Offloading is a mindset

The desire to offload is as important as the technical skill itself. Create the confidence to play the ball out of the tackle and you will maintain continuity and leave opponents in a spin.

The ability to keep the ball alive through and after the tackle keeps defences on the back foot. It also enables the attack to penetrate a defence when the ball carrier passes into the space behind his tackler.

A state of mind

To be a good offloading team, players must have the attitude to offload. When the ball carrier is tackled, he should be looking to make the pass. He can’t do it every time but he needs that mindset.

That attitude feeds into the minds of support players, who will run lines to be able to take the pass. They must be able to read the sorts of pass team mates might use and anticipate where to be.

Trial and error

When I was at Canterbury, our role as coaches was to encourage players to go for the offload, and we accepted that they’ll make mistakes in pursuit of the skill. We worked on little exercises and move into small-sided games.

We were seeking:

  1. Good footwork before contact
  2. The desire to go for the space
  3. A “snap fend” in order to dominate the defender
  4. A palm-up type of offload, if he cannot get both hands free

The carrier must first aim to bust the line. His footwork must take him forward as well as towards the space.

He’ll probably have to manage the defender. So he keeps the ball in the hand away from the threat and snaps his arm straight, making impact with the defender’s arm or shoulder.

Listen for support

To offload, he keeps the palm up, so the hand is under the ball. He either passes it to the same side as he’s carrying the ball or around the defender.

In both cases, he needs to listen out for the support player so he can put the ball into their path. The support player needs to read the carrier’s movements.

Two-touch practice

As a game we use “two-touch” rugby. In this, after the first touch the carrier can still run but not score a try. If he’s touched a second time, it’s a turnover. This encourages him to offload the ball.

Sometimes we raise the intensity of contact to add pressure. See my exercise below to work on the basic skills. Remember, it’s a season-long project and you need to keep returning to the skills and then putting them into games.

The hard work is worth it. To see how a team can benefit, count the offloads in this epic try by Munster in their 2000 Heineken Cup semi-final at Toulouse.


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