Reading the game

Reading the game in rugby helps you know what opponents are about to do. You do it so you and your team stay ahead of the opposition. Do it at more than one level,

Reading is revealing

What you do when you read the game

What I mean by reading the game is the the process you constantly go through during the game so you have good information available when you make decisions.

  • you look at the current situation, taking in as much as possible
  • you quickly sum up what is taking place
  • you use that information and your knowledge of rugby to come to an informed opinion about what will happen next

All players read the game to some extent

As a player, you read the game at a low level so you know what to do next. In simple terms

  • you take in the field positions of the opposition players
  • you take in the field positions of your own players

  • you take in what is happening to the ball carrier and the ball
  • you use your knowledge of rugby, the style being played, the strategies and tactics being used then form an opinion about what is likely to happen next

Much depends on how well you read the game. Read it well and you make accurate predictions about what is going to happen. As a result you will make good decisions about what you should do next.

More often than not and more often than other players, you will be where you're needed at the right moment. You will back up the ball carrier, catch the high ball or be in position to make the last ditch, try saving tackle.

Coaches, players, spectators read the game

Coaches and special players are reading the game at a higher level. They are aware of the ebb and flow of the game, monitoring the overall strategies and tactics being used and how successful they are.

As a coach or experienced player you do this because the information can be used to affect the results of games. You monitor periods of play, weigh up what went on and assess the relative performance of the two teams. From this information you know what`s working and what`s not working and act to correct problems or press home advantages.

Knowledgable spectators enjoy reading the game because it increases the excitement of the spectacle. You feel more a part of the action if you understand what is going on and why.

What helps in reading the game

You know you are good at reading the game when what you think will happen next often or usually happens! To do it you need knowledge and experience.

You will be good at reading the game when

  • you are able to take in the field positions of all the other players on the field - in a flash!
  • you are familiar with player positions and responsibilities

  • you are knowledgable and/or skillful in facets of the game like passing, kicking, evasion, moves
  • you understand that pressure can result in errors of judgement and errors in performing skills

You put yourself in the position of the ball carrier. You must know what options are available. The more skillful and knowledgable you are the more likely you will make predictions correctly.

How you improve your game reading skills

It`s the same old story - practice. But how do you practice?

I suggest you do it by watching recordings of games. You don`t get a perfect view of what is going on, but it`s good enough. And you can pause it and rewind!

Deliberately choose to watch videos or tapes of games that you`ve not seen before. That way you don`t know how the game unfolds. Watch the game critically. Use the pause button and rewind to study what takes place.

When there is a breakdown in play, a set piece or a restart, look to see how the players line up. At other times look at running angles.

  • does it look as though the ball will be kept in the forwards or given to the backs
  • where are the backs positioned
  • is either team under pressure, desperate to defend or desperate to get points
  • are they aligned to run and receive passes or chase kicks
  • are any players in an unusual place in relation to the others - it may indicate they are about to execute a planned move
  • is any player bustling to take a quick penalty, is anyone doing anything other than paying attention
  • are players running straight or across field, will support be there when they need it, will players cramped for room change their running lines

Pause the action and make a prediction about what will happen. If your prediction is incorrect, go back and play it again. See if you can detect the reason(s) that the game unfolded as it did.

Play may differ from what you predict but you can`t see why. Could it be the player panicked, was tired, took their eye off the ball? Could it be a poor pass made it necessary to kick? Rewind. See if you can pick up something to explain it. Poor skills?

Perhaps they`re just not as good as you are at weighing up the options!

What you do with your new reading skills

As a player you`ll find you are a step ahead. You plug holes in defence. You provide the vital support at just the right moment. You always seem to be there to receive the kick.

As a spectator you`ll be more involved. You`ll feel more of the tension and excitement. It will be more like actually playing.

After I`ve watched games normally I really enjoy watching them in this way as well. You learn a lot.

Then take it up a level. Become more aware of how the game is going overall. Know what the opposition has been doing and how well you have been at countering it. Know how your team has been playing and how the other team is coping.

If you enjoy it, practice at this higher level so that, when necessary, you will be able to point out what`s happening and what your team needs to do to come out winners.