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Creative Player Positioning Tactics for Rugby Union
by Frank Coffman

All the world's a [rugby match],
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one [rugger] in [his or her] time plays many parts
--Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2. 7. 139-142 [some liberties taken, apologies to Will]

     One potential for tactical innovation is too rarely exploited in the game of Rugby Union, this despite the fact that the Laws of the Gameallow for it and the modern game cries out for it. I am referring to what I will here call "creative positioning" -- the intentional shifting of players from their "normal" positions and into tactically innovative and potentially powerful combinations and new advantage-laden scenarios for the winning of a match. These shifts of position need not be for the duration of the rugby match. Most often they are used a handful of times in the course of any match, but they have the distinction of being "moves" of the positional sort that can result in some nifty "moves" in the form of ploys and some decided excitement in the course of the match.

     The excitement can come quite often from the simple novelty of the position for the opponent. The unfamiliar causes concern -- perhaps even a touch of "fear of the unknown" is introduced. The question implanted in the opponent -- the thought, "What have we here?" or "What in the Hell are they up to now?" -- is often enough to allow the move to succeed. The other great factor that can and does yield exciting and innovative rugby is the creation through the move of a decided mismatch. This mismatch is usually one of size and strength. There are few things more awe-inspiring for a defending back than to see an agile lock or a great bull of a prop bearing down at pace and with support! Sometimes this temporary positional switching can "mark" a player who has been scouted or otherwise identified as a "weak link" [See my note on "Backline Attack: Breaking the Weak Link" for a further discussion of this concept.]

     I will list a few possible "creative positionings" to illustrate these points with specific examples:

     The modern game (let alone the older, traditional game) has no real place for the "I'm the next Barry John! -- none other than I dare play flyhalf" kind of mentality, no real place for the inflexible player -- however skilled or competent at his or her "position." To use a cliche (but a true one): "There's no 'I' in 'TEAM.'" And although there's a "ME" in "TEAM" -- it's ass backwards and divisive. Be inventive: create, experiment, don't be overly set in the ways of tradition or set in the ways of "position." The game is changing (by Law) to a more open contest. As coaches and players and strategist-tacticians, we must be open to that change.

Copyright 5 June 2000 by Frank Coffman, all rights reserved. Contact the author for permissions or with questions, comments, additional ideas. Join us at the [tacticalrugby] e-group and contribute to our efforts.