When someone new to rugby watches a game on TV or goes training at their local club, they will hear a whole new set of clichés peculiar to the sport.

But what do they mean in practice?

This article will look at five of the most common.

1. “go through the phases” or “keep hold of the ball”

When you hear someone use this rugby cliché, they are suggesting the attacking team avoid kicks, risky passes, offloads or getting tackled without support. This should allow the attackers to keep the ball for longer. This tactic is often used as a way of tiring out the defence by forcing them to make lots of tackles. It is a good choice when playing against the wind, or when the opposition lineout is very strong.

2. “play for territory” or “play in the right part of the field”

This means the attacking team should kick the ball more often. The intention is to kick the ball deep into the opposition’s half of the field. The kicking team can then try to force a mistake and regain the ball. This tactic is very useful when your own lineout is very good or you have a strong wind at your back to make the kicks go further.

An example of playing for territory

3. “a two sided attack” or “a second playmaker”

Attacking in rugby is all about forcing the defender to make decisions. If they make the wrong choice, the attacking team has a chance to gain ground. Some players, known as playmakers, are very good at noticing when a defender is out of position or has to mark two attackers. These playmakers are then able to get the ball to a teammate in position to take advantage of the defender’s mistake.

If a team has playmakers on both sides of the breakdown, they can threaten the whole defensive line. It is much harder to stop their attacks. When you hear this rugby cliché, the speaker is making the obvious point that having several playmakers helps your attack.

Owen Farrell is a perfect example of a second playmaker. Playing outside George Ford for England gives them more options.
By Clément Bucco-Lechat, via Wikimedia Commons

4. “he/she needs to go looking for work”

This rugby cliché is usually directed at wingers who haven’t touched the ball for a while. To ‘look for work’, the winger should choose a teammate who gets the ball often. This can be the 9, 10 or any player who is a good ball carrier. The winger should wait nearby and support that teammate the next time they get the ball. Hopefully, the winger will receive an offload or a pass.

5. “you have to earn the right to go wide”

You often hear this rugby cliché from commentators on TV. They use it when a team is struggling to get around the outside of the defence. They are suggesting the attacking team should look to gain some ground and attract some more defenders before attempting to go around the defence again.

There are a lot more of these rugby clichés, and I love using them as much as anyone! Let me know your favourites in the comments.


Author: Daniel Pugsley

I am a 31 year old from Yorkshire, England. I have played social rugby for 25 years in England, Japan, Italy, Poland and the UAE. I teach English as a foreign language, which explains why I’ve lived in so many places. I recently moved back to England and have had to take a break from playing, but I hope to pull on the boots again soon.


  1. As a young player these were pounded into my head. As a forward who could kick I was utilized as a surprise territory kicker and had to learn the process of kicking, chasing, then rucking since I was still a forward. One saying that I despise is “Turn it on”. I thought you should have already been but it was the favorite saying of a coach of mine in college so I had nightmares of it.

    • Hi Connor, I have a couple of nice ones from my own teams too. One of the coaches when I was a little kid would always start the pre-match team talk with “big lads these, big lads”. One of the coaches of my team now loves to say “you have to be accurate with your passing” as though it might not occur to us. I might be accused myself of saying “don’t pass where he is now, pass where he’s going to be” a lot. When I played in Italy I used to say “senza piatti” all the time, which literally means without plates but I meant don’t stand so flat 🙂

        • Hi Superignazzio, I lived in Barletta, it’s not a tourist place so many of my team didn’t have great English. I was playing 10 for a team called Draghi BAT. Parlo italiano, ma non perfetto. I didn’t know how to ask the backs to stand deeper so I had a guess. They seemed to understand anyway!

  2. I absolutely loathe the word ‘dominate’. Especially when commentators use it, as if that’s how you win matches. Sure, it helps, but in the modern game you should be happy to take less than 50% territory, possession, line breaks etc. and still win. The All Blacks didn’t ‘dominate’ any of their last three matches, yet won convincingly. How well you use ‘opportunities’ is a far more useful generalisation of how your team is faring.

    • Hi Willem, that one grates on me too. Especially when they use it to mean one team had a slight advantage. I mean having 53% of the ball does not qualify as dominating possession!

  3. Some I use regularly at the U12’s

    “Use your support” – pass the ball!
    “Straighten up” – stop running across the pitch and actually attack.
    “Chase it” – stop admiring your kick and run after it.
    “Support him” – stop admiring how fast your winger is and go and help him.

    • Hi Paul, I can picture them now standing around picking noses and daydreaming while the winger gets chased down! Memories 🙂


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