Lessons from the rugby masters

Playing first class rugby in New Zealand exposed Jim Love, the former New Zealand Maori and Tonga rugby world cup coach, to some of the best coaching around. He was particularly inspired by Jim Joseph, who coached Marlborough NPC and Southern Maori. Jim Love summarises the great man's approach here.

A simple game plan

He split the pitch up into different zones, both lateral and horizontal. The idea is to decide what sort of plays you are going to use in each zone. As a result, players are clear on the actions they should take.

The "red zone"

Some teams call the area between the opponents' 22m line and try line the "red zone". In this area lineouts in particular will have a different objective – in attack passing the ball back 10 metres is not going to be as good as a "catch and drive" because the play is so close to the opposition try line.

But Jim took us a little further. Not only did he consider how far up the field we were, but also how close we were to each touchline. For example, from a scrum on the left hand side of the pitch we might want to attack in-field towards the posts. On the right hand side, go down the blindside and towards the nearest touchline.


The game plan took into account our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis). No stone was unturned in the need to understand how to make the best of our resources. For instance, questions would be asked about what the weather and pitch conditions were likely to be, and where the opposition would try to impose themselves.

Once our analysis was complete, Jim decided which plays and moves to use. Since we involved the whole 15 in the way the game was played, we could be flexible in our style. Yes, we might be strong up front or, have quick backs, but if the other side had something to counter our main strength, we had a "Plan B".

Happy environment

Jim created a great environment in which to play rugby, with a good balance between what happened on and off the field. His regime was based around solid discipline, with rules and protocols that were strictly followed.

Off the field was important because it defined the way a player felt about his role in the team. Turning up late for practice would mean extra fitness at the end of the session. After the game, players were expected to respect the other team.

How you can use Jim Joseph's methods

  1. Build a game plan for every game. This should be based on splitting up the pitch, not just by the distance to the try line but also in relationship to the centre of the pitch.
  2. Identify three strengths and three weaknesses in your team. Do your tactics match your strengths and avoid your weaknesses?
  3. Predict at least two opportunities and threats about match day. Find out about your opponents, maybe by asking other teams. Look carefully at weather forecasts and likely ground conditions.
  4. Have more than one tactical plan.
  5. A disciplined approach from the coach allows players to express themselves.

Example tactical plan

Strengths – Tactics

  • Good lineout – Kick to corners to force lineouts.
  • Good goal kicker – Retain possession in the "red zone."
  • Quick wingers – Gain quick ball from scrums and lineouts. Get the ball wide. From a slow ball (e.g. catch and drive), keep it close.

Weaknesses – Tactics

  • Poor fitness – Kick after more than two phases.
  • Weak front row – Quick "in and out" in scrums. No back row moves.
  • Inexperienced fly half – Back line stands deeper. A centre calls the backs moves.

Jim Love is the New Zealand Sports Academy Director. He is a former Maori All Black player and coach, and Tonga rugby world cup coach and the current coach of Viadana in Italy.

If you're looking for more ideas for your game plan, then the Match Day Tactics report can help. Containing a powerful arsenal of match tactics, the report covers a potent armoury of tips, advice, tactics, and techniques to surprise, outwit and fox your opposition, turning a match in your favour.

It includes a battery of pre-match planning and organisational tactics which will put you and your team mentally ahead, even before the whistle blows.

Click here to read more and to order your copy today. Match Day Tactics is available to download immediately as a PDF or by post as a printed copy.

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