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The Breakdown

The tackle/ruck aspect of the game requires a clear understanding of the laws by coaches and players and a desire by the coaches to teach the technical skill base which abides by the laws of the game, if the game is to flow at the contact zone and not be inundated with penalties and stoppages.

The following laws should be understood.

  • Tackler [Law 14] 14.5 – must a) immediately release the ball and the ball-carrier after both players go to ground and b) Immediately move away from the tackled player and from the ball or get up.
    [Once a tackle is complete the tackler may contest possession providing the tackler is on their feet, has shown a clear release of the ball and tackled player, and arrives from the direction of the goaline.]
  • Ball Carrier [Law 14] 14.2 – Being brought to the ground means the ball carrier is lying, sitting or has at least one knee on the ground or on another player who is on the ground.
    [Ball carrier must place or play the ball immediately – the ball carrier is not allowed to make a second movement such as rolling, crawling, bouncing etc]
    14.5 – Tacklers must allow the tackled player to release or play the ball.
  • First arriving player [Law 15] 15.11 – Once a ruck has formed no player may handle the ball unless they were able to get their hands on the ball before the ruck formed and stay on their feet.  15.12 – Players must endeavour to stay on their feet throughout the ruck.
  • First arriving player – the Jackler – will be rewarded, and the concept of the jackler ‘surviving the clear out’ by opposition players will be removed. The jackler must be in a strong position to try and lift with hands on the ball.
  • Other Arriving Players [Law 15] 5 – An arriving player must be on their feet and join from behind their offside line. 6 – A player may join alongside but not in front of the hindmost player.  10 – Possession may be won by either rucking or by pushing the opposing team off the ball.
    [Encourage arriving players to drive and bind to opponents rather than driving or tackling them].
  • Ruck [Law 14] – is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet and in physical contact, close around the ball, which is on the ground.

If coaches study these laws then they can develop their coaching strategies and implement the appropriate technical aspects in to their coaching programme.

At any level the message is the same. The first two players in each team are the key.

If you are the tackler get to your feet as quickly as possible and either jackal the ball if it is available or counter-ruck if opponents have arrived.
If you cannot get to your feet then you must release the player and roll away – not towards the opposing halfback – and quickly get in to the defensive line.

If you are the first arriving defensive player you will attempt a jackal if the ball is available or you will clean out the opponent protecting the ball. Being first to the tackle is the key.

If you are the tackled player you will attempt to recoil backwards and place the ball immediately on hitting the ground.
If you are the first arriving player you will bind on your team mate so that you cannot be driven off the ball. This means you need to beat the opposition in to the tackle zone over the ball. If you are not first you must clear out the player going for the ball.

When the coach has the players carrying out these roles, they should apply some strategies.

Tacklers – tackler around the legs. Second man on to the ball. Third man deciding – counter-ruck / take up defensive position as per the team plan.
Ball carriers – ball carrier shift the defender so that the carrier drives through a gap. Set the ruck or pop a pass to supporting runner. First arriving player start behind the ball carrier and react accordingly – burst on to the pop pass / bind on the tackled player to protect the ball. Second arriving player – support the ball carrier from the pop pass / clear out tackler - pick & go – pick and pass …

Strategies and numbers in the breakdown zone will depend on the type of players available, the coaching strategies and the weather.

The breakdown aspects need to be clear to each individual. Coaches should focus on the two attackers and two defenders to start with. Each player’s technical requirements should be broken down and taught.
Tackler:  go forward – crouch – eyes up – short steps to get in to balance – elbows in – get the feet in close – drive the shoulder on to the target area (ankles/above knee/midriff & ball) – drive the arms through - keep pumping the legs – squeeze the arms together – land; release; get up – jackal or counter ruck
2nd tackler: react to what is happening – same approach – finish the tackle by driving the attacker backwards and/or taking control of the ball – stay on feet and get over the ball for the jackal if it is available – clear out the area if ball not accessible.

Ball carrier: step and drive – low body – control of ball – pumping legs – dominate the fall so free to recoil from hips and place ball back or ready to pop.
First support: start in the pocket behind the ball carrier – call if you want an offload – get in to the crouch position – stay on feet and bind on to team mates jersey so that you are secure and cannot be driven away.

A more detailed explanation of the technical aspects can be found in the ‘RugbyToolbox’. For example: best technique for getting off the ground quickly / ball carrier and ball presentation.