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The future of Kaji rugby

Kameli Rakoko
Wednesday, February 05, 2014

RETIRED schoolteacher Rupeni Tamani runs a Kaji Rugby Academy in Suva and he is regarded as the father of Kaji Rugby.

While our sevens team is struggling and not many positive news on the local rugby fraternity, it would be beneficial for all rugby developers and enthusiasts to have a read of Tamani's view of the future of rugby and how to get there.


What are the principles of children's rugby?

One way to guide what the game for children should be like is to consider some principles of rugby for them. Where should the emphasis be in order to encourage more children to take up and continue playing the game? In discussion with Fiji Rugby Association of Coaches (FRAC), FRU development unit and Fiji Primary School Rugby Union, we feel that the following principles provide a useful starting point.

1. Enjoyment

* Sport is fun for many children.

2. Involvement

* How often does each player get possession of the ball?

* How much time do they spend standing around?

* How often does each player support or tackle, ruck and maul, push or jump?

3. Skills development

* What key skills does the game emphasise?

(a) Decision-making

(b) Ball handling

(c) Running, agility, evasion and fitness

(d) Communication

(e) Spatial awareness

(f) Vision Awareness

4. Values of the game

Rugby is a sport for all which is proud of its values and remains true to them.

* Integrity

* Passion

* Solidarity

* Discipline

* Respect

* Good sportsmanship

5. Child (not adult) centred

* Simplifying the rules may assist in reducing the influence of the referee whilst satisfying the expectations of parents.

"The coach's role is to ensure appropriate developmental outcomes in athletes, based on the 4 C's (Competence, Confidence, Connection and Character). Coaching effectiveness should therefore be defined in terms of how coaches meet their athletes' needs and help them fulfil their goals" by Cotes DMSP Model.



While it is recognised that rugby is a multi-faceted game, there is a clear emphasis on "contact" in all the grades, with less emphasis on skills. The expressed concern is that the emphasis on contact has filtered down to the lower grades (8-12 years old) where less conditioned and less physically mature players will be seriously injured in frequent numbers.

However, research from Australia suggests that the number of injuries in child rugby spikes dramatically at U12 at the start of 15-a-side rugby. This is something with which they are concerned and so are we in Fiji. We, therefore suggest that the game needs to be more ball-focused as opposed to its current form (contact-focused).


The early introduction of "structures" at all levels of Kaji rugby in primary schools has been a concern and this would need to be reviewed if children were to enjoy and be more involved in the game. The children do not need the sort of structures, rules and rituals associated with adult rugby being applied to their games.

Younger children should have limited structures imposed upon them and learn skills within these constraints. While structures are important at the senior level, skill level improvement could be instigated at the lower age group levels through an emphasis on core skills development such as ball-handling, running in support and decision-making. This is the way forward for Kaji rugby.

Big is better

The emphasis on "Big is better" phenomenon by some coaches to win matches has been a familiar sight in our local primary school rugby competitions. Coaches have opted for this biological phenomenon where big players who are not skilled, slow to the breakdown and not helpful in support play are chosen instead of the small but skillful players.

This phenomenon is however, counter-productive and unhealthy for rugby development in primary schools where the emphasis should be on skills development.

Win at all cost

The "win at all cost" mentality is another phenomenon that encourages "big is better" and caused coaches to cheat by registering over-aged players to play for their sides.

The urge to win made coaches to coach unprofessional skills and behaviours that perhaps could lead them to success but are unproductive to rugby development. Therefore, the primary school rugby should focus on core skills development and perhaps organise competitions that are"performance based" rather than "outcome based".


Core skills development

It must be realised that the game of rugby is built on basics which are the nuts and bolts of rugby. Once you put the basics in place, you have to keep drilling them again and again until they become natural to you. You must also remember that there are a lot of repetitions involved, but that's the nature of the beast.

However, if you drift away from the core principles of catching, passing, running, spatial awareness, vision awareness and decision-making then you are in trouble. Once you stop practising these skills, even for the most talented, like most things in life, the skills fall away very quickly. Without these core skills in place, you have no chance of developing a free-flowing game. So therefore, you have to start from scratch and work on the individual core skills which include:

1. Ball handling skills include

* Lateral Pass

* Clearing Pass

* Spin Pass

Continuity skills in passing which include:

* Switch Pass

* Pop Pass

* Off-load (Off-tackle pass)

* Chest Pass (On the ground)

* Screen Pass (On contact situation)

Tactical skills and moves which include:

* Loop

* Miss pass

* Switch pass

* Dummy pass

2. Running skills

Develop an understanding of stability and balance

* Running styles

* Acceleration

* De-acceleration

* Change of pace

* Change of direction.

