If you are looking to become a more well-rounded rugby player then this blog is for you. Most of what it takes to reach the next level is being skilful and having the ability to execute under high pressure. So perfecting the 5 most important skills in rugby is crucial for developing your game. 

Whether you’re a beginner or play at the highest level, you must put in the repetitions and be dedicated to the craft to be a standout and consistent player. No matter what position you play we all have to be accountable for our skill development. We will dive into:

  • Rugby Passing
  • Catching a Rugby Ball
  • Evasion 
  • Rugby Kicking
  • Tackle Technique

Rugby is both a team effort and an individual one, you have to be able workout & develop a lot of the fundamental skills on your own to ultimately help your team on the pitch. 

Most players try to overcomplicate the skills when they haven’t learnt the basics. It's a hard habit to drop as most people try to copy their favourite players who are at the elite level (e.g Sonny Bill Williams or Richie Mounga). If you want to learn what it takes to become an elite game driver and skilful player, then read on. This may seem like a tedious and boring way to grow but putting in the groundwork now will pay off in the future. 

 1. Rugby Passing 

Passing in rugby is all about being accurate. If this skill is executed wrong you have the chance of turning over possession. One of the most basic skills and easiest to learn, most teams should adopt this as the starting exercise/drill for every training.  

The positioning of your hands on the ball is a crucial factor in nailing a perfect pass. Depending on the type you are going to transfer on will change the way your hand position is set up. The important aspect to note is making sure you know when to execute each pass and why. 

To really simplify how to coach and get better at passing we can break the skill up into four aspects:

Rugby Passing Variations

If you want to find out more about the four variations of passing, have a look at our blog post here.


Furthermore, check out our video on the how-to pass with tips & tricks, see below:

How to improve your passing 

As one of the core skills within rugby we want you to be confident in your ability to nail all passing variations no matter what level. Here are some general tips that will help with building your coordination and technique. 

This knowledge should be taught to beginner players right from the start, so it can be mastered over time. 

 

  • Your hands should always be pointed at the target, (this will be the chest area or we like to call it the breadbasket) this will help accuracy and consistency.
  • The pass cannot at any stage go forward (find out more about forward passes here).
  • Pass in both directions (left & right) 
  • Learn to pass running at pace and whilst being static
  • Always have a firm grip of the ball and have a neutral position to be prepared to pass in any direction. 
  • Practice passing off both legs and under pressure (have your right foot at the front and left foot behind and vice versa)
  • Pass in different scenarios on the pitch e.g long pass outside, short pop pass. 
  • Practice passing the ball of the deck like a halfback (every player needs to learn this skill).

If you are really looking to hone in on your passing ability then check out our video with some of the best passers in the world, Aaron Smith, Matt Toomua & Billy Meaks, see below:

 

2. Catching a Rugby Ball

Another fundamental of rugby, wherever you're playing on the field, is catching the ball. The goal with catching is teaching yourself how to take the ball cleanly and then either protect the ball or set it up for an ideal transfer. 

 

Catching the ball doesn’t just come from receiving a pass, it also comes in the form of receiving kicks in many variations. Having these skills is crucial to retaining possession and being clinical in your attack and defence.

 

It doesn’t matter what position you play, you will always be put in a situation where you will have to execute a catch in all its variations (exceptions to backs being in lineouts).

Most of the game of rugby involves passing when the ball is live so being able to hone in on this craft is going to set your team up for success as you’ll be able to keep the opposition from turning the ball over. 

Rugby Catching Variations

  • Passing catch 
  • High Ball Catch
  • Rolling Catch
  • Bouncing Catch
  • Lineout Catch

If you are looking to find more ways to learn how to catch, check out our blog here. 

How to improve catching 

  • Have a partner pass the ball back and forth with you without adjusting your hands through the transfer.
  • Practice receiving a spiral pass with your inside hand lower than the other to simulate the clean movement without changing hand position.
  • Learn to catch the ball in various situations, e.g from a kick, a bouncing grubber kick, long wide passing, short pop pass.
  • Focus on catching the ball first before thinking about the next step.
  • Practice catching the ball static and while at pace.
  • Always have your hands pointed towards the ball, this will help with consistency. 

Not only is catching important when receiving a pass, static or on the run but both backs and forwards need to be able to utilize this skill. The rugby ball may come from a high ball or a line out throw or even a pop pass from the ground. 

Passing & catching goes hand in hand with each other and typically you will learn the skill together. The fastest way to fast forward your overall ability is to overload yourself with drills that incorporate passing and catching.

3. Evasion (footwork/agility)

 

A very unutilized skill and is left out of a lot of teams skills sessions, especially at the lower level. Size and strength don’t always beat the defender, so other methods are required like side stepping and evasion.

Being skilful in this area gives you the ability to open space for your teammates and find gaps in the defence. We consider this skill to be a “fine art” to learn as some players are naturally gifted and other players really struggle to learn this skill.

