VIDEO ANALYSIS: How to operate a folding defence

When a team plays the “same way” from ruck after ruck, your defenders must get into position quickly to cover the next attack. A modern system – a hybrid of drift and blitz – can help you achieve that…


Defensive systems have undergone a huge evolution in the pro era. Although a number of teams still like to use a drift pattern to cover the space out wide, new and more aggressive methods have been found as defenders get fitter and faster.

In a drift pattern, the function of the end defender in the line is to push out onto the end attacker from an inside position and force him towards the touchline.

The philosophy of the defence is to give up metres but prevent a line break on the outside. The philosophy of a folding defence is rather different. The emphasis is on defenders making tackles further upfield and square to the attacker – rather than side-on as in the drift. This gives them more chance of making an impact and forcing the attack backwards.

Outside cover is provided by the players inside them running hard in behind the tackler and “folding” towards touch. The following example comes from this season’s Heineken Cup match between Leinster and Northampton in Dublin

Trust the fold to cover the numbers

When Leinster’s first receiver (Ian Madigan) receives the ball at 0:08 (42:59 on match clock), there are five Leinster attackers facing four Northampton defenders, with the end attacker Brian O’Driscoll out of shot near touch.

In a normal drift, the Northampton 14 would slide out on to O’Driscoll, with the other Saints defenders pushing out towards the sideline inside him, aiming to stop the ball carrier near the corner flag.

Last defender on 15m line

It’s clear from the beginning that the Northampton wing has no intention of marking O’Driscoll! At 0:08 (42:59) he’s looking in at Leinster’s second receiver from the 15m line.

The speed of the folding defender

Stop the film at 0:09 (43:00). In this frame a situation has developed which would have been inconceivable to advocates of the drift.

The second receiver has got the ball to O’Driscoll standing near touch. The folding defender (George North) is one metre inside his wing when the pass is made, he has 20 metres to cover and O’Driscoll has only 10 metres to go to score a try.

The man will beat the pass

Carwyn James used to say: “The pass will always beat the man.” Sadly, this is a rare outcome in the professional game. Nowadays the man usually beats the pass, and North is able to cover the ground and make the tackle with O’Driscoll still 5 metres away from the goal line. Leinster are forced back another 5 metres in the subsequent contact.

Here are two sessions to work on these skills:

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