VIDEO ANALYSIS: The cleanout specialist

Nominate fitter, more powerful players to concentrate only on ruck clearing to ensure opponents never get their hands on the ball after a tackle.

Many teams at higher levels define a forward’s role in general phase play quite specifically. Some may be nominated as ball-carriers and/or offloaders, others may be required to play in “pods” on the edge, or in the middle of the field consistently.

Others will be nominated as cleanout specialists whose one task is to move from tackle to tackle, smashing opposition threats off the ball. Such players will have a target agreed with the coaches, to hit maybe 30-40 rucks per game.

The forward you pick for this role needs the following qualities:

  1. Power in contact
  2. Low centre of gravity
  3. Appetite for work

Owen Franks of New Zealand is a specialist of this kind.


Here’s a clip from the Second Test between Ireland and New Zealand in the summer of 2012. This illustrates the work rate, positioning and physical impact of a specialist like Franks. It is hard to imagine the New Zealand try at the end of the sequence being scored without his many involvements at the breakdowns leading up to the final play.

The All Blacks have retrieved their kickoff at the beginning of the second half. Key points are:

Number of involvements

Within the 12 rucks that occur in this sequence, Franks has a colossal seven involvements. He prides himself on the number of cleanouts he can make effectively.

Quality of involvements

It is not enough to just appear at a ruck and “lean” on it. You have to set a standard for what you achieve. Of Franks’ seven involvements, two could be categorised as important – the second and fifth allow play to develop to the next phase – while four of them (3, 4, 6 and 7) could be categorised as decisive. On these occasions, Franks knocks the defensive player down and takes him out of the play immediately. Use Sean Holley’s ruck decision-making exercise on page 4 to work on this.

Positioning and range

When we first see Franks he is playing in midfield, between the first and second receivers. He has to be based in midfield, next to the two major distributors, in order to take the shortest route to the tackle area and multiply his involvements. Only two of those involvements in this sequence occur beyond the 15m line.

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