20 minute safe tackling sessions

By Mark Calverley, RFU Level 3 and IRB Level 4 qualified coach, and owner of the NZRFU Practicum award – the highest coaching award in New Zealand

Former England prop Darren Garforth once revealed that in all of his coaching up to international level, he had never been taught how to tackle safely and correctly! His skills had been learned through watching, trial and sometimes painful error. Until he was coached by former England defensive guru Phil Larder, he had been at risk for years. Players of all ages and abilities need regular revision on tackling technique, safety and defensive decision making.

20 minute safe tackling sessions


A 20-minute session needs to be well planned, technical and build up the skills from simple to more complex. Sessions like this also need to be a regular part of a warm-up, game warm-up and general training.

Start simple, play safe (5-10 mins)

Get players in small groups with one player holding a ruck pad – not with hands in the loops but wrapped around as in the picture. Practise front-on, side-on and rear tackles (the pad carrier always has the pad facing the tackler). Once the tackle is made, the carrier lets go of the pad, so the tackler lands on it. Encourage all players to give technical support and feedback on head position, leg drive, same shoulder and leg drive, arm wrap and correct tackle height.

Real, fun, controlled (10-15 mins)

Play a short game with one to three tacklers and four to eight pad carriers in a 20m x 30m box. The pad carriers look to get to the end of the box and hold the pad to their front or side-on while they move. The tacklers have to line the pad up and tackle it appropriately. Pad carriers cannot change their pad position once they attempt to get to the far end of the box.


Make tackling technique a regular part of training. Insist on correct, safe technique but also bring in fun, safe games and challenges to ensure players enjoy the activity. Repetitive and unchallenging drills cause players to switch off and become bored.

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