3. Evasion skills

Develop an understanding of evasion through

* Swerve

* Side-step

4. Decision-making skills.

Decision-making (DM), is the product of a process. It is the ability to analyse, formulate, and act on a situation (attack and defence). There are two types of DM that you would need to efficiently equip yourself with and these include:

* Analytical DM which is a strategic or tactical type of decision where a player has time to weigh up the situation, consider the various options open to him then make a decision and act on it.

* Intuitive DM. These decisions are made when a quick reaction is required, when there is no time to think about things, but when the player just reacts to what he sees, hears or feels.

5. Spatial awareness

"Use the space and let the ball do the work". You can be competent at passing, catching and tagging but if you are incompetent in space awareness then the ball won't do the work for you.

* It is the ability to be aware of oneself in space.

* Recognising space is a key skill at any level in rugby.

* Encourage players to look for space.

* Attack the space on the pitch.

* Find and exploit the space.

* Game situations like 4A v 3D are excellent drills for space awareness.

* Train players to look up, make the right decision to find the space and AVOID the contact.

6. Vision awareness

The ability of our players to react to what is around them and to make the correct decision is possibly the hardest thing to coach or instill in them.

The coaching idea is based on the use of coloured balls, cards and bibs to create an environment that the players will learn to look and react in.

The process is designed to make players start to use their eyes and react to "cues" we present to them.


Like other sports, Kaji rugby is not devoid of development problems (issues) that have impacted upon the long-term objectives of its development program. We would not be in a position to produce complete rugby union players to represent our country in the regional and international competitions if the current form of skills development and competitions continued.

However, first and foremost, a change in mind-set is crucial in order to bring about constructive changes to the development of our young budding players. Hereunder, are my views on these issues and as a rugby practitioner, I strongly believe they are unproductive and detrimental to the success of our development program.

"Win at all cost" mentality

* Leads to cheating and foul play

* Makes coaches to use big unskilled players (Liability to the team)

* Provides a competition that is outcome-based as opposed to performance-based.

* Focuses on winning instead of basic skills development.

"Big is better" phenomenon

Emphasises contact at an early age.

* Causes severe injuries to less-conditioned and less-physically matured players.

* Encourages contact rather than skilled play and good decision-making skills.

* Is a biological phenomenon that is counter productive to rugby development.

Early introduction of structure

* Stops free-flowing rugby.

* Imposes many rules and rituals to the game.

* Takes away the opportunities for enjoyment.

* Deprives players the chance to learn the core skills of rugby.

* Is a hindrance to rugby development.

Emphasis on contact

* Encourages "big is better" phenomenon.

* Deprives players of enjoyment.

* Causes severe injuries.

* Makes players look for contact instead of space.

* Does not help rugby development.


The advantages of non-contact rugby would include

* Physical inequalities are not exposed.

* Creates more opportunities for players to get their hands on the ball.

* Gains more experience at making passes under pressure.

* Provides opportunities for involvement which leads to fun and participation.

* Provides a platform for aerobic exercise which gives health benefits for all.

* Creates opportunities for the development of decision-making skills and spatial awareness.


If our Kaji rugby players are to prosper in future, our top priority should be the emphasis on core skills development. This core skills development program forms a solid and sustainable rugby platform on which we build our budding players to be skillful, confident, efficient and excellent decision-makers on the rugby pitch.

However, I strongly believe when the recommendations listed below are nationally implemented they will definitely add new dimensions to primary school rugby. These include emphasis on TAG rugby for a free-flowing game; provide opportunities for lots of fun and involvement, and a change in its current competition format from outcome-based to performance-based. Therefore, the future of Kaji rugby in Fiji would be exciting, enjoyable, and productive if it focuses on:

* Emphasis on core skills development.

* Reduction of structure where possible.

* De-emphasise contact.

* Change competition format (Performance-based instead of outcome-based).

* Implement tag rugby in the lower grade (eight — 10-year olds) competitions.

* Promote more female participations at primary school level (U11 and U12 age group)

* Conduct an academic research on schools rugby in collaboration with either USP or FNU.

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