Why you might be wrong about the most important principle of play

For years, I’ve thought the most important principle to coach, both in attack and defence, is “go forward”. The other principles support this, as the primary way to score is to go forward. In defence, you need to go forward to stop the attack going forward.

I’ve changed my mind.

The principles of play for rugby set out how you win a game. We can define the principles in many ways. However, it’s clear that you need the ball to score, and you need to go forward and maintain possession. In defence, you have to stop the opposition scoring and regain possession.

World Rugby identifies the principles in attack as:

  • Gain possession
  • Go forward
  • Support
  • Continuity
  • Apply pressure to score

In defence as:

  • Go forward
  • Support
  • Apply pressure
  • Contest possession
  • Counter attack

A number of coaches have set out different variations, but the overarching ideas remain similar.

Our Coaching Classroom gives you all the resources to help you understand these core principles and then supports you in delivering those principles to your players.

After developing this resource, I now think that “Apply pressure” is the most important principle. All the other principles promote an action, like running, passing, rucking, tackling. To do these effectively and with purpose, your players need to act with speed and accuracy, choosing the right skill and tactic to frustrate the opposition.

Attackers will score when the defence is out of position. Attackers also give up possession when they make mistakes. Both come from pressure.

If, in training, you are coaching a skill or tactic, then do the players really know how they are using that to apply pressure? I think they many will…but only to a certain extent.  A collective understanding on how to apply pressure individually, as a unit and as a whole team will give your players far more clarity on why they are practising.

For example, a 2 v 1 in attack is a good chance to go forward. You should be asking your players how they might create a 2 v 1 in the first place. Then, if that scenario appears, how they can force the defender out of position to allow go forward. And, in reverse, the defender should be thinking about how they can apply pressure to the attackers to force an error.

You can now apply this to all your training situations. Every “drill”, activity, scenario and game in training should be focused on how to apply pressure.

Here’s how our Coaching Classroom sets out Applying Pressure.

What do you think? Do you need to adjust again about your training approach in any way? Or were you doing this already? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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