Fends: Power through contact

From Rob Appleyard former Wales international rugby union player, former assistant coach to the Wales national under-20 rugby union team, defence coach to Newport Gwent Dragons.

As a ball carrier approaches a defender he wants to keep the ball away from the grasping hands that prevent offloads and slow down placement.

Today, I want to look at footwork and body height, allowing the ball carrier to use his fend.

First, the ball carrier has to engage the defender – that is make him sit down ready to make a tackle. Then the ball carrier has to power past the defender, moving to his edges.

You may well have heard of the expression, “go for the branches, not the tree”. That holds true at all levels of the game.

The power step is, in fact, two steps. The first step moves the attacker diagonally to the side of the defender. The second step straightens him up again to squeeze through the gap.

Unlike a dancer who keeps himself upright and balanced, a rugby player has
to lower his body height. This is so the player can resist contact more effectively, leaning forward in the process.

It is easy to see which players achieve this change in body height because they are continuing forward, even if they are taking a bash from a defender (and a ruck pad holder in training).

With good ball manipulation, the ball carrier can now use his inside arm to fend off the defender. This helps create space between the defender and the ball, allowing the ball carrier to potentially offload.

Therefore, the procedure for the ball carrier receiving the ball close to contact,
is: Catch, transfer and lock the ball on the outside; power step and fend.

The mindset for the ball carrier and his supporters, so they can be in the best position for the offload, is the inside fend and outside offload. This is where the ball carrier can “cat-flap” the ball. That is, pass out of the back of his hand.

The supporting players aim to flood through if the ball carrier wins the collision.

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