Return to play: Defensive emphasis 2 v 1s

2 v 1s offer an ideal return to play exercise because you just need three players. And the players can work in bubbles.

Develop your individual’s defence by taking them on from just making good tackles. Help them decide when to tackle to prevent the opposition keeping the ball alive.

In a 2 v 1 situation, which player should be targeted by the tackler? Normally you would say the ball carrier, but a more intelligent player will target both players, knowing when to commit to the tackle to prevent the pass or slow down the momentum.

Each defender needs to work out:

  1. Which player offers the biggest threat?
  2. Can the ball carrier be forced into making a pass?
  3. Is this going to be an offensive or defensive tackle?


These thought processes can be rehearsed in slow motion. Set up a 2 v 1 situation in different size boxes, and play it out at walking pace. The tackler should be talking through his options.

With more empowered players, they can discuss the options in groups after each situation.


Once the defenders have begun to ask themselves the questions and found some solutions, then you need to change the pace and variety of the situations.

By reducing thinking time, mixing up forwards and back, plus changing the space in which the decisions are made, you introduce new dimensions:

  • Different relative speeds of attackers and defenders to adjust to.
  • The distances between the players.
  • The skills and sizes of the players.

Since there are already more than six variables involved, there are many decisions to be made. Now the defender has to reduce his thought processes to a few key decisions and then work out his tactics to “win”. If he overthinks what he has to do, he might confuse what’s important and consquently, miss the tackle.


You can use 2 v 1 games, with the emphasis on the defender. Split your squad into threes. They play out a series of 2 v 1 “matches” against other groups of three. The attack and defence rotate, and the players rotate their roles.

The match conditions are set out below.

Game intelligent attributes

  • Picks the tackle that will work best for the player he is tackling. For instance, a small winger will not attempt to drive back a big number 8.
  • He will stay balanced and not over commit until the moment he needs to tackle.
  • He will not fail to make a tackle. Even if the ball carrier releases the pass just before the tackle, he must be tackled to the ground. This prevents support.
  • He won’t be “dummied”. Because he stays balanced, he can move easily between the ball carrier and potential receiver.


  1. In a 5m box, stand two attackers and a defender in the middle back-to-back. Get one of the attackers to shout “GO”, the defender runs to one of the cones on the try line he is defending, and the attackers to the other two cones.

  1. One of the attackers picks up the ball and they attack.
  2. The attack score a point for a try, the defender one point for preventing the try. Any infringements mean a point for the opposition. The attack can offload, but cannot ruck or maul.
  3. Each “match” has six rounds, meaning each player defends once. Then swap the teams for another set of matches. Tot up the scores at the end.
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