Managing the return to tackling when the ground is hard

Coaching at my local club on the return to rugby, the challenges were helping players remember how to tackle. This is especially when they didn’t want to land on the hard ground.

The ground is like concrete, the body is unused to bumps, grazes and knocks. Why risk going to ground.

Most tacklers have actually raised their body height in the tackle to minimise risk of hitting the ground, rather than (as the law and safety would prefer) lowering tackle height.  


My observations recently have been that most players know the technique of tackling – they know what they should do. 

But transferring that technique into the random chaos of a game, when the ball carrier steps you, the tackle is from an angle you haven’t practiced in a drill, you are physically drained…..and every part of your brain is telling you that going anywhere near the ground will hurt – that is different.

So what usually happens? The feet are planted, the body leans towards the ball carrier leaving the feet behind, the inner voice says “don’t go low now”, and either an arm grasps the ball carrier around neck high or a huge fend off hits the chest of the tackler and they are brushed aside.



Play 5 v 5 on a small pitch.

This practice helps to develop the ability to be more comfortable at a low body height, while encouraging movement and flexibility in a complex moving game.  

Set up a goal at each end, players get into a “Tower of Power” position, with only hands and feet in contact with the ground.  They then play the ball with their hands, trying to score goals. Coaches must ensure good body shape is maintained and knees do not touch the ground.

Coaching points: Keep the chin off the chest and look through the eyebrows.

Progression: Crab soccer, which is effectively the same game but with a different body shape. In this version, only the hands and feet are in contact with the ground, but the chest faces the sky.


Ball carrier tucks a tag into the top of each sock and stands facing the tagger in a coned circle. The tagger has to remove the tags while the ball carrier evades. 

Coaching points: Stay low, stay on the balls of your feet, keep them moving, eyes on target.

Progressions : Working in a larger area – which tagger can collect the most tags? The ball carrier has a bib tucked down the back of their shorts as well as Tags on their socks. Two tacklers have to cooperate to remove both.


Play 1 v 1 and no ball is needed.  

Put the two players face to face. By using agility, balance, deception, who can “spar” the knee of the other player the most times? Spar means touch the knee.

The key to this challenge is to keep the feet moving, and eyes on the target.


Each player wears a tag belt around the waist.  

Play normal tag rugby, which rewards footwork, eyes on the target and low body position from the taggers.  

If a tagger takes both tags, then it’s a turnover to reward a difficult skill.  

With older players and adults, there will be some bumps and contacts. Manage this. A few knocks are not a disaster.

I prefer tag rugby to touch rugby here. The target must be low and there has to be real accuracy in the tackle.

Coaching points: Recognise and reward footwork and accuracy in defence. As I said above, contact with the ground is an issue for returning players.  In this game there are also options to ask both players to roll to the ground in a managed way after a tag, to build confidence.

 Intersperse these practices with more formal tackle practice to ensure everyone understands the safest technique, and we have an approach which develops basic techniques, but also provides space for implicit learning.


There are three non-negotiables for the tackle we can work on without there being full on contact:

Keep the feet moving.

Keep the eyes on the target.

Go low – it is still the safest way for a tackler, but needs the above two elements for it to happen properly.

Share this
Follow us