EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

Learning from the tackling journey

Improve your tacklers by understanding how the best defenders grew as players. I spoke to one player whose technical expertise stands out amongst her peers.

Pic from Omega Photography

Sophie Ellis, a 17-year-old student in North Wales, has been playing rugby for the last four years. She’s one of the standout tacklers in her regional and her club team, so I asked her what made her so good.

BUILDING THE TACKLE

I started playing rugby when I was 13, having been encouraged by my uncle. It was exciting to be part of a team, especially a new one.

We learned to tackle by going through the basics, starting on our knees focusing on cheek-to-cheek and pulling the player in. We then developed our ring of steel (strong grip) and driving with the legs.

Then we moved onto 1v1s, and used tackle tubes to see how low we could go. This also helped me set a target for height in the tackle.

DEVELOPING CONFIDENCE

I must say I was nervous before my first ever match and worried about getting injured. However, once we were playing, I found tackling was one of my strengths. That gave me the confidence to tackle better. I particularly enjoy getting up after the tackle to steal the ball.

When I think about why my footwork is good, I think it comes naturally because I know that I want to complete the tackle with a strong contact. Cenin Eifion, my coach at Caernarvon U18s, encouraged me to look at the New Zealand tackle technique on video. She pointed out how they like to punch through the tackle, to make it more powerful.

I also like to put the ball carrier in a “TV screen” with my hands. That keeps me in line with the tackle and helps me get close to make the tackle.

One of my favourite exercises to practise tackling is a 3 v 2. Three attackers come round into a box, and the two tacklers have to keep an eye on all the attackers to ensure they don’t become isolated.

In training, with coaches like Jenny “Treacle” Davies (a former Welsh international), we get asked and ask a lot of questions. I believe a key to my confidence is that I have a strong understanding of the basics.

SOPHIE’S KEYS TO BETTER TACKLING

  • Strong understanding of the basics.
  • Building up the tackling with the key points.
  • Good visual images: TV screen to target, punch beyond the tackle.
  • Watching good practice on video.
  • Asking and being asked lots of questions.

MY FAVOURITE DEFENCE DRILL

  1. Have three attackers and two defenders run into a box, both starting from the same point and running to their opposite corner first.
  2. Attackers aim to use passing, offloads and footwork to beat the defenders.
  3. Two defenders run into the box to defend.
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