5 Ways to improve your defence in rugby


Posted by Will Hinch - 08 November, 2016


All great teams are built on solid defence. Cast your eye over the best teams ever to grace the 15-a-side code, and each of them posses disciplined, skilled players drilled in their defensive duties.

To help you pick the brains of some of the game's elite defensive specialists, we delved into the Rugby Coach Academy to bring you five pointers to bring into your team's defence this weekend.

For more from the likes of Dan Carter, Eddie Jones and Shane Williams, head to Pitchero Coach Academy.

The breakdown on defence - Richie McCaw

Dominator of the breakdown in each of his 148 test caps, New Zealand legend Richie McCaw has more knowledge than anyone on the planet when it comes to dominating even when defending.

Conrad Smith attacking cut plays in rugby quote
Before diving into any breakdown, a defender needs to asses whether they should be assisting at all. Spotting an opportunity at the breakdown comes down to seizing on gaps between opposition support players. Is the ball carrier isolated? If so, it may be a chance for you to jump in and exert pressure on the ball. If not, it may be best to join your defensive line and prepare for the next phase.

If you're committed to the breakdown – consider your intentions. Is there an opportunity to steal the ball, or are you hoping to slow the ball down for the opposition? Good decision making is the key to defending at the breakdown.

Get more from Rugby's greatest minds in the Rugby Coach Academy.

Defensive scrum roles - Craig Newby

Sticking with the All Blacks, Ex-international Craig Newby highlights communication as a key facet of defending a scrum from numbers 6-9.

Conrad Smith attacking cut plays in rugby quote
Establish who is marking who before the scrum takes place, organising yourself accordingly. As a general rule of thumb, the flanker should always be hitting the first man – with the number 8 in support on the inside.

In certain scenarios, Craig brings the number 9 into the defensive line, using them to keep the first attacker busy.


Get more from Rugby's greatest minds in the Rugby Coach Academy.

The front tackle - Wayne Smith

Advice on the more intricate details of the game are welcome, but without a solid tackling technique the opposition will cut through you with ease.

Conrad Smith attacking cut plays in rugby quote
Wayne Smith highlights the key tenants of tackling the opposition front on. On impact, thrust the same shoulder and foot forward into the tackle (depending on which side you're tackling). Use small, balanced steps as you rush forward to maintain power on impact.

A well executed tackle can turn defence into attack in an instant – so don't neglect it's importance during training.

Get more from Rugby's greatest minds in the Rugby Coach Academy.

Midfield defence drill - Conrad Smith

Backs are often left defending quick, fleet-footed opposition – so decision has to be fast and accurate. New Zealand centre Conrad Smith has the perfect drill for helping backs make better decisions when defending.

Practice in two-on-one, attack-vs-defence drills that force a defender to cover two attacking scenarios at once.

Conrad Smith attacking cut plays in rugby quote
Feeding either the front runner or using them as a decoy to flip the pass out wide, the solo defender must get his positioning spot on in order to cover both eventualities.


Get more from Rugby's greatest minds in the Rugby Coach Academy.

Defence alignment and basic structure - Brendon Ratcliffe

For youth sides, teaching the basics of good defensive structure is key. Brendon Radcliffe, ex-coach at Northampton Saints and Hawkes Bay, begins with controlling a 1-on-1 situation with an attacker.

Ensure players are aware of the need to avoid approaching head on. Remain in control by approaching on the inside shoulder, forcing the ball carrier into areas where you have numbers.

Conrad Smith attacking cut plays in rugby quote
When introducing a basic defensive structure, ensure the key messages of individual tackling techniques and understanding which attacker they're responsible for are reinforced at all times.

Get more from Rugby's greatest minds in the Rugby Coach Academy.

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Topics: Coaching, Rugby League, Rugby Union

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