On decision making, Plan B and half-time team talks

Sam DavisNotes on a rugby match, half-time motivational talks, and executing a change from a Plan A to a Plan B

The match features The Ospreys of Wales playing Connaught of Ireland. The game is as important as any league clash, but hardly one in which the result is career-changing.


Ospreys have the more glamorous internationals and reputation. Connaught have more local players, although they are catching up on the other Irish regional teams. Home advantage to Ospreys. Connaught are on a good winning streak and Ospreys are recovering from the donation of key players to Wales for the World Cup. Ospreys expect a tough match but as home team are favourites. Their home record against Connaught is very good.

Ball in play weaknesses?

A match in the same tournament the previous evening, was a typical catalog of errors typifying the relative ‘ball in play’ weaknesses of the Northern Hemisphere game. This game in comparison started with better quality rugby from both sides. Then there was a damaging ten minute ‘sin bin’ penalty against Ospreys which arguably was a dubious award. I mention that not out of supporter’s bias but because the team was rather disciplined at that stage of the match.

Connaught exerted pressure in the ten minutes and scored a try. However, the play is roughly even. The very gifted Sam Davis is kicking well out of hand and running elusively. However, his goal kicking is weaker than usual and he misses three out of three. Ospreys are attacking but Connaught, sometime grimly, remain strong.

Plan A

At half time an intrusive reporter sticks a microphone into face of the home captain. Asks about refereeing. Their captain says sensibly that’s the way it goes and his team has to accept. Then he is asked what happens next. Says the team has to ‘pick it up’ . I read that to mean that in the second half, Plan A was to be executed better, or switched to a Plan B.

Plan A was (to my unprofessional eye) for the Ospreys to play good attacking rugby avoiding mistakes. After half time, Ospreys did indeed pick up pace. They also began making far more mistakes in attacking play. . Sam Davis misses another penalty. Connaught is defending and in another of those interviews their coach says they are under pressure but may be able to hold on. His cautious view was justified as Ospreys score a try. Davis continues to drift his kick right of the posts. Ospreys are now behind 16-18

Ospreys continue to attack at full throttle often with more low-percentage passes. Another mistake. With three minutes to go Connaught are gifted a penalty which they gratefully accept. There is a last frenzied attack by the Welsh team. Yet another mistake, and the match is lost by Ospreys.

What happened at half time?

If the captain’s remarks were followed through then the Plan B was to attack more strongly, which they did. Plan A was seen as failing. I didn’t think it was. Under such circumstances I have heard coaches say ‘More of the same. Rewards will come’
Instead, Plan B Was ‘Step it up’ . They did. The accurate pressurizing they imposed for much of the first half disappeared. My perception was that the team tried too hard to press and execute moves. Handling and other actions were more frequent.

So what?

I hesitate to claim this as more than a speculative attempt to understand leadership and team behaviours. There are gaps between what I observed, and possible broader conclusions I am suggesting. I have not mentioned whether the encouragement of the crowd influenced the players and whether any influence was positive.

This post should be seen in the context of the Rugby World Cup, as the game took place a few hours before the semi-final. Was I watching further evidence of poor skill levels in Regional Rugby? Even in the World Cup, even the top International teams of World Rugby have shown how pressure produces unexpected errors.

Maybe there is scope for a little vicarious learning for those of us who are not able to say ‘I was there’.

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