Effective Tackling Part 3: Post-Contact

Post contact is the end of this article series. I would say that tackling and poaching is not only my passion, but is definitely my strong suit. I am a firm believer that every team needs a Poacher (Fetcher). A poacher will slow the ball down and turnover ball. Which will buy time to set your defense line or to turnover possession. You might wonder if the poacher should only be an open side flanker. Definitely not. This is where the post contact philosophy comes in. Poach or tank should be the mindset of all players performing a tackle.

Poach and Tank

As you have noticed I refer to stealing a ball, as poaching. Tank refers to a counter ruck. The poach is when a player steals the ball when the ruck is not yet formed. The tank will be when the ruck is already formed and the player tanks the players away, freeing the ball to the defending team. If all the players in the team understand the principle of post contact you will have an effective defense pattern.

To perform an effective tackle it is important to take into account the pre-, in and post contact. All the principles of tackling builds on each other. Progressing from the pre-, in- and then post- contact. It is important also to understand the laws of tackling and rucks. Many players don’t know the laws and therefore they give away penalties.

Why focus on post contact?

I believe that every player should have a poach/tank mentality. The ruck is a platform in rugby where players can compete. Knowing when and how to poach/tank, your team will have a great advantage over others. You can slow down the ball, turnover ball and have enough time to set your defense line. Get more numbers on defense and create less space for the attack. It is important though that the tackle is dominant, by dominating the collision you create a chaos scenario. The point of contact shifts and it gives the poacher a better position to poach.  

What is post contact?

After the tackle is complete the post contact phase starts. Post contact forms an important part of an effective tackle completion. When the player goes to ground the tackler must get on his/her feet and poach or tank.  Rugby laws requires that the player performing the tackling has to release the player and roll away. Thus to perform a successful poach/tank all player should know and understand the rugby laws.  

The philosophy of post contact

-        Quick Reaction – Roll away and Gate awareness.

-        Poach/tank

-        Recycle

The Quick Reaction  

Quick reaction has, many aspect to keep in mind. Quick reaction is a mindset. Yes you can train to be quick of the ground. Getting off the ground is a choice. The first element of quick reaction is to roll away as quick as possible. Some coaches will teach their players to delay there tackle roll away. This will slow down the cleaning of the attacking team. This does not come to play now. This will form part of tactics. My focus is to teach my players to roll away as quickly as possible. The reason is to either poach or tank then get back into the defense line. The second focus of quick reaction is gate awareness. The gate is the space an arriving player may go in to make a poach. Outside this gate the player will be offside. Note that the player that makes the tackle has no gate to enter. He can poach from any side. The reason is that the ruck is not yet formed. Thus there is no offside lines. Keep in mind the law state that a ruck is formed when two players from opposite teams are in contact over the ball. Then no hands are allowed. These are the basics but a lot of players tend to forget it. The gate awareness will help you buy time to perform a quicker poach or tank.

Notes: The coach must move the cones around to train the gate awareness.

Body position

When performing the poach or tank, body position is key. The player must have a low and strong body position over the ball. A strong body position is important so that the poacher will stay on his feet as long as possible. Thus the ball will be slowed down or turned over. When the player tanks he should opt to go lower than the other players to break their shape. When the player opts to tank he must use his legs. Leg drive will give the player power to tank the cleaner away.

Other elements such as a firm grip and eye on the ball will bring you a greater successes rate. A firm grip around the ball will ensure a higher chance to stay in control off the ball. Eye on the ball will help the poacher to look where to grip the ball and stay strong. Many times we see how players poach but look at the referee to scream holding or looking up waiting for contact. The poacher is then cleaned away without the ball. When the poacher, poaches he should have eyes on the ball at all times. Poaching should be an in- out action. As a coach I put great emphasis on eye on the ball. From playing rugby I usually ask myself after the game how much turnovers did I make. In reply “about one or two”. The next question then comes to mind? “How can I turnover one maybe two balls a game if I compete at about 10 plus rucks. I started by asking myself can I remember anything when I poach? Was my eye on the ball? The answer was no. Through this my mindset shifted to keep eyes on the ball at all times.

Notes: The poacher should remember the color of the cone when he poach. Then tell the coach what color he saw when he poached.


Recycle refers to after the tackle the player will join the defense line. The recycling or folding system will differ from coach to coach. The player should recycle back as fast as possible to get back in line to show a wall. The more numbers on the feet, the more pressure the attacking team will feel. 

In conclusion every coach has his philosophy when it comes to tackling and poaching. This is my “flavor” to it. Feel free to use this in your coaching plan.

Effective Tackling Part 2: In-Contact

Up to now we have covered the introduction and pre- contact phase to an effective tackle. This is my philosophy on tackling as a coach and player. In this article we will cover the in-contact part of tackling in rugby. Keep in mind the pre-contact phase of tackling when applying the in-contact principles.

What is it about?

The in-contact aspect of tackle is to dominate the collusion. The tackler mindset should be to tackle the ball carrier behind the advantage line. The tackler will do this by making good contact with his shoulder. Break the shape and leg drive after the shoulder hit forms the key elements to finish the tackle.

Philosophy behind in contact

Shoulder hit:

The tackler must make good shoulder hit on the ball carrier. The aim is to stop the momentum of the ball carrier. The shoulder hit varies based the type of tackle. In a leg tackle the shoulder hit is made from the waist down. The body or ball tackle is made from the waist up. The tackler should be square when making contact.

Notes: Stay square at the shoulder hit. Stop the momentum of the ball carrier.

Break the shape:

The Break the shape concept is broken down into two steps. The punch and wrap. The tackler will punch with his arms as he makes contact with the shoulder. Punching with the arm past the tackle will give a good space to wrap your arms around the ball carrier. The wrap with the arms around the ball carrier aims to break the shape of the ball carrier. The ball carrier will be in a weak position and will be forced to go to ground. The emphasis is on the "break the shape" concept. The reason is because we often see how tackler’s arms are run open by the ball carrier. Breaking the shape of the ball carrier will put him off balance.

Notes: Keep your arms tucked in when approaching a tackle. It will help you to punch and wrap your arms around the ball carrier much quicker. Focus to tuck the ball carrier in to get him of balance.

Leg drive:

Leg drive is important after the shoulder hit. If you relax after the tackle, the ball carrier will still fight to get over the advantage line. The leg drive will ensure that the tackler will drive the ball carrier back behind the advantage line. The leg drive will work when performing a body/ball tackle. A leg tackle will stop the ball carrier on the spot.

Notes: At the point of contact keep working with your legs. This will ensure you are dominating the collusion and driving the player back.

I base the in-contact phase on these three principles. Performing these steps in contact will make your tackles more dominant. Master the pre- and in-contact phase and you will have a great base to perform effective tackles. The next article will focus on the Post-contact phase.