Having spent seventeen years trying to win the Premiership title as a player and more recently as a coach, I though it would be prudent to introduce myself to the Find Rugby Now followers, with some insight into how we achieved that at Harlequins, focusing specifically on the areas that would be applicable at all levels of the game.
At Quins, we believe we are a dynamic side, capable of keeping the ball off the floor. To that end, we focus on our handling, whether it be accuracy/weight of pass or ability to offload out of the contact. We aim to achieve that through playing small-sided games where all the players have the chance to make decisions with the ball, sometimes as few as 4v4 but normally about 8v8. If the sides are too big, typically the forwards don’t touch the ball that much as they tend to stand back and let the backs play. So, when supporters ask why the likes of Joe Marler, Joe Gray and Ollie Kohn have better handling skills than other players in their position, that is one reason why.
We also know there are more rucks in the game than most other ‘events’, so we have to demonstrate effectiveness at the breakdown, whether it be ball presentation or rucking.
The biggest gains we have seen this season though, has been the balance to our play. The maturation of our forwards has enabled us to be more competitive with our maul and our scrum, giving us the option of keeping it tight and being more unpredictable.
So the best piece of advice I can offer, is to reflect on your playing style, how that fits with the players you have at your disposal and how you want to play the game.
I have heard it many times from coaches; ‘Why do we not offload in games”, yet offloading very rarely makes it onto the coaching agenda on a Tuesday and Thursday night. If you have a small team, who are quick, mobile and aerobically fit, then concentrate on the areas that are going to give you the edge on a Saturday. Evasion skills, handling, offloading – high tempo rugby that will test the opposition at defending when they are tired and the ball has been in play for long periods. Likewise, if your strengths lie in the set-piece and you have astute kickers at scrum and fly half, make the most of them and look to squeeze the opposition.
It sounds really obvious and to be honest it is. If you think the players at Premiership level are practicing some magic art, which you have never seen before, I am sorry to disappoint you.
Most of our coaching time is spent working on the basics. Win the ball, keep the ball and penalties or tries will follow. I can honestly say, given the length of the professional season and the demands on the players’ bodies, we probably train about the same ‘rugby wise’ as the average amateur team – 3 hours of onfield rugby per week maximum. That time is allocated to the key areas identified. We don’t try and overcomplicate matters. Simple things done well. Trust your beliefs and most importantly make sure whatever you believe in, is a key part of that precious training time. It will be reflected in the game.
By: Mark Mapletoft, Harlequins Coach
Mark joined Harlequins on July 1st 2010 from the RFU as National Academy and England U20 Coach.
Since being appointed as a National Academy Coach in January 2007, Mapletoft has spent the last three years working within the RFU Elite Rugby Department under Rob Andrew, Head of Elite Coach Development Kevin Bowring and Head of Elite Player Development Stuart Lancaster.
During his time in the Elite Rugby Department, Mapletoft has spent two seasons as Assistant Coach to Nigel Redman, during which time the highlights were an U20 Grand Slam in 2008 and reaching the IRB Junior World Championships Final in 2008. Since then, Mark has led the England U20 programme as Head Coach again reaching the final of the Junior World Championships in 2009. This season, expectations are even higher and he is fully committed to achieving the ultimate goal of winning the 2010 Junior World Championship, which takes place in Argentina in June.
Players he has worked with in the National Academy system, and within the England U20 age group, who have gone on to Senior England EPS international recognition include Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints) and Matthew Mullan (Worcester Warriors).
We are thrilled to welcome Mark to the Find Rugby Now team!