Improve support by increasing individual skills

Tom Brocklebank , Leicester Tigers junior academy coach, suggests that teams lose the ball at the breakdown because players don’t look after the ball. Use competitive activities with consequences to improve their contact skills.

If you find your team lose the ball at a breakdown, it might be because either they’re too late to compete or they aren’t able to get in a position to compete effectively. Instead of trying to improve the speed and ability of the support, first consider whether each of your players has the individual ball-carrying skills to allow your help to succeed.

An example session shows how you can introduce and build on these skills.


At the end of your warm-up, include some grappling to get your players used to working on the ground against an opponent. In pairs, players kneel and face each other, one arm on their partner’s shoulder and the other on their partner’s waist holding their top. On “go”, the players aim to ‘pin’ their partner by being on top of them. Players continue to fight to be on top until you call “time” or “stop”, usually after about 15-20 seconds—swap partners and repeat for about 5 minutes.


We use an activity similar to King of the ring exercise from previous Rugby Coach Weekly newsletters, but favouring the attacker with the scoring system.

Split into pairs. Players set up a 5x5m square between the 5m line and the try line. Players get one go each at attacking their partner.

The attacker starts on the 5m line, and the defender starts on the try line. The attacker receives 5 points if they score a try over the try line, and the defender aims to stop them from scoring either by completing a tackle or forcing them out of the square.

This means each player gets the chance to get a maximum of 5 points.

If they draw, then rock, paper, and scissors to decide.

The winner moves up to the next square; the loser moves in the opposite direction; make sure to agree on which approach with the players before you start.

You will be looking for success in four points:

  1. The attacker moving forwards towards the try line.
  2. Using footwork to evade contact.
  3. Attempting to fend off the defender before contact.
  4. Fighting with leg drive when in touch.

The main focus will be on the fight in contact, which will lay the foundations for good support. Trying to stay on their feet and delaying the completion of the tackle while gaining more ground will give their team time to support them and make the defence move backwards, making it harder for them to compete at the breakdown.

Suppose you find that the players succeed at the first three but struggle to fight in contact. Regress the session to the attacker and defender starting in the centre of the square, the defender on one knee with hands grasped on the attacker’s shirt to simulate the beginning of the tackle. Using the same aims and scoring as before, this starting position forces the attacker to use leg drive to gain ground.


Next, we will test those skills in small groups, allowing the players to see how those skills can affect support. We can do this with a game of support circles.

Get the players into groups of five with four cones and a ball. Each group needs to set up a 10x10m square.

Play three attackers versus two defenders.

One defender passes the ball to an attacker who attacks and gets tackled by a defender. Then the second attacker and second defender compete at the breakdown.

The third attacker then picks up the ball and continues; the first defender should be back on their feet in time to tackle the third attacker.

This repeats until the attackers have scored or the ball goes dead. Switch the sides around and repeat.

Again you’ll be looking for forward movement, footwork to evade contact, fend before contact and fight in contact.

This practice will highlight any players who need additional support with fighting in contact and allow you to begin to link support to the four skills we’ve focused on.


Finally, play a game with standard rugby laws except for awarding a penalty to the opposition if an attacker doesn’t show the four skills focused on earlier in the session.

Be ready to adjust the size and shape of the pitch to increase the opportunity for the players to show their skills. Click here to find out more about how you could do this.

For example, if there aren’t many tackles being made or players are evading contact, make the pitch narrower.

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