How to prepare for last minute team changes

Don’t panic!

Any change to the line-up is bound to cause some anxiety. This sort of change is probably more challenging mentally for some than a change when the game is going on. An immediate air of calmness needs to be restored, followed by outlining a clear plan.

Contingency planning

Reduce the disruption involved in players dropping out by having a clear replacement and containment plan. So, when you select the team, make sure you know who could replace each player in the event of them not playing. It might mean some reshuffling, but if you have thought this out before, you are less likely to make a rash decision.

If you can communicate this plan to the players, then they will be better prepared for each event.

Five crucial planning tips

  1. Recognise the need for a contingency plan. For example, that players will drop out at the last minute.
  2. List all possible crisis scenarios. For instance, what if the scrum half (9) or hooker (2) gets injured?
  3. Search for ways to prevent each crisis. Can you and the players communicate better? Are the players carrying injuries after the last training session?
  4. Formulate a crisis plan. For example, who will play where, what moves will be played, what are the strategic changes?
  5. Simulate the crisis and implement the contingency plan – run the subs in the alternative roles during your rugby coaching drills.

Crisis management tips

Even the best laid plans can fall apart. Outstanding crisis management can set you apart from other rugby coaches. The key rugby coaching skills are:

  1. Clear communication.
  2. Decisive decisions.
  3. Collective cohesion.

1. Make sure everyone knows their new roles and the reasons for their roles quickly and effectively. Welcome feedback, for instance "where do I stand in the lineout?".

Use leaders in the teams to reiterate what needs to be done. So split quickly into groups, if possible, to discuss the changes needed.

2. Decisions should be final and clear cut. Any doubts make the situation seem worse. But decisions should not be taken without some thought. Make sure you have spoken to the leaders in the team. "Buy-in" their support before taking the action.

3. In a crisis, the team needs to draw together. Fifteen players with strong cohesion can reduce the potential disruption of a late change.

Much of this should be done before a crisis occurs, for instance in pre-season, or in your rugby coaching drills during the season. But on the day, just before the game, the old cliché rings true: "There are 15 players out on the pitch in a few minutes – the best 15 we have available at this moment in time. Only you guys can make it happen and you have to make it happen together."


If you are lucky, the replacement player will be as skillful as the player who has dropped out. The "new" player needs to know as soon as possible that they are playing. They then need to be briefed on what their expected role is going to be. It may be a time to suggest to the player this is their chance to shine, while trying to keep them from becoming too excited. Reiterate the team and unit roles of the player.

The unit

The "new" player will be joining a unit such as the front row or the half backs. The unit needs to gather to discuss the options that are available and what can and cannot be done. It is no good expecting the replacement to be a carbon copy of the previous player. Adjustments will need to be made.

The team

The team will need to be informed of the "new" player, but also of the possible change in strategy. This needs to be communicated in a positive way. It would be easy to add extra pressure on the replacement by suggesting that the options available have been severely reduced by their addition to the side.

Squad system tips

A rugby team is not just about the 15-man team. It embraces a bigger squad. To be effective as a squad, it is important to train with all the players taking on a full role in drills, wherever possible, not just being the "bagmen". And the peripheral players need to have game time.

It is feasible that some players may play as little as four full games in a three-month period. This is not good preparation if and when they are needed to step up, especially at the last minute.

This article is taken from the Better Rugby Coaching e-newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free rugby coaching drills, tips and skills twice a week. 

Click here for rugby coaching tips on match day managing.

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