A busy time for rugby coaches

FILE PICTURE: Jake White. Image courtesy AFP

This is probably the busiest and most crucial time of the year for any Super Rugby coach. It’s not a question of just waiting for the first game in February, pitching up and playing.

And moving from one franchise to another, and one country to another, I have little doubt that every one of the coaches in the southern hemisphere is aiming for the same things and facing very similar problems.

What that all boils down to is we’re all striving for the same thing, but there are a number of priority areas which stand out and need the most attention.

The first of these priorities is to establish a fitness base. This might sound self evident, but in the modern game, it’s a bit more complex than that.

Getting your national players back on the field is vital, but you have to take into account that most of the southern hemisphere Test players only played their last game at the end of November and then took their annual holiday, effectively cutting back on training during a period where the coach would probably like them to be sweating it out to get match fit for the the coming Super Rugby campaign.

The squad members who are really working the hardest over this period are the less established junior players. But you don’t want to start a season with a side loaded with juniors, so it’s a delicate balancing act – creating a base good enough to carry the side until the fully fit senior players can be introduced.

It’s a really exciting time for a coach accepting the challenge of getting the combination right, and for the players as the youngsters come surging through and getting the experience of the seniors to rub off on the training ground and more importantly in the cauldron of match competition.

This aspect is just as important in handling operations, which have to be planned well in advance, and rehab programmes for these medical cases or injured players; working out when they will be ready and just when they phase them back in.

Just as important for a coach is understanding how you want to play. This is a decision which has a huge impact on your recruitment and conditioning programmes and is determined by whether the coach opts for a power base, a speed base or finding the balance between a combination of the two.

A coach also has to pay a lot of attention to creating a group culture, integrating new arrivals and filling in any cracks which might have developed by departures in the off-season.

And although the coach is not directly involved, this also involves getting the players to understand the side’s protocols on an off the field, who’s responsible for all the many aspects of a modern team, what the fans and sponsors expect, the whole package.

Then, and only then, can a coach get down to the core business of winning rugby matches. As I said, it’s not as simple as arriving in February and playing.

Jake White is South Africa’s World Cup-winning coach of 2007 and director of coaching at the Sharks.

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