Australia’s David Pocock was King of the breakdown at the RWC with a total of 17 turnovers in the tournament.
The breakdown is increasingly seen as an area where a game is won or lost. Turnovers are the ultimate measure of success but there is also great value in slowing down the opponent’s ball as this allows your team to regroup defensively. However the laws around the breakdown mean that it can also cost your team vital penalties if your technique is judged to be incorrect.
In the popular BT Sport Pitch Demos series Brian O’Driscoll and Sam Warburton have both shared their knowledge by going through the options from the defender’s perspective. In this Royall Lyme article we explain 5 top tips for rugby players at the breakdown from the professionals.
The Irish Centre known for his quick feet explained his advice for quick thinking by talking through three scenarios, looking at the decision making involved around how best to help your team in each situation.
Tip 1: There’s no immediate opposition support on the ball
Get over the ball and hold on. Ultimately you want to strip the ball but failing that you will likely win a penalty if you can stay on the ball and the player on the ground doesn’t release. O’Driscoll emphasises adopting a low body position over the ball as you will take contact trying to clear you out, and he stresses players should have their head tucked in. “There’s nothing worse than giving the opposition a target so tuck the head and if you take impact it should be on the back of the neck. Bend your legs, use the player as leverage, tuck the head and wait for those impacts to come.”
Tip 2: Key support in close proximity to the tackled player
With no space to get on the ball, O’Driscoll suggests getting over the line and clearing out the ruck is the best option. “I’ve committed to the ruck so now I’m looking at barging through and creating space. Make the ruck a 4-5 second ruck so my defenders can get around the corner and reset the defensive line.”
Tip 3: Key supporter in contact with the tackled player
The ball is well protected so there is no gain to be made by getting involved. “I can’t slow it down so I push and bounce away…I’m just trying to use the momentum of the defender and get out and setting my line to get line speed to go again.”
Post World Cup O’Driscoll spoke to Sam Warburton on Rugby Tonight about his experience of facing Pocock and the rest of the formidable Australian back row in the pool stages.
The Wales’ Captain took the opportunity to stress the importance of good posture to avoid injury.
Tip 4: Best Body Position to Brace for Impact
“I do hip mobility work to get down in low positions. I tell young players, when you are over the ball, you don’t want to get hit and snap back your legs. I did that on the Lions Tour and snapped my hamstring off.
You have to be able to take the weight in your hips and be able to sit back. You have a wide base, knees bent and take the weight into your hips and that will make you much stronger to resist the impact.”
Tip 5: Use Your Support
O’Driscoll added that support players can come in and latch on to their team mate who is on the ball to help buffer the impact and hopefully help their team win a turnover.
This seems simple when you sit and read it calmly but in a game, with fatigue setting in, frustration building, and the clock ticking it’s all very different. The temptation to try to swoop in and win the ball is great but if it leaves your team mates exposed it is often too high a risk unless you are confident in your abilities and decision making.
This is where watching rugby offers a great education. The professionals face nearly 100 breakdowns in a typical game and you can see how they react in defence and how their decisions play out. The consequences of winning the ball are great when it works but getting it wrong can leave your team badly exposed. Rugby is a team game so watch and learn.
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Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyToday.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com