Let the game be
the teacher


From the desk of Dan Cottrell, Head Coach and Editor of Rugby Coach Weekly, RFU Level 3 Coach and WRU Course Coach

Dan Cottrell

Using games in training is acknowledged throughout the coaching profession - from grassroots to the top of the professional game - as one of the best ways to coach rugby skills and tactics.

So why should you use games in training?

  • Competitive - tries are scored and points awarded. Players have to work hard to win

48 ready-made skills games to replicate match-like conditions

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  • Relevant - games get players practising under match conditions, at a level of intensity you control

  • Easy to set up - you only need a ball and a few players to run a constructive training session

  • Active - players are active, not queuing for the next drill, and are involved in both attack and defence

  • Flexible - players take responsibility and are free to experiment, make mistakes and learn through experience. Games are suitable for all players of all age and standard.

  • Effective - there are plenty of opportunities for skills to be reworked outside of repetitive (and boring) drills

  • Outcome focused - games concentrate on the result, winning more matches, not on creating a team of "robots"

  • Greater variety - different games mean different decisions to make, problems to solve and skills to use

  • Energetic - games are a "sneaky" way of introducing fitness and footwork into your training regime

About Me

I am Dan Cottrell, the author of nine rugby coaching manuals, two DVDs and editor of Better Rugby Coaching, the twice weekly rugby coaching email you receive.

When not digging out insightful coaching approaches, I am working in the game as a practising RFU Level 3 Coach, a WRU Course Tutor, and Ospreys Academy Skills Coach. I'm also an attached coach for the Welsh Women's team.

I know the value of communicating ideas correctly, because until recently I had responsibility for 16 teams. I was Head of Rugby at Cranleigh School in Surrey, England, a role that taught me every aspect of the game at the grass roots level.

Throughout my coaching career, I've been a magpie. I'm constantly collecting "shiny" new ways of doing things, asking questions, borrowing advice, pinching insights.

What catch my eye are the simple yet powerful rules that can be turned into practical tools to solve everyday coaching problems – the ones you face all season long.

  • Promote teamwork - games foster team spirit, enforce team values and motivate the players in training

  • Games are fun to participate in, watch and coach... and no referee is needed!

That's why I launched 48 Rugby Skills Games, focused entirely on the skills and tactics needed to win rugby matches.

Designed for all players, whatever their skills levels, 48 Rugby Skills Games is the ultimate resource for any coach who wants to replicate match-like conditions in their training sessions.

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Practice key skills

The games in 48 Rugby Skills Games cover the range of attacking and defending skills, to help your players improve in every department:

  • Tackling

  • Passing & handling

  • Support play

  • Rucking

  • Mauling

  • Kick & recovery

  • Attacking as a team

  • Defending as a team

Competitive scenarios

The games are all competitive, with clearly defined objectives and scoring systems. They are divided into 3 categories:

  • Small-sided games

  • Conditioned games

  • Game situations

Small-sided games give players the chance to practise their rugby skills in different situations. Since there are minimal numbers of players involved, play is intense, fast and furious.

The two teams frequently change from attack to defence, ensuring all the players will get plenty of opportunities to be involved in both sides of the game.

Conditioned games focus on isolating rugby skills in a game with constrained rules. These games avoid obvious repetition, enabling skills to be continually reworked. There is a more defined attack and defence, resulting in a more rugby-like game.

Players get plenty of chances to test out "what works". They will find their own solutions to common rugby problems - solutions that naturally will play to the team's strengths.

Game situations look to replicate match day conditions and scenarios, giving the players plenty of opportunities to test their skills under pressure.

These games are as close to playing a "real" match as you will get in training.

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More individual responsibility, better team performances

Incorporating individual skills and team performance, the games call on the players constantly to refine their understanding of their roles and responsibilities, in both attacking and defensive positions.

Players will soon learn how their positioning and the support of their team mates can be used to overwhelm a defence or neutralise an attack, to give the team the greatest possible chance of scoring or winning back possession.

Clever design

I designed Rugby Skills Games with you, the coach, in mind. Each page follows the same format:

Introduction – An explanation of the game, and the skills and techniques it focuses on.

Set up – Showing everything you’ll need to run the game, from the suggested number of players, to the size of the area, and the number of balls and cones.

