by Tom Billups
Defense wins championships. Over the years, prominent coaches have said so, but how is this applicable to our game of rugby?
First, let’s review why defense is so pivotal. With the advent of professionalism, the game of rugby has evolved greatly over the last decade.
Defensive strategies have become more and more sophisticated with the influx of cross-over athletes and coaches from rugby league. In rugby league, defenses have been emphasized and scrutinized for decades. The cross-over personnel have produced a new emphasis on being able to stop attacking teams from advancing the ball.
Additionally, there has been a lot of conversation within international circles about various defensive schemes that are being employed such as the slide, drift and rush defences. Little has been said about the skills required to be a good individual defender within these systems.
I contend it will not matter what defensive scheme a team employs if the individuals in that scheme are poor tacklers. It seems such a straightforward principle, yet many teams fail to appreciate that individual tackling skill is required to be successful.
The first and most important factor to being a good tackler is technique. Rugby is a contact sport, not a collision sport. The technical difference between an American football tackle and a rugby tackle is that you must wrap your arms around the ball carrier when in the act of tackling in rugby. In football, this seldom happens. More often, you see players launch themselves at the feet or legs of the opposition. Wrap? Football players think that is something you eat. Needless to say, there is coaching work to be done with American football players who take up rugby to prevent injuries due to poor tackle technique.
Safe and effective tackling technique includes having your head up and behind the ball carrier’s legs, not across the front of the attacker.
Once you have learned and trained safe and proper tackle technique, (head up, head behind), we need to confirm that we are tackling using a strong wrap technique (using our arms) at or just below the ball carrier’s waistline. To accomplish this, the tackler has to be able to move their feet to be able to put themselves in the position to make a safe and effective tackle.
Technically sound defenders are the building blocks of any defensive strategy. This gives rise to another coach’s favorite: a team is only as good as it’s weakest link.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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