in defence it must be assumed that players can tackle, this is the first
priority. However, a very close second priority is that players must be disciplined
when under pressure, to keep the shape of the defensive pattern.
- CONTESTING POSSESSION
Once the opposing team has the ball, the other principles of defence
However, this can be assisted greatly by contesting possession so that it is
difficult for the opposition to control the ball. This applies to
and lineouts. Contesting kick-offs is explained in the section on Attack.
To contest scrums, the defending scrum's tactics may be to drive the
off the ball. This can force the opposition to hook the ball without
creating an opportunity to regain possession. This may also be achieved by
the defending scrum allowing itself to be pushed back.
As with '15s'the scrum may be screwed within the requirements of the Law.
This may be used to force the attack to go only left or right, losing the
opportunity to attack on both sides. Usually, the aim will be to force the attack towards
the nearest touchline. To avoid turning over possession, the attack will wish
to avoid going into touch. It will be awkward to reverse the direction of play
in-field. The screwing of the scrum may also be used to force the scrum-half to pass to
the left, against this players running line, as, after putting the ball in, the
running line is to the right.
To defend at the scrum the defending team should attempt to do the exact
opposite to what they wish to do on their put-in. Consequently, they should
phase their engagement to crouch, pause, engage, so that engagement,
put-in and strike are three distinct movements and not one continuous one.
This will upset the rhythm of the opposition. Also, they should not form
up too quickly. This allows an adjustment to be made to the opposition's
Secondly, the loosehead should lead in to turn the attacking hooker away
the tunnel. This may be assisted by the tighthead prop being pushed back.
If the defending scrum is able to do this, the scrum-half should position
the attacking scrum-half. In this posiiion the ball can be followed and the
delivery exploited to regain possession.
When the scrum is over, the first member of the scrum to leave should be
hooker. To do this, binding must be under the props.
The props from both teams will be able to legitimately delay the entry
into play of each other, by binding with their opposite number momentarily. When the
defence do this the advantage is greater, as the attack will have fewer
support players. To overcome this, the attack will have to move back to gain time
and space. This will concede territory to the defence. When their props are
free they will have to go back further to join the attacking line, while the
will easily join theirs, because their defence line will have moved forward.
The scrum-half should position to best advantage. If the open-side is to the
defensive teams right, there is little point in the player being on the
left of the scrum, especially as the scrum tends to wheel clockwise.
Specifically, the hooker will be able to leave the scrum quickly because
the player is not bound to the opposition. On the right side of the field, the
player can defend the blindside.
When defending the lineout, four players can be used. The two lineout forwards to
contest the throw, the hooker and the scrum-half. It is the
responsibility of the hooker and the scrum-half to defend the front and back respectively.
This enables the lineout forwards to contest the ball in the air, in the
knowledge that should possession be lost, there is support around them.
A further option is to commit fewer defensive players to the lineout if a
greater threat exists elsewhere. This can be achieved by the hooker and scrum-half's
roles being performed by one player.
When possession is lost, the ball carrier close by should be tackled
immediately and the ball contested.
However, if the ball is cleared to space, the four players involved in the
lineout must join the defence quickly.
For this to happen, the three defending players not in the lineout shuffle
side ways across the field, to defend the wide out attackers or wider zones.
In Sevens, the option is the same as for iss, i.e. either to contest the
ball when it is thrown into the lineout or concede the throw and counter the attack by
tackling the ball carrier, once the lineout is over. if the ball is contested and it
is not won, then committing both forwards may result in having too few defenders.
if the ball is won, then the same problem is posed to the opposition.
the option of jumping to contest the ball must be combined with a defensive
strategy if the ball is not won. Experience shows that it is difficult to
win the ball
and it is better to concede possession and apply defensive pressure. To
ensure the attack doesn't develop immediately from the lineout, the thrower and
scrum-half have to immediately smother-tackle the ball carrier.
The delay that this will cause gives the forwards time to join the defence pattern.
If the ball is not contested, then the forwards are already part of the defence pattern and
should adjust to their role.
