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The below article originally found on the Guardian website (link here) and written by Gerard Meagher exemplifies Eddie Jones’ approach to tactical periodisation and how it aided England Rugby.
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Tactical periodisation, is a theory that combines the practising of skills, fitness and tactical and mental awareness in each training session, which is carried out at an intensity greater than during matches, so that the players learn to react quicker, or be sharper, at crucial points in games. Or as Eddie Jones puts it: “Every day we train a specific parameter of the game. We don’t do any extra fitness. It’s all done within those training sessions.”
It has been described as José Mourinho’s best-kept secret but it is another Portuguese, Vítor Frade, a lecturer who is credited with its invention – Mourinho and a number of football coaches, including his compatriot André Villas-Boas, are exponents of the technique. Jones, meanwhile, came across tactical periodisation when in charge of Japan and on a trip to Qatar, where he met the Spanish sports scientist Alberto Mendez-Villanueva in 2013.
Not long after introducing the training method to his Japan side, Jones was picking the brains of Pep Guardiola, at the time in charge of Bayern Munich. Jones said back then: “The soccer approach is called tactical periodisation, in which everything is done in preparation for the game and in order to be tactically aware.
“Rugby and soccer are very similar in that you always want to move the ball into space and Bayern Munich and his previous team Barcelona played the most fantastic passing game you have ever seen. The principles are exactly the same. The very best soccer teams vary their depth and formation in order to make the most of the space.”
Fast forward to September 2015 and Japan were putting those principles into practice in the greatest upset in international rugby union. South Africa’s plight since should not detract from Japan’s performance that day and, looking back, one of the more remarkable aspects of the victory was how Jones’s side stuck to the task of running the Springboks off their feet – that and, of course, their commitment to pursuing a match-winning try rather than opting for the penalty that would have earned the draw – a decision very much down to the players and the captain, Michael Leitch.
Such awareness was evident in Cardiff on 11 February. The execution of the winning try was nerveless and it cannot be a coincidence that lining up across the middle of the pitch, primed if Wales failed to find touch, were George Ford, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly – England’s three best footballers.
By the same token it is also not a coincidence that England have outscored their opponents by 83 points in the last quarter of matches since Jones took charge. Improved fitness – which England certainly appear to have, albeit not necessarily to the extent Jones has previously claimed – will take you only so far.
There were, of course, the decisions to kick for the corner against Wales and to go for goal against South Africa in 2012 but Lancaster’s tenure was also defined by near misses. Consider the execution of Daly’s try and the example, also against Wales, of David Strettle’s last-gasp disallowed effort at Twickenham in 2012 and it is evident that back then England did not display the kind of sangfroid they do now.
It would be wrong to say that England’s Six Nations victories over France and Wales were exclusively down to tactical periodisation and it certainly helps to begin the tournament with the feeling of defeat such a distant memory. However, it is interesting nonetheless to consider how Jones very rarely sends first-team players back to their clubs unless necessary, placing so much more faith in England’s training sessions over domestic competition.
The jargonistic nature of tactical periodisation may not be everyone’s cup of tea but 15 straight wins under Jones is strong evidence of its success.
Tactical periodisation: an explanation
What are the key principles behind the training method? To combine the practising of skills, tactical and mental awareness and fitness to prepare players and improve decision-making for in-game scenarios.
To do so at an increased intensity to improve fitness and prepare players for the latter stages of matches.
What do the experts say about it? José Mourinho has said: “Our daily concerns are directed to make operational our game model. However, the structure of the training session and what to do each day is not only related to the tactical objectives but also with physical fitness to be prioritised.” Dylan Hartley, meanwhile, said: “We train fast and it’s not just helter skelter or unstructured. It’s all planned and researched so we create these training sessions that are harder than a game. It gives us confidence knowing we have trained to a greater intensity.”