Muddy pitch tactics

Backs play

Quick changes of direction and fleetness of foot will be difficult to execute on muddy grounds. The ball is likely to be received slower than normal, and from a shorter distance than normal, meaning forwards will be closer to the backs.

Tactics: Nearer the action, further from the gain line.

  • As in the diagram, the fly half (10) needs to stand closer than usual to the scrum, ruck, maul and lineout, but not as close to the gain line. The first centre (12) then stands so as to become more like the "normal" fly half. This player should act as the pivot player, if not the decision maker. As such, the fly half simply concentrates on receiving the ball, then passing straight to the 12.

Muddy Day Tactics for 10

Moves and plays

Tactics: You must consider your moves and plays carefully.

  • Do not use loop pass moves, because the player who is making the loop will find it difficult to make up the ground.
  • Runners and dummy runners need to hold the timing of their runs a little longer. A muddy ball will take a little longer to catch and adjust, so the passes will arrive later.
  • Do use switch moves because the defence will find themselves more likely to be flat footed. The switch runner should run as straight as possible.
  • Get the ball wider quicker, because the ball will definitely be moving faster than the man. To ensure this happens, get the players to stand deeper than they would normally, that is further from the gain line.


Muddy rugby pitches and scrummaging seemingly go hand in hand. The main problems arise from the stability afforded by the ground.

Lock forwards always seem to grumble about their ears on muddy days, but all of the forwards who were asked about their tactics on muddy days were agreed on one thing: better to be in the scrum than stuck out cold on the wing.

Tactics: It seems obvious, but do all your players clean their boots before a scrum?

  • Players need as much traction as possible in the mud, and the boot provides the stability required. Check the studs before the match. Players in the pack should be aiming to maximize the length of their studs. The maximum length allowed is 21mm (as at the time of writing).
  • In the heat of the game the referee may not spot poor, muddy ground. If there is a chance you may be disadvantaged, it might be worth asking the refereee to move the play for safety reasons.
  • Aim for more stability, with less shove on your own ball. The flex in the legs needs to be less elastic. In other words, dig in with a straighter leg with the intention of resistance first. The second row may also have to work the ball back, so the left hand lock will need to be able to use, ideally, their right leg to hook the ball back.
  • Pressure the opposition on their ball with an eight man shove. Once you get them moving back, it is likely to be difficult for them to stop you legally. Your hooker could stand with their left leg forward and their right leg back before the engagement to add to the hit, then bring the right leg forward on the drive.

Sometimes it is best not to have the ball!

Andy Wyeth, a contributor to Better Rugby Coaching, identifies three states of the game:

  • When your team is in possession of the ball.
  • When the ball is being contested by both sides, such as at the lineout or after kick off.
  • When your team is without the ball.

Though in most circumstances you would prefer to be in the first state, to have the ball, Wyeth contends in muddy conditions it might be better to be without it!

"The pressure is all on the opposition side. They have to make the running, difficult if the pitch is slowing them down, and are more likely to make the mistakes as a consequence with slow ball."

Tactics: Play the territory game by kicking.

  • Kick to the corners.
  • Use kicks from your inside or outside centre (12 or 13) in behind their back line, again into the corners. This should bring the defence up, creating more space.
  • Do not run the ball in your half. Consider even only running the ball from just outside their 22m area.
  • It matters less if you concede lineouts, since it is more difficult for the opposition to create good ball from them.

With thanks in particular to Tim McConnell Wood (a hooker) and Ed Burnett (a second row).

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