Improvised rugby warm up drills

As the season rolls on, rugby coaches can sometimes be at their wits' end when it comes to preparing training sessions. This is especially true if crucial players cannot make practice, for whatever reason, thus destroying your carefully thought-out plans.

Here are some suggestions by Peter Tann, a sports psychologist and rugby coach. They are intended to maintain variety and enjoyment, thus avoiding the need to re-hash old rugby coaching sessions.

Warm-up fun

Warm-up drills need to start quickly, involve all players involved and, from your point of view, require a minimum set-up time.

1. Boxercise

Work in pairs with a contact shield or tackle bag. One partner holds the shield while the other punches for 30 to 45 seconds. Then swap roles and repeat for five sets each. This is an exhausting warm up drill, but useful for developing upper body strength and
stamina. With suitable supervision, you can extend the rugby coaching drill to allow players to use high knees or short kicks to the bags to work their lower bodies as well.

If there are not enough shields, a good tip is to work the players in threes. The third player could perform a rugby fitness exercise, such as jogging to a specific point and back, before taking over the shield. Alternatively, players could punch each others' outstretched hands, right hand punch to right palm. Power is less important than accuracy.

2. Rugby handball

The idea is to get players running into space, communicating (offence and defence) and offering close support.

Divide your players into two teams. The object is to score a try over the opposition's line as usual. However, players can only move if they have not got the ball. Once the ball has been passed to a player they must stop within two steps and then pass. Failure to do so and dropped or missed passes result in a turnover. Do not allow tackling. Interceptions are allowed and the ball can be passed forwards.

To avoid "lazy" players introduce conditions such as no score is valid unless all players have made a pass. Alternatively lay out cones and nominate one for all players to sprint to after their team has scored.

3. Rugby tag (also known as "corner ball")

This is a good game for evaluating communication and decision-making within the team.

Set up all the players in a grid, varying the size according to numbers. Two players start with a ball and use it to try and touch (tag) the others. If successfully touched that player joins the first two. Continue until all players have been tagged.

Players in the tackling (touching / tagging) team can only move if they have not got the ball. The ball itself must be held (and not thrown) by the player when he tags someone. If you have got a lot of players, split them into smaller games.

4. Double touch

This game encourages straight running and support play and makes the defence work harder.

Played like ordinary touch rugby  but a player has to be touched twice by two different players before he needs to pass. If touched once, he may continue running but cannot score.

5. Double touch tough

If you want to up the work rate during games of touch, play with two balls, one per side. After scoring, the scoring team returns to halfway and kicks to the opposition. So it is possible for one team to have both balls!

The teams therefore have to make very rapid decisions. Do we split evenly into attacking and defending units? Do we load one or the other? Do we have fewer but fitter and faster players on defence and overload the attack? Who makes the decisions? How do we communicate? Have we looked at what the opposition have done?

I have seen games of this where teams have made quick decisions, communicated them effectively and divided up without once casting a glance towards the opposition. Would you encourage this during a game?

Main session rugby drills

These drills are good for rucking and handling. It assumes you have at least 15 players. It's a good exercise over 30 to 40 metres and with set targets, such as work for two minutes without a break at 80% effort.

Split players into forwards and backs. Three forwards advance with the ball, bunch passing. After 5 metres, they put the ball down and turn to defend. The remaining forwards pick up the ball, drive into opposition and set up and clear a ruck.

The ball is then passed to three backs, arriving from deep. The remaining backs lag behind in a bunch. The three backs pass amongst themselves, place the ball and turn to defend. The remaining backs arrive to set and clear a ruck. Meanwhile the forwards have repositioned themselves to repeat the exercise off the backs' rucked ball.

Drill tips

  1. Backs and forwards both need to be able to ruck.
  2. Clear opponents both back and away to the sides of the ruck (remember space is behind the ruck).
  3. Body positions and fast feet when clearing out the ruck.


Have the forwards bunch passing. Two turn to provide opposition for the remaining forwards to set up and clear a ruck. The ball is passed to a full back line which runs through a set move. The ball is popped to the forwards to bunch pass again while the backs realign to repeat the sequence.

Although this is somewhat artificial due to the lack of opposition it does encourage handling, quick realignment and running from deep.

This article is taken from the Better Rugby Coaching e-newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free rugby drills and skills twice a week.

Click here for a rugby warm-up drill with a twist.

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