Frequently, the catcher passes immediately to the attacking scrum half who
then passes to the out-half/ play-maker to set up attacking play. Without being
offside, the forwards may be able to move with the pass and tackle the scrum
half. if the ball is passed to the out-half/ play-maker, especially if the
player is deep, then the forwards and scrum-half should join the defensive pattern.
Rushing towards the attack individually as the ball is passed, can create a
gap in the defence that is too easily exploited.
Opposition's free kicks and penalty kicks
As these may be taken quickly the players must be alert. This will involve a
player being back ten metres so that this player can immediately defend. The
players within ten metres must retreat without interfering with play. They
should move back, running backwards so they can see what's happening. An opponent
deliberatadely running into a retreating player should not be awarded a further
kick ten metres don field.
When defending at 22-metre dropout
To defend a 2.-metre dropout the receiving team must be in position to
counter all options. Apart from player(s) on the 22-metre line to contest the
tap-kick, the best formation would seem to be that resembling a banana.
This formation has players between ten and 15 metres of the 22-metre line
left and right flanks, and players considerably deeper in the centre of the
This position allows both the shallow contestable kick and the deep kick and
chase to be covered.
Of course, knowing the formation and playing to it in a match can be quite
different. This is because there is little time between the touchdown and
the kick to be in position.
In these circumstances, it is easiest to contest the tap kick by being on
the 22-metre line, marking the kicker. This will enable the tap-kick to be
contested and cause a delay should any other option be used. This delay will enable
team-mates to hurry into place. This always requires flexibility. If it is
too rigid, players may not be able to be in position. The players must fill the gaps,
enabling late arriving team-mates to complement the balance achieved by those already
- DENYING SPACE
Forcing a Decision
By moving forward the defence denies the attack time and space to make the
best decision to attack. However, because there is much space around
players, defenders moving forward individually can easily be evaded in a one-on-one
situation. The defence must therefore move forward to a pattern.
The defence can obtain an advantage if the pace at which they move forward
is varied. The pattern, something akin to the 'full-court press' in
be most effective. This particularly occurs when the attack backs up to
obtain space and becomes too flat because they don't want to stand in their
Each individual must identify which player they are marking and communicate
this to team-mates. The defensive players should align on each other, so
they have vision of play taking place inside. They must also not concede
should the ball be passed to the player they are to tackle.
They should align inside their designated ball carrier so that they can
defend from the inside, driving the defender out. By defending inside out, they
ensure that the ball is moving away from inside support. This allows the defence
to operate to prevent passing options inside the ball carrier. If the players defend
space is created because the tackler moves in to make the tackle. The ball
can then pass into the space the tackler has moved from, to a team-mate who
The players should identify the player they are to defend. By counting the
players from the flanks across the field this player can be identified. Some
defence patterns have the defenders on the outside being ahead of those
The purpose is to turn the ball carrier back infield, where the defence
positions its strongest tacklers.
This requires experience and is based on the assumption that the ball will
not be kicked behind the outside defenders who are ahead of team-mates, leaving
behind them. This involves risk, but can be very effective if it is used as
when the opposing team assumes only one pattern will be used.
In Sevens, because possession is very important, teams are reluctant to
kick the ball. This allows the defence to concentrate on tackling the ball carrier
and not worry about the space behind. However, an alert team will aim to exploit
this space by making a recoverable kickjust behind the defence or kicking well
down the field and chasing. To counter this, there must be a designated sweeper.
This may be the player on the flanks, who is on the opposite side of the field
to that in which the attack is taking place.
Alternatively, teams may have a defensive screen of six players with a
permanent fullback to cover balls that are kicked and to provide a second line of
defence, should the attack break through. The reduced defence line must adjust their
positioning as the attack develops, to cope with there being one extra
attacking player. A further alternative is to make the adjustment from seven to six
in the front line of the defence when the attack is most likely to use the kicking
option i.e. when there is considerable space behind the front line of the defence,
down the field.
This seems to occur when the attack moves backwards towards their own line
in an effort to gain space to attack. often this will result in their
formation getting too flat. Because too few players are able to accelerate with the ball to
attack, they will kick to the space behind the defence and chase the ball.
