by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
A critical aspect of rugby is continuity. To establish continuity there must be an effective securing of the ball between ball carrier and first supporting player. The act of securing these possessions, and therefore establishing continuity, is called linking. Linking can be defined as the act of securing and transferring, or allowing the transfer, of the ball to a supporting player(s) after the ball carrier has been tackled, stopped or otherwise not able to pass or offload the ball.
All players need to display competency in linking skills if their team is going to play with continuity. The ball carrier and first supporting player are responsible for owning the skills required in these subtle but important moments of a match.
Let’s look at the skills required of the ball carrier and first supporting player to create continuity from the stand-up tackle situation. Remember, this skill is utilized when the ball carrier is stopped by the defender and unable to pass or off load the ball on their own.
Ideally the ball carrier, when contact is inevitable, will employ some type of footwork to unseat the tackler. We call this a “wiggle”. A good wiggle will not allow the tackler to set their feet and drive through a tackle. A good wiggle can de-power the tackler so much that contact can then be taken on the ball carrier’s terms. Specifically, the wiggle allows the ball carrier to get onto the shoulder of the tackler and provide a better body profile for the first supporting player to put in a link.
After the ball carrier has “wiggled”, we ask for them to take the last step before contact close to the tackler’s body. This will allow the ball carrier to be able to roll over the lead leg knee and transfer their momentum and energy into the defender, thus creating separation between themselves and the tackler. This moment of separation is important in providing the ball carrier a chance to position their body at a quarter turn. We stress that the ball carrier not turn all the way around, ending up with their backs to the opposition. We have found that a quarter turn position provides the ball carrier with a much more powerful body position to be in while engaged in contact on your feet.
This body position keeps the ball carrier in a driving position, with feet headed toward the opposition’s tryline. With the ball safely removed to the opposite arm from which the tackle was exploded, this body position also allows the first supporting player (Link) a clearer target when linking the ball.
The role of Link has many distinct moments. The first of which is to communicate with the ball carrier that they are ready and available to assist in maintaining possession. Second, Link has to do everything possible to be on scene immediately in order to offer useable assistance. Better to be early than late when performing the role of the first supporting player. As the ball carrier wiggles and then explodes the tackle, the Link should have their shoulders down, eyes and palms up and be leading with the opposing shoulder to which the ball carrier has taken contact. The execution of these roles happens almost simultaneously during good support play.
Link should strive to make aggressive contact with the ball carrier and use their lead shoulder to create a vacuum seal with the chest of the ball carrier. This body position, combined with Link having their palms up during contact ensures that the possession is secure and the ball carrier and tackler continue to move toward the defender’s tryline.
Lastly, Link leverages their bodyweight through their lead shoulder to maintain a tight seal as the rip down on the ball. As this action takes place, Link should work to stay in the cell that has been created by the ball carrier’s body position. Link then has the option to pop a short pass to the half-back or other supporting players to continue the attack forward.
Regardless of your position on the field, all players need to own the skills necessary to link an attacking possession, whether you are the ball carrier or first supporting player. Possessing the techniques to be able to maintain possession is as important as being able to pass and catch.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) 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.
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The Barbarians are one of the top invitational rugby sides with a long history and classic rugby jersey.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Lions get ready for their matches with this green training jersey. It's what the players wear. Get in the Gear!
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The Lions are ready to get their Australia tour underway. They arrive in Perth on Monday.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.