Practise set-piece horrors

Though you aim for perfection, you know perfectly well that there will be times in the game when your team have to clear up the mess from a scrum or lineout. So, it’s worth devoting some training time to develop strategies to deal with these situations.

It seems wrong to practise for something that goes wrong. But it is a reality of the game that a set piece might not function sometimes. That might be because the opposition have the voodoo sign over you, or they are just better (or bigger).

In Backwards set piece, I’ve come up with a session that looks at some simple recovery strategies. It mainly involves one player retaining the ball, staying strong and then their team mates backing them up.

The skills used in this session are really tested to the full because players are running back to recover, and therefore, will have to work harder to win back or protect the ball.

Remember that current England coach Eddie Jones was a master of set-piece recovery when he worked with Japan. They worked on strategies to win the ball but also how to deal with times when they were in less control than they wanted to be.

Much of this session focuses on techniques for a specific circumstance. The problem is that the players know in advance they are going to use them, so start to prepare themselves mentally to employ the right skills.

So, while it’s good to develop recovery tactics and what to do next, it doesn’t help the players react any quicker if the set piece does go wrong. I’ve used this session quite early on in the training cycle, though probably not in pre-season. Once the season’s in progress though, it’s a great time to focus on what happens when things go wrong.

Now, when you are running your set-piece section, you can throw in various scenarios where the players know they might have to adjust because the ball’s been disrupted.


  1. In the middle of another section of the session, shout out that the players have a 15 seconds to set up a set-piece play and then play. They run to a designated point on the pitch, prepare themselves for the set-piece and then execute it.
  2. If it works out, then brilliant. If not, then they still have to play on. If you can introduce an opposition then even better. Next time you stop the normal session, it’s their turn to have a go.
  3. Split your set-piece training session in thirds. The first third is purely technical. The second is running through the plays for the weekend. The last third is competitive, with players reacting to winning good or poor ball.
  4. In the technical section, you make sure that the players’ techniques are solid. In the second section, you might introduce a new play.
  5. The last section has to be pressurised. Either you put in some opposition or you challenge the players to execute, say, five different set-pieces, but with no chance to go back to them if they don’t work out.
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