of a scrum half (9) or a flanker (6 and 7). So judge a player according to the plays they are supposed to contribute to and the quality of their contribution as a whole.

A flanker may miss a couple of tackles, but make many, many more, simply because they get to the break down/action more than most.

Principal actions come first

Player evaluation must be done according to their principal roles first and foremost. It is easy to pick out moments of brilliance or madness, but each member of a rugby team has a clear role to play, whether in the scrum, lineout or backline defence.

A prop must maintain their scrum and lineout shape first. If they carry the ball well, count that as a bonus.

Let initial mistakes go

Be positive. A player's first tackle, kick or even pass of a game can often be well below par. There are many factors that affect a player when they are feeling their way into the opposition, the pitch and the game over all, so there are some excusable mistakes.

The flip side of this is that a bold player can change a game. A wrong line of run or ill judged defensive kick could well have been the start of something glorious.

If a player is not allowed to express themselves, then perhaps rugby will be a poorer game to play.

Leave prejudices in the changing room

Don't judge a player by the way you think they should play. Judge them on what they bring to this game and the next.

For instance, Gareth Edwards, the legendary Wales scrum half (9) was not a great passer off his left hand. Grant Fox, the one-time New Zealand fly half (10) and points machine, was not renowned for his tackling.

Stats matter

Statistics matter when it comes to player and team evaluation, and game analysis. Wales won the Six Nations in 2005. Unsurprisingly, the statistics show that a composite team of all the nations would be mostly Welsh.

More surprisingly though, was the inclusion of the "journeyman" Tom Shanklin above the "show horse" Brian O'Driscoll in terms of his effectiveness in matches. His tackle count and successful carries outscored the Irishman. In my view, yards and tackles made over the course of a whole series are often more crucial than a few moments of mercurial brilliance.

The more information that can be gathered during a game, the easier it is to make an informed decision. A simple tally of tackles made is a good starting point.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

Are you picking players for individual brilliance or can you see what they can bring to a side in terms of "glue"?

Team players are the unsung heroes of scrabbling around on the ground, releasing the ball at the right time and making every ruck. These players are the ideal foil for your brighter stars.

Neil Back, the former England and Lions flanker, became known because of his floppy blond hair in the early years. Throughout his successful career, though, his contribution was rarely flashy.

Can you see the players who are willing to get into the thick of things? I often look for the player who is regularly last up from a ruck or maul, but first into the next one.

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