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Defensive tackle

The defensive tackle (Passive tackle)

Most tackles are neutral or passive and yet we continue to teach the dominant tackle. What we in the community game have to realise is we are not dealing with professional athletes.  It also means when we go to a training or workshop many of the activities and coaching is based on what the BIG boys and girls are doing.

In many studies of the rugby tackle the smother tackle dominates the number of tackles made, with passive a close second. That means that the tackler concedes some ground after the impact.

The smother technique has on average the lowest impulse (force in a given time) per tackle and therefore the technique with the least chance of injury. It doesn’t take much then to realise that the passive tackle has less force than a dominant one.

The front-on defensive tackle is seen more and more in our game when a bigger ball-carrier who has built up a head of steam runs at a smaller tackler. (Especially around the large number of rucks we have now).

The ball-carrier is likely to win the contact/space, but “soaking up” their momentum by bringing them down on your side of the gain-line is much safer and to be honest, not at all that bad!

In a defensive shoulder tackle—the tackler's shoulder is still the first point of contact – it just removes leg drive and forward momentum.


Developing the front-on defensive tackle.


  • Start by teaching the tackler to fall correctly in a passive tackle. Have them on their knees and fall back to their left, keeping their elbows tight into his sides. Then repeat on the other shoulder. Do five on each side.  Then do standing in a crouch position - repeat on each side.
  • Now put a ball-carrier in front of the tackler. Have the tackler on their knees, but this time they hold tightly around the carrier with their head tight on one side of the ball- carrier and fall back – still grasping tightly the ball-carrier.
  • Next, have the tackler on their haunches, fall back and inside foot between the ball-carrier’s feet.
  • Have the ball-carrier fall forward, over the front foot of the tackler, so that the tackler lands with their head on top of the ball-carrier’s torso. Repeat several times on each side. Soak up the momentum and let the carrier fall over your shoulder.
  • Mark out a 2m square box.
  • Have the players walk towards each other in the box to perform the tackle.
  • Increase the pace as the players become more confident.


  • Don’t turn the head away from the tackle – keep the eyes open and focus on getting the head tight into the ball carrier’s hip.
  • Turn ball-carrier so they are not going to land on you.


  • Put two attackers at each corner of a 2m square box and a defender in the middle of the other end. The attackers pass the ball between each other. When coach say “go”, the current ball-carrier walks or jogs through the box.
  • The defender steps forward and makes a passive front-on tackle so the ball-carrier falls forward. Having two attackers means the defender will practise tackling with both their left and right shoulder.

Key Factors


  • The tackler targets the opposition player’s waist. They need to get low in order to get under any potential hand off.

Keep moving!

  • The tackler keeps moving forward and has to get in front of the ball-carrier. Just before contact they should set themself in a strong crouched position with one foot slightly in front of the other.

Face up

  • The face stays up, with the eyes looking at the target until contact is made.

Shoulder, head, arms

  • Contact is made with the shoulder. The head tucks in tight to the stomach/legs and the arms form a tight band round the waist/legs.

Roll back

  • From the strong crouch position just before contact, the tackler rolls back using the ball-carrier’s momentum to bring them to ground.