Full game-sense session on support at the breakdown

Here’s an outline of a session I ran for a young team who needed to work on their support work at the breakdown. I used a whole-part-whole approach to keep the skills in context, focusing on game sense.

A team contacted me as their coaches wanted to improve the players’ support work at the breakdown.

My plan was to use games to assess their skill levels before I introduced new techniques. I then would use more games to assess how well they understood the concepts.


  • Go forward
  • Continuity through offload
  • Continuity at the ruck

Before the session, I decided that I would focus on ball presentation to give the supporting players more chance to be effective at the breakdown. No matter how good the support, poor ball placement will make it difficult to execute well. Plus, I wanted to give the players some simple, core skills to build on.



We started with two-handed touch rugby, with a pass to a team mate on the touch. Any dropped balls are won by the team who land on it first, making it game realistic.

Modification 1: Pocket support

On being touched, the ball carrier has to pass straight behind him IMMEDIATELY. It encourages the support players to follow their own passes. Do not allow ANY lateral passes after a touch. The ball carrier will have to turn around to make the pass.

Modification 2: Between the legs

(1) On being touched, (2) the ball carrier has to pass the ball between his legs and pop it back. (3) It is up to his support players to be in position to take this pass. If the ball touches the ground it’s a turnover. Again, this develops the support player’s role. Also, the ball carrier is starting to take the right position to go to ground using the new ball placement skill coming up.


  • Hips up the pitch after the tackle. The ball carrier is in a strong position to drive forward.
  • Communication from the support player.
  • Support player’s position after the tackle is ideally behind the ball carrier. In a full contact situation he would be able to drive over the ball if needed.

Modification 3: Exact ball placement

On being touched the ball carrier has to follow the ball placement sequence exactly, though he can end up with either a long placement (plank/pencil body shape) or a jack knife (L-shaped body shape) placement. Turnover the ball to the other team if this is not completed properly.

Note this part of the game will be more stop/ start than the previous games because it is an exact skill. It might require some feedback and demonstrations on what you mean by exact ball placement.

  1. Fight in the tackle (take two steps forward when touched) to create go forward.
  2. Go forward makes the ball carrier an easier target for the support player and harder for the tackling side to steal the ball.
  3. “Score the try” – land on the ball to “score the try” and then place it back. Keeps the ball safe from opposition hands.
  4. Jack knife the ball back to your side.

(A) Don’t carry the ball like a “teddy bear”, pull it into the chest near contact. (B) Rip the ball down just before contact, (C)and at the same time turn the shoulder, to put the ball into the tummy – it shields ball from opposition, positions the player to fall better to place the ball.



With all the modifications now play in a much narrower area. There’s more contact and more chances that defenders can make a difference in the contact area, increasing the intensity.

Add in a new rule: the defender can try to touch the ball after the tackled player goes to the ground. If he does before a support player gets over the ball, then it’s a turnover.

The key to this part of the game is that the ball carrier goes forward two steps after touch, performs the rip and down and placement. The original defender will have to retreat to make sure he comes through the gate to get to the ball. This gives the support player time to be in position.

The players will tend to go offside in this part of the game. If they do, give the attack a “free play” if they make a mistake. For instance, if they knock on after you have signalled an offside, then the attack retain the ball. Or there is a turnover, then the attack keep the ball.

Multiple offsides equal multiple free plays. The defence will soon learn to get back onside.



Play a full tackling game in a narrow area to start with, and allow 1 v 1 rucks only.

The players should now be able to start to use their support skills. Not every time, but more of the time, the ball carrier will be able to place the ball back strongly and the support player will be over the ball.

You can now focus on good positions onto and over the ball.

  • Use quick demonstrations during the game to help work on these.
  • Pick out examples of good play (tell an individual as you are going from play to play what they did right – affirmation of good skill) – remind players of key points (e.g. positive body positions).
  • If there’s a pattern of poor execution, have a quick reminder, perhaps with a demonstration and then back into the game.

Close support player aims to get into the pocket behind the ball carrier. When the ball carrier goes to ground, the support player takes up a positive position over the ball carrier on the ground.


From this positive position (1) (“hips over ball”), he repels any defenders by coming forward.

A defender who goes low for the ball means the support player dips (2) and pushes this player up (3) – “low player wins”.


  • Touch rugby game 5 minutes
  • Modification one 5 minutes
  • Modification two 5 minutes
  • Water break
  • Modification three 10 minutes
  • Touch rugby game 2 5 minutes
  • Water break
  • Touch rugby game 2 5 minutes
  • Skill demonstration 5 minutes
  • Touch rugby game 2 5 minutes
  • Water break
  • Final game and demos 30 minutes

Total time ( 90 minutes

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