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Last month I outlined the coach’s role in identifying the players for the CAA program and this month I wanted to explain what we want aspiring national players to focus on. We have identified key elements of their game we want individuals to focus on and have outlined three ways they can be a better rugby player.

  1. Focus on Core Skills
  2. Know Your Position
  3. Back Yourself

No 1 Focus on Core Skills

The importance of core skills can be a difficult message to get across but they are the fundamental building blocks of our game.  They are the toolbox that every player needs to create opportunities - if you don’t have the ball or can’t move the ball you will not score. Knowing you can deliver an accurate pass or make an effective tackle gives a player options and confidence.

Catch and pass

How many plays have broken down because of a dropped catch or poor pass? Work on your skill levels and focus on your technique of hands up and pointing to the target.

Read Catch and Pass Techniques


Defences are stronger so we need players who can work the angles and find the space. Work on your balance, speed, and reading the opposition. If you do get tackled, make sure you take contact on your terms. Transfer the ball, create separation between you and the opponent and drive the legs in contact.


Good technique is essential if you want to be effective for safety in contact. You want to look like you are ready and up for contact, be alert to threats and have good body position in contact (cheek to cheek). Remember the tackle isn’t over until you are back on your feet.

Read The Tackle


A quiet team doesn’t function so look to be vocal. Communicate your intentions and what you see on the field to keep team mates informed. If you improve communication skills you will improve your individual performances and those of your team.

Read Communication: Player to Player

No 2 Know Your Position

All players should work on their core skills but there are specific skills for each rugby position which a player should also develop. It is not enough to be a hooker who is good in contact and has an effective side step if you can’t throw the ball at the lineout or scrummage.

Don’t mistake ‘positional skills’ as those related to set piece roles. For example as a 10 you are expected to manage the game and make decisions under pressure or as a full back you should have exceptional aerial skills. Know what role you perform for the team and develop the skills required to do your job.

The key positional skills as outlined for the CAA program are detailed in these previous articles on Rugby Today.

America’s Got Talent – The Forwards

America’s Got Talent – The Backs

No 3 Back Yourself

You may be confident in your abilities but are you giving yourself every opportunity to optimise your performances and progress in the game?

‘Back yourself’ is about putting the work in at training, building your strength, doing your recovery and maintaining a good nutrition and hydration plan. How you perform off the field determines how you perform on it. It is all these aspects that when taken together make a player a professional.

Put the work in at training

Rugby isn’t about putting the work in for 80 minutes once a week, it is about taking every opportunity to develop so do the hard work and see results.

Build strength  

Don’t gauge your progress on size, focusing on developing physically to perform your role.


Taking your recovery seriously helps a player avoid injury and remain strong and ready to perform.

Nutrition and hydration

You are what you eat so give your body the fuel it needs to compete.

For information on how to improve your core skills, key positional strengths, and develop as a player read Rugby Revealed

(Gavin Hickie is the Men's Coach at Dartmouth and co-author of "Rugby Revealwed.")