Coaching decision making at the ruck, the Razor way

Making quick, accurate decisions at the ruck will help create quick ball. The role of the first supporter at the ruck is based almost entirely on the threat of the nearest defender. Here is how I define the different options and ways to coach those options more effectively.


  • Better control of the tackle by the ball carrier means less numbers needed in the ruck.
  • Committing more than four players to the ruck will mean it is tough to attack with the ball in the next phase.
  • Playing with width means less numbers are needed at the breakdown, because defending teams will not have the numbers there to compete.


When an attacking player arrives at the tackle, when the ball carrier is on the ground, he has to assess the situation and make decisions. My approach is to coach players through game sense because there are a number of options that the player has available and he needs to make decisions quickly and accurately, under pressure.

With a competition at the tackle, with the ball carrier not necessarily going to ground, the first support player might bind onto the ball carrier, driving him forward, before helping secure the ball. If he cannot make it to bind on, then he can arrive at the contact area going high to low late.

That is a change to what players did five years ago. The arriving player dips just before he makes contact. However, he must work to stay on his feet, because referees are very tough on falling over. We use crawling drills to help players build the skills to work in these areas.


There is no doubt that players have become more efficient at the ruck. As the ball carrier arrives at the defender, he uses better footwork, fending, offloading and if tackled, better ball placement than used to be the case.

Given this, at most we want to put in the ball carrier and three other attackers into the ruck, so keeping 11 players on their feet. Any more and the defence will definitely have the upper hand.

This number does depend on the opposition you are playing and type of game you intend to play. Some teams like to load the ruck in defence and you might be forced to add players. Alternatively, if you are playing a narrow, confrontational game, you might need to load up in attack.

In Super Rugby, there are a lot of passes and the play tends to happen further away from the previous ruck. Sides are not aiming to bang down doors, so you don’t need more than a couple of players to clear out at the ruck.

In this type of game, the players need to be clear in what the right techniques are. We are looking for efficient and accurate rucking, not flying into the contact.


The All Blacks’ success at all levels is in part due to their extremely quick recycling of the ball. The main reasons are not a specific or new ruck technique of the players. The main factor is that the players create momentum onto the ball. Going forward, it is easier to come in as a support player and more difficult for the defence to challenge for the ball. This momentum comes in two ways.

1. The tip-on pass


Improve the chances of momentum with a “tip-on pass”. The short pass is made very close the line, probably from forward to forward. The lateness of the pass means the defence is not as prepared to make the big tackle, allowing more chance to get over the tackle line.

First, through the “tip on”, where the ball carrier passes the ball late to another player at the tackle line. The passer then becomes the first support player. The late pass means that the defence has to adjust quickly to a new attacker, giving the ball carrier extra time to win the tackle contest.

2. Win the contact

Normally, close to the tackle line, good body angles and lines of running can gain momentum. Good momentum leads to quick rucks.

Second, receivers change their angle late. The ball carrier avoids the dominant tackle, making it easier for his support players to win the space over the ball. Any contest over the ball delays the release of the ball.

The All Blacks also tend to put more width on the game than most sides, and with their players 1-to-15 all being able to clear out, it means defences are stretched and outmuscled at the breakdown.

Finally, not only do they put momentum on the ball, they’re very accurate in their decisions and execution of the clear out or protection of the ball. Basics done well and at speed.

What we have to remember is that the body is the body and is the same across all the teams. It is the focus and mindset that often makes the difference between teams.

For instance in the ITM Cup some teams like Southland love to pile into the contact area. You have to be prepared to counter that with numbers or impeccable technique. Other teams like to fan out and hold off, waiting for a moment when they create a dominant tackle. Then they can flood in.

Smaller teams can survive against bigger teams by being accurate and committed. But, in my experience, over commitment causes problems as players tend to fly off their feet.

Therefore I would always work on the micro skills of staying on their feet in contact and areas like excellent ball placement.


I use a lot of ruck touch to improve decision making and technique at the ruck. If a ball carrier is two handed touched on the hips or the front, then he goes to ground and presents the ball. Two hands on the back means he is allowed to offload.

With touch and to the ground, the toucher has to do a press up before he returns to the game. Once the ball carrier is on the ground, there can be a 2 v 2 over the ball (ball carrier plus one, tackler plus one).

In terms of the number of players, a maximum would be 15 v 15 and a minimum of at least 8 v 8 so there are six players on their feet. If we are playing against a heavy counter rucking side then I might ask the defence to add a couple more players every so often.


  • Quick ball from a quick ruck comes first from momentum onto the ball.
  • Use “tip-on” passes close to the tackle line to move the point of contact.
  • More width in your game means defences are more spread out, leading to more spaces to attack with ball in hand.
  • Highly accurate sides at the contact will prosper. Even smaller sides can win with superior technique.
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