11:00AM, Saturday 08 August 2020
It’s been several months since Maidenhead RFC returned to socially distant training in small bubbles at Braywick Park, and you sense that head coach David Mobbs-Smith, his players and coaching staff are itching to move onto something new.
They all know the league season is still a long way off, and won’t now get underway until the new year, but they’d like to mix things up in training, play against each other in larger training groups and try-out some match-play drills in games of tag or touch rugby.
They and the rest of the country are keen to move into the next phase of the RFU’s return to competitive rugby roadmap, with rugby lagging behind other sports such as football which saw friendly matches resume from August 1. There are key elements of the game, however, which cause concern for the RFU and government, such as the scrum, the maul and the ruck. And, if teams want to get back to playing competitive rugby in some form, adaptations to the game may have to be made, just as they have to a certain extent in cricket and other sports.
“We’re still in level B of the RFU’s roadmap,” said Mobbs-Smith. “Hopefully there will be an announcement this month about us going into level C. That would enable us to improve training. If we were allowed slightly larger groups and we were allowed some sort of interaction with the players, touch for example, we could start working towards our season goals, playing some patterns. You can’t do that at the moment in the small-sided stuff. We’re trapped in that 3vs2 mould at the moment, which is great for fitness and overall skills, but we’ve not been able to talk about the next part, the tactical side of the game.
“If we were allowed 10 or 15 players in the same area, you can play quite a lot of the shapes and patterns that you’ll be trying out for the season. That would be the pleasant step and it would reinvigorate training again.”
Even if World Rugby and the RFU began to move through the phases, Mobbs-Smith says the players would need at least a month to prepare themselves for competitive, full-contact, rugby.
“The next step would be are we able to do some contact stuff,” he said. “One of the problems with contact stuff is you have to prepare the body for contact and confrontation. You can’t just go out and get hit, you have to build up your contact library so to speak, so we’re different to other sports because of that. Because the first time you play, you carry those knocks for a little while, that’s what a good pre-season is about.
“There’s talk about when we might get back to contact rugby, different sports talk about where they’re going next, but hopefully we can just take the next step for now. We know we’re a long way off league matches, but we need the next step, and I’m thinking more about club survival, maintaining your club ethos and identity, the social side of sport. Certain sports are benefitting from that at the moment, tennis and sailing for example. Indoor sports and team sports are getting punished at the moment. They could lose players to other sports.”
One step the RFU could take in the coming weeks, which Mobbs-Smith believes could make a huge difference for rugby clubs, is allowing touch or tag games in training and in-house matches. “From an inventive coaching point of view, if we have touch or tag you can play different games within training,” he said. “It’s going to be a very long pre-season and the players want to have fun doing it.
“Most sportsmen and women are still 12-years-old. They want to score points, goals, tries, whatever it is. They want to hit the winner. Yes, they love doing that in organised, match-day environments, but they also love doing it in training. That buzz that comes with it, we want to recreate that in training, and then I think we could ride out another extended period before we get to the end result. We’d be able to create a more inventive and fun environment. It’s why we play the game.”
Attendance at training has been very good for Maidenhead, but Mobbs-Smith can see that his players are keen to move things on and ‘claim back the sport they love’.
“I think it’s been eight weeks doing this,” he said.
“The attendances are great, they’ve wanted to see their mates. It’s why they play in Division 5 or 10 or for the second team or the third team.
“They’re not worried about the level they play at, they just want that interaction with people, with their opponents, at some point we’ve got to claim that back.”
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