Archive for September, 2013


 Key Concepts:

  • Quick re-alignment
  • High work rate off the ball
  • Build from the inside-out
  • Communicate responsibility early

 Hopefully, establishing continuity in defence is not something that has to be sustained for a long period. Remember, the aim is to get the ball back as soon as possible. The defending team can initiate pressure on an attacking team with aggressive ‘go-forward’ but current law interpretations favour the attacking side at the tackle contest. Defenders must therefore establish continuity – re-building their defensive line as quickly as possible – to halt the attacking side’s momentum (i.e. their own continuity!) and find their chance to force a turnover. Two simple words provide all the focus needed in establishing continuity: Work Rate! The defending team must work harder off the ball than the attacking team to present them with an unbroken and layered defensive line. This will allow them a better chance at stealing the ball, forcing a mistake or causing the attacking team to kick possession away.

 Several factors dictate that building the defensive line from the inside-out is the best course of action. Quite simply, the touch line acts as the ever-present ’16th defender’ and it takes time to move the ball away from the tackle contest, so there’s more time to adjust out wide. Most importantly, though, we want to deny the attacking team the ability to simply pick and go or snipe around the fringes of the tackle contest. Significant gains in ground here cause confusion as there isn’t as much time to react as when the ball is moved wide. Offsides are also likely when the attacking team’s continuity is consistent and the rate of recycling possession high. Defenders panic and get drawn in, both physically and with their attention (i.e. ‘ruck inspecting’ – looking inward and not at what’s going on in front), creating opportunities out wide for subsequent phases. As such, defending players should shore up the gaps around a tackle contest and then adjust to what’s going on elsewhere. A typical ruck defence structure, including second and third layers of defence, looks like this:

DEF - Ruck Defence

The space around the tackle contest is protected by A and B defenders – As tight to both sides to defend the seam and Bs within arm’s reach. The C defender marks the obvious first receiver, completing a strong defensive unit of three that covers the space between the two half backs. Typically, A pressures the person who plays the ball, C marks the first receiver, and B forms the link between the two, acting as a guard against the offload, inside passes, or cut backs.

It’s important that these defenders form up on-side quickly, communicating their responsibilities loudly so that everyone else can follow suit and nominate their responsibilities out wide. Continuity is established through speed of communication and each individual working hard to get into position before the attackers can move the ball. To build the defensive line quickly, wider defenders have to trust that the interior ones are in position and have the emerging threats in front of them covered. Without communication and trust, defenders can focus too much on the tackle contest area – bunched up around it, or with heads / bodies turned inward, ignoring threats out wide. They might also mistakenly assume the fringes are covered, focusing on what’s in front of them, but leaving easily exploitable gaps inside where line breaks can be more difficult to contain. The beauty of establishing continuity using A-B-C to build the defensive line is that it can be communicated clearly and quickly. The logical sequence reduces confusion over terminology for individual roles (compared to: post, pillar, guard, body guard, lead, action, etc.) and that means this information is processed quickly by team mates who can take up the next logical position in the line. It also highlights that whatever defensive strategy you want to employ, three players form a nice support unit that can stop most strikes and win the ball back in the tackle contest.

Continuity Games

DEF - Ruck Scramble

DEF - Defence Stations

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There’s a North American sports cliché that sometimes gets bandied about in rugby circles as well that defence wins championships. While it’s true that league and World Cup finals tend to be low-scoring affairs, I believe that this is as much – if not more so – about teams playing low-risk rugby and opting to play the territory game with the boot as it is about the two best defensive teams being locked in an unforgiving stalemate. Mine is a simple philosophy that maintaining possession and executing a determined, coordinated attack wins games. If we keep the ball and score more points, we win. Simple as that. I spend a lot of time teaching players how to attack using the principles of going forward with determination and intelligence, maintaining continuity and support through effort and communication off the ball, and keeping the pressure on the defensive team such that they aren’t able to get organised and focused on stopping us. If defence truly does win championships in rugby, it’s not just about defending one’s goal line, successful teams use those same four principles against the attacking side to win possession back from them.

 Going Forward

 Key Concepts:

  • Deny time and space
  • Make contact on our terms
  • Keep attackers in front

 In attack, going forward gives us the initiative and ability to determine play on our terms. The same is true in defence: we deny the opposition time and space to attack by taking it away. I challenge players to ‘attack’ on defence; never sit back and wait, as the team in possession will step around and/or pick their gaps. It’s also poor tackling technique to sit on one’s heels and simply take the hit, and that’s if the ball carrier doesn’t simple step around the frozen defender. I hear a lot of coaches at various levels these days yell “Line speed!” to their teams – urging them to come up quickly. I’m of the mind that this speed can be varied depending on the situation, but generally speaking quicker is better so long as the group in front of the ball is coordinated. I’m avoiding the word ‘flat’ here as I don’t believe it has to be rigidly so as long as the unit in front of the ball is relatively level and aren’t offering gaps that can be exploited. If an individual or unit comes up too fast, a clever distributor can fire a long pass behind or over the line to a well-timed strike runner, or kick behind them. Too slow, however, and the attacking unit will have plenty of space and time to dictate play on their terms. I urge teams to ‘attack’ on defence, coming forward quickly, but ensuring there are no individuals lagging behind or shooting up early (unless we have a numerical advantage and can pull off a spot tackle or interception). Lastly, coming forward in defence offers a better chance of keeping the attackers in front. Having to turn or chase to make a tackle isn’t as ideal as squaring up and completing a dominant tackle that gives us a better chance to steal the ball.




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