Game notes – The simple game rules, like "allow rucks", "don't allow kicking", "swap the teams after each tackle", "give the attack five goes to score".

Scoring – Key to meeting the game's objectives and keeping it competitive. In many cases, scoring is simply "1 point for a try", but sometimes it's more sophisticated, to reward good play. For instance, "2 points for stopping the attack getting over the gain line".

What to call out – Never be lost for words with these concise phrases to address the key factors of each game.

Coaching notes – Ways to adapt and develop the game to suit your players, or to introduce the game into a session.

Skill area – The key skill be practised, covering: tackling, handling, support play, rucking, mauling, kick & recover, attack, and defence. All the games address footwork, team work and decision making too.

Category – Indicating the type of game: small-sided game, conditioned game, or game situation.

Key – Making sure you can differentiate between runs and passes, and pitch markings and try lines in the illustrations.

Illustrations – Three pictures clearly showing you how the game is set up and developed, and highlighting the key techniques involved.

Captions – Explaining the key points of the game.

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Here are two sample pages...

Intense Defense example page

Defending is more tiring than attacking. It is physically and mentally draining. Yet players need to keep their standards high and quality good in the tackle. This is a great game to knock out the cobwebs.

Super Loopers example page

Quite often the closest support player to the ball carrier is the player who has just passed him the ball. This game encourages players to provide support on the inside or outside of the receiver, by following their own pass.

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The games included:


  • Jackler
  • Intense defence
  • Gang up
  • Goal line stoppers
  • Sidewinders
  • Passing & handling

  • Rule of 2s
  • Hot box feet
  • Gather and go
  • Triangle turnovers
  • Fast, slow, fast
  • Quicker, wider
  • Precision passing
  • Squeezers
  • Ninety-nine
  • Boxed in
  • Neat and tidy
  • Support play

  • Response rates
  • Mismatch vision
  • Super loopers
  • Smash and go
  • Rucking

  • Ruck stops here!
  • 3 seconds, 3 rucks
  • Twist and turn
  • 3-away
  • 8 balling
  • Mauling

  • Maul demons
  • The rock
  • The maul lives!
  • Drive in
  • Kick and recover

  • Get your kicks
  • Run backs
  • Get back
  • Grubber soul
  • Chip-chop
  • Catch and go
  • Cross kicks
  • Airtime
  • Attacking as a team

  • Stretchers
  • Manic attack
  • Discomfort zone
  • 360 attack
  • Recycle lanes
  • Bunch busters
  • Flashback
  • Second front
  • Defending as a team

  • Mission, control
  • Wall of defence
  • Wide boys
  • Playing the games

    The suggested pitch sizes and the number of players involved in each game are guidelines only. You can easily vary these depending on how many players have turned up to training, or the skill levels of your players.

    The equipment you need is minimal, usually just a ball and a few markers to indicate a try line.

    At first the games may be chaotic, with lots of mistakes. However, as the players learn to take better options under pressure, you'll see a marked improvement in their decision making and in the application of their skills.

    And not just in training, but in competitive matches too.

    Available in PDF and as a hard copy printed manual

    You can buy 48 Rugby Skills Games in two formats:

    An A4 PDF document you can store on your computer. You can help the environment by saving trees and using less chemical-based ink by only printing out the games you need for the day.

    An A4 spiral bound colour manual for your bookshelf, desk or kitbag. Spiral bound means you can use it without having to hold the page open as with most bound books. You can copy or print as many copies as you like for distribution to your players and colleagues in your club.

    Or, get both formats. Combine the benefits of immediate PDF delivery and the ease of printing individual drills, with the practicality and durability of the colour printed version.

    Order 48 Rugby Skills Games

    All the inspiration you need

    48 Rugby Skills Games is an instant reference and the only source of inspiration you’ll need to create match-like conditions in your training sessions.

    It will take the chore out of struggling for new ideas, and is perfect for any coach running weekly sessions who is facing the challenges of balancing the need to prepare for training with the constant demands of modern life.

    What’s more, if you can’t make a session you can give the manual to a parent or assistant, safe in the knowledge that even novice and beginner coaches will be able to run the games.

    Yours in rugby,

    Dan Cottrell

    Dan Cottrell
    Head Coach, Rugby Coach Weekly

    P.S. Getting your team to practise these games could change the way they perform in the match and make a big difference to your season.

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