Everyone loves to avoid contact at the best of times so nailing this skill can reduce the amount of damage you take when attacking the line. Without using your footwork when taking on a defender you almost set yourself up for failure as you can get caught head-on in a tackle, become flat-footed and isolate yourself from your support.

Rugby Evasion Variations

  • Side stepping
  • Spinning in contact 
  • Stutter step


If you are looking to find out more about the importance and how to develop this skill take a look here, see below:

 

How to improve your evasion skills

 

  • Learn to beat a defender in a one on one simulation within a restricted area, use your feet to evade them without being tackled.
  • Practice using the speed ladders on the pitch and weave in between them swiftly,
  • Practice making contact with either a person or a tackle bag and spin out it in both directions,
  • Learn to make fast rapid adjust to your feed when going into contact, making the defender hesitate about your movement.

 

The goal of evasion is not to outright beat a defender every single time you run the ball, but it’s simply to give yourself more time on your feet and wait for your arriving support. Step through contact also allows you to draw in other defenders which ultimately creates more space in the defensive line. 

Grab some more tips & drills from Luke Treharne, see below:


4. Rugby Kicking

Although kicking in rugby may not directly relate to every player on the pitch it is a crucial skill to learn if you are a back. Executing this skill correctly gives you the advantage to turn teams around, gain field possession, relieve pressure and compete for the ball. 

 

In many ways, kicking has changed the way rugby is played as it is so much more incorporated into the modern game. Especially with the new 50:22 rule coming into play in 2022 (drop link to rule).

 

Even though this skill is not extended to every player, it is essential that the backs are well equipped with these skills as there are so many techniques to learn. Not only is the physical skill difficult to master but kicking always requires a lot of mental capacity as you need to know when to use each particular kick based on what’s in front of you. 


Rugby Kicking Variations

 

Follow the links to find out how to perfect each kicking technique:

 

  • Spiral kick
  • Drop kick
  • Banana kick
  • Up & under
  • Drop punt
  • Grubber kick 
  • Chip kick

  • Find out more about our kicking drills here, see below:



    How to improve your kicking 

     

    • Focus on keeping your eye on the ball when making contact, no matter what sort of kick you are trying to execute your eyes should always be on the ball.
    • Learn to nail each kick variation whilst being static and also doing it at pace (you can even have defenders running at you to simulate game situations).
    • Ensure you have the correct hand placement on the ball before making contact, each variation of the kick will change the grip you have on the ball.



    Since kicking can be used as a defensive and an attacking tactic it means that perfecting this skill is so important. Having the awareness and decision making ability to execute each kick in the right situation will not only make you stand out as a player but will allow your team to dominate teams with ease.



    5. Tackle Technique Rugby

     

    If you lack the ability to tackle then it’s not very useful being on the field as you’ll lose every game. This skill is going to be very subjective to each individual based on your size, aggressiveness and strength. Regardless of these factors, everyone on the field should have the ability to chop an attacking player. 

     

    The importance of exciting this skill well is crucial, especially in today's game where players' safety is the top priority. The tackling technique has drastically changed over the years and it is important to change and develop this skill. 

     

    It is crucial to learn this skill and be confident in yourself and execute the technique safely. Rugby players are made up of all shapes and sizes, so not everyone is going to be able to dominate an attacker. Just being able to stop the opposition in their tracks is a great start to nailing this skill. Tackling comes down to decision making and deciding what type of tackle to make.

    There are several types of tackle techniques that can be categorized into

     

    • Side tackle
    • Front tackle
    • Two-man tackle
    • Chop tackle
    • Smother tackle
    • Behind tackle

     

    Check out our rugby tackling drills & videos, see below:



    How to improve your tackling: 

     

    • Always sight your target - See who you’re going to hit
    • Practice getting up off the ground once the opponent is on the ground, the tackle is not complete until you are back on your feet. 
    • Always have your face and hands up and be expecting any player to run down your channel.
    • Have low body position, don’t stand upright and get bumped or fended off from poor posture. 
    • Learn to make shoulder contact first and keep your head in a safe position on the side of the body.
    • Once you have made contact use your legs to drive the ball carrier to the ground to dominate the tackle.
    • Always remember to wrap your arms around the ball carrier, this will ensure you don’t get penalized and take the player to the ground.  

     

    For more information & tips on tackle techniques, take a look here:


    All of these skills can be practised without a lot of people involved and can mostly be done on your own. If you want to reach the next level and stand out among the coaches then perfecting these skills is a must. 
     

    As the game becomes faster, your skills need to match the gameplay, because if you lack skill in these areas you won’t get very far in your rugby journey. We have a range of different rugby training programs that are designed to improve your skills across all aspects. Whether you want to learn alone or with friends it doesn’t matter. If you want to pass and kick like Dan Carter or tackle like Richie McCaw then look no further. 

      

    August 31, 2023 — Peter Breen

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