Take out tacklers to improve defensive units

If you have good tacklers but a poor defensive unit, use this game where small groups of defenders have to work hard to prevent tries as a team, says Craig Newby, Ulster skills coach.

Using shorter, sharper sessions means players can concentrate on getting things right and also play at match-like intensity. This type of session is also far more enjoyable and means players give their all.

This is why it is important to mix up the sessions with new drills and fresh ideas. You need to mentally challenge players in each session. That includes playing games.

In a training session with some talented young players, I found they were good tacklers but poor as a defensive unit. Initially, I talked to them about keeping an even spacing and lining up in front of the player they were marking. We walked through an example.

We then set up a tried and tested game of 11v11 – with a variation. To start with, the defence was only allowed two players. We played touch rugby, with a touch leading to a “play the ball” and unlimited touches. Once a try had been scored, another defender was added, so it built up from 11v2 to 11v3 and so on.

After talking through some principles of defence, I start with 11v2 touch rugby. If the ball carrier is touched they have to “play the ball” rugby league style. There are unlimited touches until the attackers score. Add one more defender after each try.

To start with, defenders had to work on shifting left and right, probably giving up some ground. But by the time they had six defenders, they could move forward in defence and close down space. At various intervals, I stepped in to ask some brief questions or highlight a technical point. But the game aimed to challenge them to come up with the answers. 

At the start, defenders had to move sideways and sometimes backwards to defend. By the time they had reached six defenders or more, they were able to move forward and had learned that rushing forward was not always the best way to defend when outnumbered.

Interestingly, one particularly good defender kept coming up too quick, trying to jam in to prevent the ball going wide. However, he often found himself isolated and beaten by a quick pass. The team decided it was better to retain a good line discipline.

They were now working as a unit.

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