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"How to Strategically Plan Your Attack: Lessons from the Game of Chess"

Updated: May 9

"Hey Coach, how do you create an exciting attacking structure?"

Over the last 25 years, I’ve played and watched countless hours of rugby and it's been stimulating to see how different teams attack each other I’ve always wondered what it reminds me of.

My answer is simple CHESS!

What happens next well it's time for the creative minds to go to work!

In the new era of rugby, coaches attacking strategies are evolving with new rules making it harder for players to get over the gain line and also the ball in play a lot longer.

The ability to come up with strategies that utilise players more effectively has shown recently, we are now seeing the emergence of some very exciting players coming through their respective systems showcasing what they can really do on the big stage.

What does this have to do with Rugby?

As you’ll see below in Figure 1 Twickenham stadium in all its glory notice. You’ll see the markings on the pitch separating it into sections similar to a chess board and the pieces being the players.

Figure 1.

The stage is set!

Like chess, rugby is about devising an attacking strategy in order to achieve the outcome of getting over the gainline and eventually scoring a try.

The best attack coaches most commonly create their strategies through a number of means but knowing their players first and foremost in their backline. is a good starting point.

In a game of chess this includes; the Queen (9), Rooks (Centres), Bishops (Wingers), and King (10), you’ll see below in Figure 2. how they line up in a split attacking formation.

Figure 2.

Who designs the strategy and carries it out ?

The attack coach in this instance. Take Toulouse as an example, they deploy a simple strategy of being physical, playing with intent, and running phenomenal support lines. They are very creative in all aspects of their game by keeping the ball alive which In practical experiences is hard to defend against. They have formations that allow their talisman Antoine Du Post and Roman Ntamack to utilise the space in front of them very effectively.

Now who carries out the finer details. In my opinion arguably the best 9 and 10 in the game at present.

Firstly Antoine Du Pont (the Queen of the chessboard), can control and organise the pieces of the puzzle so well, his ability to seize every opportunity and create opportunities out of nowhere is outstanding. To be this good, your awareness of where you on the pitch is key. For example, take the attacking ball between the opposition 10m and 22m, you can expect he’ll be wanting to take the ball to the line and move the ball out of contact or draw defenders in to create space outside of him for his attacking backline to break into.

Secondly, Roman Ntamack the king who controls it all. Wherever you are on the pitch be sure to see him driving the team around the pitch, passing, kicking, running there isn’t anything this man can’t do.

Like Antoine he’s on the same wavelength, he can also create opportunities but in having more space can bring other players into the game a lot easier, and can use his boot effectively to drive the ball in behind defences and put them on the back foot and did I mention likes to run hard support lines.

Having these two players on your team you can expect them to work wonders as we’ve seen both domestically and internationally!

What strategy works best?

Short answer; whatever works best for you.

Here are three things I recommend you consider to aid you in becoming a master of your chess board and devising an unbeatable attacking strategy to beat your opponents.

1. Build it around players that fit your style of play

Firstly, there’s no use trying to build a system for players you don’t know.

What's the point, no one benefits. In an ideal scenario, you’d pick three to four of your best players that support the style of rugby you want to play.

Some systems can either be direct route one, phase-type rugby or touchline to touchline southern hemisphere style.

Me personally I look for three players that adopt the following; smart, intuitive, and creative with all their decision making.

Playing route one rugby is at times but can doesn’t excite me so why would I play that style.

2. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Unpredictability is key, knowing where you are on the pitch at all times and having a greater understanding of the players in your team will aid you kindly in trying out new things. It is important that your strategy is nailed to a tee before you start experimenting with the fancy stuff.

Being opportunistic If you’re in the middle of the pitch is great but if you try something out remember to do it with intent.

Having the instinctive ability to think 2,3,4,5 phases ahead is great but do the basics first don't try and be superman.

3. Patience is your friend and ally

As an attack coach patience is key, even more so as a player when an opportunity presents itself like most things in life. Always be ready to capitalise on them because you may not get that one ever again. Take full advantage when gaining territory, remembering the key objective to knock over three points or scoring a try, patience is everything!

“What Now?”

Well, I’m sure with these tips you can start building your foundations in building a solid foundation for your attack strategy. Over time you will start to come into your own and develop as a player but like with most things it takes time. I’m sure you will start generating some great results and most importantly don’t forget to have FUN!

Leave your comments, questions and thoughts below.

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