The Rugby Union and Rugby League Guaranteed to Succeed Game Plan

The Rugby Union and Rugby League Guaranteed to Succeed Game Plan


Is it just me or does it seem like every coach involved in rugby league and rugby union has the same game plan?

With all the money spent on coaching, analysis, technology, video, training programs, performance enhancement, player development, facilities, equipment, ball technology, strength training, conditioning, wrestling, leadership development, boots, nutrition, psychology, protein supplements etc etc you would think that rugby league and rugby union would be havens for innovation, creativity and genius.

So why does it seem like every team, every coach and every player is reading from the same play book when it comes to game plans?

Here it is – the 10 step game plan for every rugby league and rugby union team in the world:

  1. “First we need to muscle up and dominate them in the forwards”.
  2. “We then need make sure we get plenty of ball (possession) and hang on to it”
  3. “We have to dominate the ruck, breakdown and collision areas
  4. “We have to be aggressive in our defence – really committed – and work as one team in our defensive line – it’s all about attitude”
  5. “Once we have dominance in the collision areas, we can start spreading the ball wide and look for opportunities”
  6. “We got to work hard off the ball and support each other
  7. No mistakes – no penalties – let’s not give them anything”
  8. Keep talking out there – everyone needs to be communicating”
  9. “When we kick the ball in general play, everyone needs to chase hard
  10. “And above all guys, stick to the game plan

Sound familiar? That’s pretty much the game plan for every game in both codes at all levels played anywhere in the world.


You have to ask “why”.

I have been really lucky to have been involved both codes at the highest level for the past five years – NRL level here in Australia and Super Rugby and Wallabies level in Rugby. I have been fortunate to work with some outstanding football brains and innovative coaches in both codes so why is it so they all do the same stuff?????……could it be that:

  • Rugby League and Rugby Union are really simple games? Possibly.
  • Coaches like to keep it simple for players to understand? Could be.
  • Coaches are all issued a common master play book during their coach education program and they read from it for the rest of their professional careers? Maybe.

However, the most likely answer is that for all intents and purposes the codes and the games are pretty much the same.

Sure  – officianados and zealots from each code will argue about the “amateurs vs professionals days” and the “private school vs public school” stuff and the skill level required in one code is much higher than the other code etc etc.

But in reality every game in Rugby League and Rugby Union is about getting the ball over the line. To do this you need to get the ball off the other team, hang on to it and stick it over the opposition’s line as often as possible. And, at the same time, stop them from doing the same to you.


Has it all become too complicated?

The rest is detail. But there is a massive industry built around that detail. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on figuring out that detail and implementing it in games all over the world.

You have to ask, if both codes are relatively simple in nature and have the same basic game plan, where does all the money go?

Have we overcomplicated both codes (at professional level) for no reason other than we can – that is, because we have the time, the money, the technology and the science to make something simple really complicated, we do?

This is something for greater football brains than mine to think on.

Let me know what you think. If you have a game plan which is significantly different to the above, please send it to me – I live to learn.

Wayne Goldsmith


  • CM Posted August 11, 2009 10:21 am

    I think the people who are looking for a “magic” game plan are the same people who’ve lost sight of the simple objective(s) of the game – to score more points than the opposition. This is pretty much what you say.

    The same thing happens in business, in trying to solve a problem…most people look for the solution before trying to understand what is the objective of the situation.

    It’s all about meeting objectives!!

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted August 14, 2009 9:33 am

      Thanks for the comment.

      I get lots of mail about this post – most of it saying “you don’t understand rugby” – but again I ask the rugby brains out there – show me a game plan that is any different? So the question is, if you accept my premise that all game plans are pretty much the same, who will dare to be different? Who will come up with something radically new and change the game? Who will take a risk and develop a unique way of playing the game? The opportunity is there for someone………………..


  • Robin Clarkson Posted June 15, 2011 6:22 am

    Hi Wayne

    The way I see union and league is that every time players recieve the ball they have three options. They can either pass the ball, run with the ball or kick the ball and all they have to do is do decide where they are going to pass, run or kick the ball to.

    As a coach you have to decide which is going to be the preference for your players so you can achieve the object of the game, which is to outscore the oposition. That’s it.

    In Hockey and Soccer it’s much easier, when players recieve the ball they only have two options, they can either pass the ball or run with the ball.

    Netball’s even easier, with the rules, all the players have to do is to decide where they are going to pass the ball to.

    It may all sound simplistic, though as you did mention you do have other details which surround it, but essentially that’s it.


    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted June 15, 2011 10:18 am

      Thanks Robin.

      I think this is the same principle as the over-complication of periodisation.

      There are a lot of sports physiologists, sports nutritionists, sports psychologists and sports biomechanists who need jobs and who all believe that their sub-discipline is the one “true-faith” in terms of performance enhancement.

      So when you read a periodised plan it MUST contain specific coaching interventions which involve physiology, nutrition, psychology and biomechanics.

      In reality, in all sports, at their simplest, you train to your full potential consistently, master the basic skills of the sport and perform them at speed, under fatigue and under pressure.

      The rest is window dressing.


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