COACH QUESTION: How to coach the forgotten contact skills

“With the return to rugby, I’m really worried that my team (U13s) will have forgotten lots of things about rugby. In particular, I’m trying to work out when and how to introduce contact and tackling.”

This question came from a coach in Gloucester and is typical of lots of concerns around this area of the game.

It is true that the players will have “forgotten” lots of skills. 

Here’s how I would approach this situation. On the next page are two tackling exercises to support training.


First, this is a worry for all coaches, so don’t think that you are having to play catch up with other teams.

If there are any games or versions of the game, both teams will be in a similar situation. And therefore, depending on the stage of the comeback, you can legitimately adjust the rules to suit.

Crucially, you don’t have to accelerate training to make up for lost ground. In fact, you are better off approaching everything more slowly. Which brings me to my second point.


A quick survey of your players will tell you that some of them are looking forward to contact, some are nervous and some never liked it in the first place.

You need, as always, to cater for all the players. However, each group needs the same approach in specific ways.

Initially, all contact work needs to be approached slowly. Play at a slower pace, perhaps even using games like walking rugby. 

Then, it has to be done deliberately. Each section of the training sessions should clearly address an aspect of contact, not just “contact” as a whole. 

Contact is an integral part of the game. Players need to experience it again. You will need to slow down the keen ones and encourage the less brave.


Your warm ups should have some element of “bumping” involved. I suggest with the ground to start off with, so falling over, rolling around and sitting to push and shove are low impact ways.

Try out games like sock wrestling, where the players remove their boots and get into pairs. When you say “go”, the pairs try to pull the sock off their partner.

Another low-impact wrestling game is to have one player lie over the shoulders and back of a prone player. That player has to try to get to their feet.

While ruck pads and tackle tubes have drawbacks, they are a good way to remind players about their stability and resistance to contact. 

Bumping your way forward as a group of players against some ruck pads is good fun.

Then, do some low impact contact work, like tackling on the knees. See “Tackling memory jogger” and “Walking rugby“.


Short bouts of contact will be good to start with. 

There’s a recommendation from the RFU for a maximum of 15 minutes of contact. 

Why not do three 5-minute goes, spread out over the whole session. 

If you are re-introducing a technique, talk about it and demonstrate in slow motion before starting a five minute bout.

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