Rugby Tackling Tips & Drills

The main reason for tackling during a game of rugby is to gain turnover ball.

Correct tackling technique is a vitally important part of defensive rugby, and coaching proper tackling techniques gives players of all sizes and abilities the confidence they need to take the ball carrier down.

Many young rugby players struggle to tackle when faced with strong or fast opponents, coaching proper technique and with the correct rugby defensive drills even the smallest players can tackle well.

Tackling advice for coaches

When teaching tackle skills make sure to reinforce the following simple technique:

Head up, Eyes Open, Spine in Line

Before the tackle is made the eyes are open and the head is up; the tackler needs to sight and track the target until contact is made. When the head engages it should be to the side (cheek to cheek) or behind the tackler to cushion the fall. If the head is down the tackler can miss his target and increase his risk of spinal injury.

Make Contact with the Shoulder

This is the first point of contact followed by the arms that need to wrap tightly around the attacker. The general rule of thumb is to approach a tackle using the leg closest to the attacker; left leg, engage with the left shoulder, etc.

Start out with tackle bags and with tacklers on their knees with the ball carrier walking into the tackle until the player has mastered the basics.

Try getting the tackler to hold tennis balls during the tackle, to encourage them to engage the shoulder and wrap the arms, rather than use their arms only. Be sure to emphasize head and shoulder placement.

Explode from the knees

The knees are the driving force in a tackle. They should be bent in preparation for the tackle with his centre of gravity poised to drive through the tackle area.

Toe to toe

The closer the big toe is to the tackle, the more likely the shoulder is to engage and make a good tackle.Train players to engage the toe and the same side shoulder closest to the ball carrier.

Try this tackling drill

This simple 3-point tackling drill will help to improve tackling skills using both shoulders. You will need a ball, 1 agility pole, and 3 cones.

  • Set out the cones and agility pole in a diamond shape, and get the 3 players to form up behind each of the cones.
  • One player takes the ball and when the coach calls runs around the agility pole and goes back to where he started from.
  • When the player gets back to the cone he is tackled side-on by one of the side-on waiting players.
  • The defender secures the ball after making the tackle and runs around the agility pole, and when he gets back to the centre he is tackled by one of the players who is waiting behind the cone in front.
  • The tackler secures the ball, runs around the agility pole, and is tackled by a player at the centre.
  • Continue this defensive drill until each player has had a turn to tackle and run with the ball around the agility pole, making sure the tackling players follow correct technique at every tackle.

Tackling advice for rugby players

For senior rugby players tackling is one of the most important technical components of game and as with younger player biggest players are not always the best tacklers. Below are a few guide-lines to give you as a player the edge in your next game.

  • Step to the side. A simple way to gain a physical and psychological advantage over the player you are about to tackle is to step slightly to one side as he runs towards you. Standing still means the attacking player can choose to run straight through the tackler using a hand off or dropped shoulder. Taking a step to the side takes away that attacking advantage.
  • Try to make the tackle as early as possible. An attacking player is more vulnerable as they catch a pass or pick up the ball from the ground, once they gain momentum they will be harder to tackle.
  • Forget about the ball until the tackle is made.
  • Keep your focus on being as balanced as possible with a strong centre of gravity. When tackling remember that the faster the attacker is moving the lower you will need to go to make an effective tackle.
  • Commit 100% to the tackle. You are more likely to become injured with a half-hearted attempt at a tackle. Make sure you grab hold of the attacker, even if you cannot bring him down straight away you give your team mate a chance to come in and help and there is more chance of the attacker knocking the ball on or making a bad pass.
  • Effective communication with your team mates when bring down really big or skilful players is important.

Referee guidelines when tackling

As a junior referee the rules around tackling are designed to keep the players on the field safe and encourage a free-flowing game. The following guide-lines apply when refereeing a game:

The tackler –

      • Can only tackle the ball carrier.
      • Can only tackle in the field of play.
      • Must release the tackled player once they are on the ground.
      • Must move away from the ball and tackled player.
      • Can only play the ball once they are on their feet again.

The tackle –

        • To be “tackled” the ball carrier must be held on the ground or on another player on the ground by one or more opponents.

The person being tackled –

      • Must avoid positioning their body in a way that stops the other team from taking possession.
      • Must release or pass the ball.
      • Must move away from the ball and not block the opposition from taking the ball.