A try and true rugby training


Joe Fisher, 27, is a lawyer from New Zealand who has been playing rugby since the tender age of 5. He is YC&AC Rugby Club's 1st XV Vice-Captain, former captain and current coach for Tokyo Gaijin Rugby Football Club. Because of his passion for coaching rugby, he regularly talks shop with other teams and writes a Coaches Corner column at: http://www.tokyogaijin.com.

1) What's the amateur rugby scene like in Japan?

Vibrant but disorganized. I really enjoy the style of rugby that is played in Japan - very fast and clean with an emphasis on skills. Japanese rugby teams place a lot of importance on trying to get the ball into space, so matches tend to be wide-ranging affairs where everyone is expected to get involved. In a lot of ways, this is the essence of what rugby is about. Get the ball. Run with it. See what happens.

My one criticism would be that, at amateur level, the organization isn't quite there. Competitions tend to be quite short - somewhere between three to six matches per competition would be average. Given that most rugby teams will want to play about 20 matches per year this means that clubs need to scramble around to look for enough games to fill their calendar. It would be great if all of the amateur teams could get together and organize one or two big competitions per year which would provide a full season of matches for the clubs involved.

2) What should be the fitness level of someone before they start playing rugby?

It's a bit of rugby cliche that the only way to get fit for rugby is to play rugby. This is obviously not 100 percent correct - professional teams devote much more time to training than to playing. However, the cliche is not 100 percent wrong either. A lot of people say they want to get fit before they start playing rugby, but I always think that they should come along and they will get fit through playing rugby and that's the advice I would give to anyone interested in playing in Tokyo. Come along, try it out, and you'll soon work out what you need to be doing in your free time to improve your performance.

3) How would you describe the kind of workout a typical rugby match offers?

Probably the best way to describe it is a cross between (American) football and basketball. You've got all of the contact of football combined with most of the fluidity of basketball - most players run upwards of 5 kilometers over the course of a match.

4) What are the most common rugby injuries, and how can they be avoided?

The most common rugby injuries are bumps and bruises and they only way they can be avoided is by not playing rugby! Basically, rugby injuries run the full spectrum from the very minor to the very serious, although thankfully serious injuries are quite rare. Like a lot of contact sports, knees, ankles and shoulders seem to be 'favorite' injury areas. As with any sporting activity, I presume your best chance to avoid injury comes from wearing correct equipment, warming up properly and using good technique on the field.

5) What does a typical training session that you run consist of?

In running my sessions I inevitably come back to the following structure:

Warm-up (c. 20 mins)
I always try to start training exactly on time with a light warm-up drill. The purpose of this drill is essentially just to get the team together and to get them to start handling a rugby ball. It is important to me to start on time and I impose a penalty on players who are not ready to start on time - usually a small fitness exercise at the end of training. I want the players to feel that I am organized and focused on the training ahead. I also want to emphasize to the players the importance of approaching their rugby in a professional manner. On a more practical level, starting exactly on time is useful because it usually hurries along those who are taking their time to get changed! After five minutes or so, I wrap up the d rill and take the players through dynamic and static stretching.

Fitness (c. 20 mins)
I like to get my fitness done early in the session so that the players are practicing all of their skills and team work when they are already slightly fatigued. Depending on our upcoming schedule our fitness exercises can range anywhere from a 4 km run to a series of 50-meter sprints. I do always try to make the fitness reasonably hard though as I believe that a team that trains hard together bonds together better than a team that mucks around on the training pitch.

Skills Work (c. 20 mins)
This is typically some kind of handling drill (e.g. 2 on 1s, 3 on 2s, 5 on 3s). The aim is always to work on the teams positioning, decision-making and execution skills. If we have a game the next week I sometimes omit this section to spend more time on game specifics.

Forwards and Backs (c. 20 mins)
The forwards typically run over their set pieces during this time whilst the backs usually run over their offensive moves and defensive positioning.

