Watch and copy: Five World Cup skills and tactics for curious coaches

The World Cup is an excellent TV free-to-air opportunity to see all the best national teams in action. Since each coach will be aiming to gain an edge in key elements of the game, you can share, via clips or just watching a game back, what matters to your team and then help them implement those skills and tactics.

Let’s look at areas which can be developed for all levels of the game, so you can choose what to look out for.

1. Ball retention after the tackle

After the tackle, the ball carrier needs to remain active. That makes it more difficult for a defender to steal the ball. We call that defender the “jackler”.

Different players will use a variety of methods to be busy on the ground. That depends on the type of tackle, but also the flexibility of the player.

Watching notes

  • Note how players respond when they land on the ground, and which bits of their body they use. So, if they are held by their legs, they work the upper body. And if they are tackled higher, they need to use their leg drive.

Key takeaway

  • Can you create different ways to challenge the players to move and place the ball after the tackle?

2. Removing the post-tackle options for the ball carrier

Defenders know that attackers will be busy after they’ve been tackled. The best tacklers will turn the ball carrier so they land on their back. That exposes the ball to the next defender to the tackle area.

Watching notes

  • To give the tackler more chance to make the turn, they need to stay on their feet throughout the TACKLE. Some coaches will call it the “chop and top”.
  • Watch what the best defenders do to get the ball carrier to ground AND turn them.

Also, the tackler should hold onto the ball carrier as long as the referee allows. The bodyweight and tight grip will slow down the ball carrier’s options to place the ball.


Watching notes

  • See how different players tackle, who they are tackling and how they adjust their tackle to give them to best outcomes.

Key takeaway

  • Can you challenge your players to finish the tackle with the ball carrier on their back?

It’s noticeable that the choke tackle is back in fashion. This tackle holds up the ball carrier, so they can’t get their knees OFF the ground.

Watching notes

  • See how the first tackler probably goes low, but keeps on their feet so THEY can prevent the ball carrier dropping down. The next tackler then locks onto the ball.

It was noticeable in the warm-up games, Ireland used the choke tackle six times, leading to the three turnovers.

Key takeaways

  • Which sides are using the choke tackle and when?
  • Also, note, it is not a tactic that you suddenly introduce into your repertoire. It needs to be part of your team’s DNA. Once established, you may use IT one week, and not the next.

3. Ice and fire at the ruck

There will be a variety of defence structures on show during the World Cup. However, I doubt that sides will be adopting the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby team recent style of leaving a space at the side of the ruck.

Watching notes

  • Watch out for how many players are inside the player marking the opposition fly-half. Some teams will have three, some four. It will depend on what sort of attack they might expect.

After a tackle is made, defending sides need to decide whether to compete for the ball, or step back into the defensive line.


Watching notes

  • From fast ruck ball, where the defence is out of position, then you might see one of the following types of tactic.
    • Tier 2 teams will probably not compete at the breakdown. It’s too risky. Instead they will spread out across the field and keep as many players on their feet as possible.
    • More established teams might gamble at the ruck. The first defender on their feet might go for the ball. However, it will still be only two players involved: the tackler and the jackler.

Wales, for example, will aim to mess up the speed of the ball, with the tackler and first arriving defender aiming to make the most nuisance of themselves as they can (legally, of course).

In some teams, you might see the 9 calling whether he judges there to be a chance to turn over the ball. In which case, he will call “fire” for example. That means more defenders going into the ruck to drive the attack back. Otherwise, he will call “ice” and the defenders will leave the ruck alone.

Key takeaways

  • What is your tactic to defend from quick ruck ball?
  • Do you gamble with another defender, or simply “ice” and leave the ball alone?

Some teams will have a player who has a free licence to jump out of the line of the defender. For example, watch how Dan Biggar rushes out of the line to get into the passing channels of the attacking team. Another Welshman, Jon Davies is very adept at taking an outsider receiver as he takes the pass. It requires good timing.

Watching notes

  • Which defenders will jump out of the line? When did they do it and what cues did they use to make that decisions?

However, most teams will play to a system that the defensive coaches believe works for them, as opposed to a system that suits their players. That works well at the top level. At lower levels, your defensive system should be, at the very least, consistent and easy to understand. Remember that, from week-to-week you will have players coming in or out of the side, and it will be difficult to make adjustments for each match.

Key takeaways

  • Do you have a consistent, well-understood system that works for your team?
  • Within that system, if you have one player who is very good at reading the play, are you brave enough to give them free rein to jump out of the line?

4. The lineout maul to score

When there is a penalty in kicking range, do you gamble with a chance for a lineout instead?

Watching notes

  • It will be interesting to watch which sides will go for the kick to touch rather than three points. Inevitably it comes down to the following factors:
    • Penalty kicking percentages.
    • Accuracy of your kicker to the corner.
    • Stage and score in the match.
    • Whether you have a strong lineout maul to score.

Key takeaway

  • Have your team leaders discussed what the possibilities are beforehand, to help them make a calmer decision in the heat of the match.

Defending the lineout can mean you challenge for the ball with a jump, or remain on the ground to compete more effectively at the subsequent maul.

Watching notes

When you are defending a lineout maul to score, watch what teams do to prevent a score. For example, some teams try to have one of the players work their way around the back of the maul while retaining their bind.

How do they do that while still presenting a positive picture to the referee?

Two more common ways you will be more likey to see:

  1. The drive at the moment the jumping pod puts the jumper onto the ground. This is the weakest time as the lifters haven’t taken a strong body position. Timing needs to look good to the referee.
  2. Creating a front row of four players in scrummaging positions to drive back the maul. You don’t want to see any heads. The width helps prevent small shifts in the driving point.

The most dangerous teams will use a shift-drive, where they move the ball to another point in the maul. It’s worth watching how the best sides aim to counter this.

Key takeaways

  • Can you challenge your defenders to get the timing right in training? What sort of exercises will help players form up a strong, collective drive to stop the maul?
  • Which World Cup teams shift the driving point?

5. Kick chase for forwards

Some teams will be box-kicking more than others. The best kicks are only as good as the chase.

Watching notes

  • Watch how teams make sure that they kick when they have the key chasers on their feet.

In which case, some teams will play another phase of rugby with say the props and locks going into contact. Now, the slowest and less able chasers will be in the ruck, while the nimbler players are on their feet.

The modern international front row is more than capable of holding their own in open play, but it’s better if they are not exposed in a kick chase. Once the kick-chase has been completed and the ball is retained by the opposition, the slower forwards can get themselves back into the defensive line for the next play.

Key takeaways

  • Set up your kick chase with your best chasers on their feet. Do you need to go through another phase of play before you kick?
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