Here at 360 Rugby, we are often asked “how can I improve my tackling and defending?”
This is always a popular question particularly amongst young players who are looking to develop their game or have noticed that tackling isn't a strong point (like myself).
Firstly, we need to look at our technique as having good technique will always give us a good base from which to build.
Talking of bases lets begin with our footwork and placement whilst tackling.
We want to aim to get our feet into a solid base which means having our bodyweight on the balls of our feet ready to explode with same foot and shoulder into the tackle i.e. left shoulder tackle, left foot should be closest on impact. This split position of the feet on impact allows us to drive through the tackle with the other foot creating a more powerful tackle. The height of your tackle can depend on several factors, position on the field, tackle focus (ball or chop tackle) and size difference between players.
Obviously, tackle height is a very popular topic right now in the world of Rugby and for good reason as we all want a safer game for everyone. It is very important that we get our tackle height right as getting is wrong has proven to be one of the main factors in players receiving concussions (Please do take the RFU Headcase (concussion) awareness course if you haven’t done so already)
A safe tackle height significantly improves our chances of not receiving a concussion.
As a guide I would always aim to land a tackle underneath where the ball carrier is carrying the ball. This usually means aiming for the thigh or upper leg of an attacking player. The reasons for aiming here are twofold. This height can make it difficult for the ball carrier to maintain control of the ball, especially if you are the bigger player and it also allows you some wiggle room if your tackle is not a dominant one; as you can hold your squeeze on the player and slide down to their ankles to stop forward momentum. Once you have these two elements nailed down you should be in pretty good stead.
So how can we improve your defending then? Personally, I think that being a good defender is more than just being able to put in big hits. Yes, big tackles help and they give your teams defence the advantage but, there are other ways to be an effective defender. Why not try some of these ideas in your next training session…
Closing down space
Sprinting up to meet the attack in defence is often associated with a Blitz defence but, this can also be used to your advantage in other parts of defence too. Closing the space between yourself and the attacker quickly puts their skills under pressure faster. You are challenging them to make decisions quickly, catch and pass under pressure (that’s a lot in a very short space of time!)
We always talk about putting defenders under pressure with overloaded numbers in attack or stretching the defence with wide passing. Now it’s your turn on defence to make it hard for the attackers by literally reducing the space they have to move. Don’t allow the attacker the time and space to pick their running line or perfect pass. Also, don’t forget that if you do sprint off the line in defence, the extra speed you are carrying will only help make a dominant tackle.
Communication is key in defence and being a good coordinator and organiser is a much needed skill. It is hard in the midst of a ruck or after being hit hard to remember to communicate and to keep scanning the attack to see where the next collision might come from. But, it essential if your defence is going to succeed!
Communication on the Rugby pitch, although may look like just a lot of shouting, is often quite specific. Players don’t have a lot of time in a game to shout long sentences so being able to give information in small manageable chunks is always a good idea.
For example, if you notice that the attack out weights the defence on right side of the field you might simply call ‘numbers right’ to call extra defenders to that area of defence. Just as your communication needs to be specific and to the point, it is also just as important for you to be a good listener and be able to react quickly to what is being said: this can be the difference between the opposition gaining ground or being out of position for the next phase of attack.
Attack the ball
Knock-ons and rips are a defensive bonus for you team, so why not try make these happen more often? When defending close quarters and a teammate is tackling the ball carrier, why not focus on ripping the ball or forcing a knock-on?
Ripping the ball.
When looking to rip the ball get both hands on the ball as quickly as possible then, if you can use your elbow for extra leverage, tear the ball away. If this isn’t possible, then a short and sharp twisting motion on the ball can often dislodge it.
Knock-ons often occur after a set of defensive pressure. So, as we mentioned earlier put the attackers skills under pressure and do this as quickly as possible. With extra speed in defence, you can change your tackle height and aim to dislodge the ball or at the very least, make an offload impossible which may allow a teammate the opportunity to rip the ball.
Once a tackle has been completed, we are still able to attack the ball… if you're quick. Once the tackled player is on the ground there is usually a small window of opportunity to ‘Jackle’ for the ball.
This is an excellent chance to get the ball back for your team or win a penalty.
A Jackler is essentially the first defending play over the top of the ball at the breakdown (tackle). The Jackler can, if there first, try to steal the ball from the tackled player, allowing for a turnover and the opportunity for a counter attack.
If you'd like to learn more about how to improve your tackling and defending why not head down to our free open day on June 4th - you can book your free place here.