When coaching our players, especially new ones, to improve their tackling technique I sometimes think a small, but vital step is missed in going through the basics of making an effective rugby tackle. Most of us get right these points absolutely spot on:
- approach dynamically; on toes, flexed and ready to react to the ball carrier’s sudden movements
- keep hands in close and sight the target (i.e. the hip)
- step in close (*… I’ll come back to this)
- drop low by bending at the knees, keeping back straight
- put head to the side, keeping it tight to the ball carrier’s body (usually, the hip / butt – “cheek to cheek” as we often say, ensuring the head is less susceptible to being bounced about – a common cause of tackle-induced concussions!)
- drive shoulder into ball carrier’s mid-section while wrapping tightly with both arms, preferably around the thighs
- continue to drive legs while holding on tightly to bring down the ball carrier, preferably landing on top
While forgetting any one or combo of these can result in a poor tackle, I want to focus on one missing element by addressing the case of the little player charged to bring down the bigger player. In these two clips, we see Eoin Reddan and Peter Stringer faced with having to tackle players much bigger than them.
[Videos have been deleted by the host. :( ]
In the first case, Reddan makes his first error by trying to take Tuilagi while flat footed! This is a crucial mistake in any defensive situation, let alone trying to take on someone practically twice your size, and a prime example of why I always tell my players to “attack on defence, never sit back and wait”. In in the second case, every time I watch I cannot understand why Stringer comes around to get in front of Roberts when he could have taken him much more easily from behind or the side. In both cases, the tacklers definitely are too high to take on players with such power and are not moving forward themselves with enough force to equalise, let alone over-power the ball carriers’ forward momentum. Smaller players can actually benefit from their stature in such situations as they should be able to use correct technique as outlined above to get LEVERAGE on and/or UN-BALANCE the ball carrier.
I would not advise every small player to try this particular tackle, but here’s a perfect example of how, despite being several inches shorter, Bryan Habana uses leverage to dump Mose Tuiali’i. As per the third item listed above (told you I’d get back to it!) he steps in close in order to do all the other good things. Not getting close is one of the main reasons players make ineffective ‘arm tackles.’ Following this is another good example of a tackler achieving leverage, this time Benson Stanley ‘attacking’ Vainikolo by stepping into him low and driving high.
A great analogy I’ve heard asks tacklers to imagine a hula hoop being at the feet of the ball carrier. To get close enough to be effective, tacklers are then asked to get one foot ‘inside the hoop’ while dipping, driving and wrapping. One school of thought says this foot should be put between the legs of the ball carrier, allowing the tackler to square up to them and drive them back. I don’t think this is wrong, because it can result in a good drive backwards (see my previous articles on why I’m not the biggest fan of dump tackles), but it’s not necessarily the best advice for a small player – without Habana’s strength – to take on a bigger player. Instead, players should be taking the first three points in the list more seriously and looking to get a better angle than ‘square on’ to UNBALANCE the ball carrier.
The dynamic and nimble approach allows the tackler to be ready for sudden movements. Keeping the hands in close and sighting the hip as the target provides focus for the hit. Stepping in close is again the goal, but the drive should not be straight back, but to the side of the shoulder making the hit. To me, this is a better tackle because not only will it throw the ball carrier off balance, away from his forward momentum, he won’t necessarily end up in the best position to lay the ball back to his team and there is less likelihood of the tackler being run over. In fact, the tackler should land on top of the ball carrier and be in a good position to jackal for possession. Notice in this clip how Contepomi has, first, a good angle on Chabal, and then does even better to recover as the big Frenchman steps inside. He finishes the tackle by going low and wrapping his legs. There’s even a tiny hint of a shoulder drive, which is enough, combined with the other elements, to put the bigger man off-balance.
Finally, have a look at this compilation of tackles from the recent women’s World Cup. Here were have many examples of tacklers knocking the ball carrier off-balance from the side rather than trying to take them square on. Even in the second last example, Amy Turner shows her incredible strength in dumping the Irish player, but the key elements which knocked the player off her feet was Turner’s ability to go from low to high to gain leverage and following through to drive sideways. The final example shows an incredible dump tackle by Maggie Alphonsi, and while this does not necessarily support my ‘from the side’ argument, the ball carrier is much bigger so she wraps the legs to take away her power and stability and finishes the hit levering from low to high.