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Mark Mapletoft: Welcome to Winter Rugby

The clocks have gone back. Score-lines of 42-25 have become 16-6 as the warm balmy nights have been replaced by wet, cold, miserable afternoons. Winter is nearly upon us. Welcome to the start of the proper rugby season!

What are the implications for the rugby coach, both professional and amateur?

Well, the injury list is lengthening as the games start to take their toll. Players are reporting with in with illness due to the changing seasons. Unavailability in the amateur game – “there’s Steve’s stag do to Prague”, “the wife’s cousins wedding” and of course “the work conference that I simply cant get out of” – all add to the angst of the coach trying to meticulously plan the week’s sessions and get a competitive team out on the weekend whilst desperately trying to arrest that run of three consecutive defeats.

If you think it’s only you, then I can assure you its not. Life at the Stoop is pretty rosy at the moment. Top of the league following our last gasp win over London Irish and two from two in the Heineken Cup, but with the international window upon us, squad numbers are dwindling. It means that planning has been ramped up, with Plan A if these guys are fit, Plan B if they are. Plan C if these players are released back by England, Plan D if they are not. The physios are working over-time trying to get as many players as possible fit.

It takes some managing and there are daily, sometimes hourly updates as to who is available to train and who is not.

We also factor in a greater proportion of off-field learning at this stage of the season. It’s a chance to spend some quality time sitting down with a player to look through his game, especially some of the younger lads, who do most of their game performance analysis with the Academy coaches.

The changing of the weather can also hit your style of game. The all singing, all dancing offload game can come unstuck at this time of year. The ball’s a bit greasy, the defensive line is coming up harder. The space you had a few weeks ago has now evaporated. That’s where Plan B comes into effect again. An all-court game will allow you to take advantage whatever the conditions.

Can you keep it tight, use the set-piece to squeeze your opponents in the final third? Can you adapt when you turn up at an away venue and the pitch isn’t quite to the standard you expected?

The modern day coach, at all levels of the game, has to be prepared for anything and everything. Meticulous planning is required, but with an ability to react and adapt to any situation. Here’s to Winter rugby, in all its beautiful glory. Enjoy.

About Mark Mapletoft

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. View all posts by Mark Mapletoft

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