When there is less space i.e. closer to the goal-line, players may form a
single line to defend running and passing options, with players on the flanks hanging
back slightly so they can sweep if needed. The role of sweeper is a very
difficult one because the player must position to cover kicks both deep and shallow
and to tackle the ball carrier should the attack break through. From deep
kicks in particular there is the risk of becoming isolated from team-mates, by
opposing players chasing the ball fast and to a pattern, This makes the choice of
player for sweeper, or fullback, very critical. In most respects, the sweeper should
be the most talented player in the team.
A more complex method of defense is to form two lines, a front line of five
players and a back line of two. The back line is approximately 15 metres
behind. So long as the front line can adjust to the changing position of the ball,
the back two are available to cover tackle, recover kicks and to enter the back line
from depth, should possession be regained. A further option is to have three
lines of defence, a front four, a middle line Of two, 2-15 metres behind, and the
These are options that can be effective amongst experienced players who have
the ability to adjust to the attack, so that penetration does not occur.
When the defence is being effective, the attack may kick or they may attack
the defensive line by attacking the space between two players. Their aim will
be to draw a defender to the space and because the tackle is likely to be around
the legs, the attacker will be able to pass into the space to a team-mate to
By moving right, space is created on the left and by moving left, space is
created on the right. The defence must shuffle sideways in order to defend the
space that has been created. Consequently, apart from aligning both on team-mates and
the designated ball carrier, each defending player should occupy one of six or
seven lanes down the field. These lanes may be narrow or wide, depending on the
play of the opposition. So they must be flexible. The defender enters play when
the bail carrier moves into the defenders' lane. if play moves past the lane,
the defender re-establishes alignment on team-mates and the attacking player in
Should two attacking players move into a lane initially defended by one
player, the defender in the lane and the one in the next quickly split the lane
into two narrow ones, team-mates adjusting similarly.
The key is that no player follows the ball or an individual player, they
just deal with the action when it enters their lane. This spreads the workload and
prevents the defence from becoming bunched. Bunching makes them vulnerable to
attacks on the flanks. This pattern also ensures that a player who receives
a pass back inside from a tackled player can be defended.
In all defence, but especially in lanes or channels, the defenders must be
in a position to defend players in their lane, and the ball. It is essential
that a player is agile, has good lateral movement, good communication skills and good
peripheral vision. To achieve this, their alignment must be such that they
can split their vision, defending the player in their lane and the ball.
To do this, they will have to move laterally, shadowing the movement of the
ball. Experience has shown that the opposition player should have the greater
amount of attention.
TACKLING THE BALL CARRIER
When the tackle is made, the act of tackling will draw the tackler away
space in the defensive screen. if the ball carrier is able to pass into the
the defence screen could be penetrated. The preferred tackle therefore
would be however, that a high tackle smothering the ball carrier can be easily evaded
and, as the tackler is standing, there is not the requirement to
immediately play the ball.
To regain possession, the tackler or a team-mate must be skilled at
ripping the ball free or smothering so that the ball is not released. This results in
a scrum in favour of the defending team. It is difficult to smother a strong player
or a player who changes direction immediately preceding the tackle. To overcome
this, it is essential to tackle from inside the ball carrier, giving only
one way to run and driving the player out. This applies particularly when the ball
carrier is close to the touchline.
- REGAINING POSSESSION
Stop progress, prevent the pass, get the ball.
Possession may be regained by being able to wrestle the ball from the ball
carrier or by recovering a loose ball or intercepting a pass. it may also
be recovered by forcing an infringement and gaining the throw in at lineout
and scrum. As there is a great deal of loose ball, players must be alert to
regain possession and attack.
In Sevens, it is surprising how defensive pressure can create mistakes
leading to a turnover and a try. This particularly occurs when the attacking team
loses its alignment and depth as it backs up close to their own goaHine. Because
there are fewer players on the field there is much space about the players.
Consequently, when an infringement occurs there is both time and space to
play advantage. This may force a player to adjust immediately from a defensive
role to an attacking role or vice versa, creating an opportunity to exploit the
situation, Consequently, advantage is more frequently played in Sevens.