Team Run (c. 15 mins)
I usually ask the team to do things at 75 percent speed but to focus on, as with skills work, positioning, decision-making and execution skills. I prefer team runs to be unopposed as I believe one or two reserves opposing an entire team is no more realistic than none at all.

Touch Rugby (c. 15 mins)
Rugby players seem to love touch rugby! (Touch rugby is a non-contact form of rugby which emphasizes ball skills, positioning and fitness.) I try to keep the teams small enough to make sure that every player is required to participate fully. I also keep score to emphasize the importance of winning.

Warm-down (10 mins)
This is where the latecomers and the losing touch team do their extra fitness exercises. I often encourage the rest of the team to join in. Stretching should also be done at this point although I must admit that this is something we still need to work on introducing.

6) What prompted you to get into coaching?

The TGRFC didn't have a coach when I started playing for them in 2003. As such, when I was elected captain of the team in 2004 I inherited responsibility for running the training sessions. It was my first time to ever coach a rugby team but I found that I really enjoyed it. So I will always be very grateful to the TGRFC. Through my experiences with them I found coaching - something that I'm really passionate about and something that will hopefully keep me involved in the game long after I've hung up my playing boots.

7) As a coach, what is the most common problem you see in players and how can it be corrected?

At amateur level, I would say lack of fitness is the most common issue for players. I said earlier that people should not use lack of fitness as an excuse for not getting involved. That's 100 percent true, but once you are involved, you can quickly see that the fitter you are, the better rugby you will play. The way to correct this problem is easy - get out there and get fit!

Aside from fitness, ball-skills are an area where a lot of amateur rugby players (myself included) could improve a lot. The key to rugby is getting the ball into space and the better ball-skills a team has the easier they will be able to do this. The way to improve your ball skills is simply practice. One practice tip that I've found useful though is to work players up to executing skills at 100 percent speed. Start at 50 percent to let them get a feel for the movements and mechanics required. After they can do things well, move them up to 75 percent. Only after they have mastered that should they start trying to execute the skills at 100 percent. I've had too many coaches who've asked their teams to execute new or difficult skills at 100 percent right off the bat. When it doesn't go right, all that happens is the coach gets frustrated and the players lose confidence.

8) What are the 10s commandments?

10's rugby is a shortened version of the game. Teams typically play one or two 10's tournaments a year and the tactics are slightly different from a full (15-a-side) rugby match. As part of preparing the TGRFC for this year's Shuto 10's I put together the 10's Commandments - ten principles which I hoped would help them focus on what they needed to do to play good 10's rugby.

The 10's Commandments are:

1. Thou shalt use the full width of the field
Doing this stretches the defence and makes gaps bigger.

2. Thou shalt clear pressure immediately
You must pass the ball away from areas of congestion immediately.

3. Thou shalt not get too flat
Maintain depth in attack. A deep attack is more effective and provides more options. Part of this is ensuring you get back into position after passing the ball and give the ball carrier an option to pass back to you.

4. Thou shalt not kick possession awa
Attack = Possession. Go backwards or sideways before kicking the ball away.

5. Thou shalt not get isolated
It is the responsibility of the ball carrier not to get isolated.

6. Thou shalt not leave thy zone on attack
Support in your zone rather than with your "nose to the ball." As the ball moves toward your zone, try to create options for your team by changing angles, calling, feinting and generally trying to confuse the defence.

7. Thou shalt not break thy defensive line
It is vital to come up as a line in defence and move sideways as a unit ('blanket defence'). Concentrate on your man, not the ball.

8. Thou shalt not be silent on defence
Communicate who your man is. Pick your correct man by counting from the outside in.

9. Thou shall pressure the opposition on defence
The sooner and closer the blanket defence can move to its opponents, the greater will be the pressure exerted.

10. Thou shalt not forget to employ a sweeper
Someone must cover kick-throughs and breaks. We will employ a permanent sweeper.

Thanks to Fitness Japan for this Q&A. For anyone interested in finding out more about playing rugby in Tokyo or for any teams interested in discussing coaching opportunities, please feel free to contact me at: joefisherabroad@hotmail.com.

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