When you have a 150kg beast of man steaming towards you and your teammates are screaming at you to make the tackle, how will you bring him down?
One of my first rugby memories was watching Jonah Lomu playing for New Zealand and destroying defenders with his fearsome runs. He received the ball, ducked his head and charged at opponents with an impossible force. The world’s best players would throw themselves into a tackle against Jonah and end up a crumpled mess on the floor. He wasn’t the fastest player in the world, although he could certainly move for a big guy, but defenders would simply bounce off him. It’s one of the reasons that I fell in love with rugby but it’s also one of the reasons I was a poor tackler.
Tackling was always one area of my game that suffered; admittedly, and embarrassingly, I was too scared of getting hurt to make crunching, game changing tackles. But how do you stop Jonah Lomu? How do you bring down a beast of a ball carrier that is tearing his way through your defensive line? You learn how to perfect the tackle.
“You’ve got to get your first tackle in early, even if it’s late.”
Welsh Center, Ray Gravell
So I did some research, both online and painfully on the pitch and I worked out a few things. I spoke to some rugby players, both backs and forwards, and got their take on how to tackle correctly and effectively.
The 6 steps:
Step 1 – Line up your target
A good player knows where the ball is; a great player knows where the ball is going to be. Preempt where the ball is going to be and mark your opponent. They aren’t always going to be coming straight towards you.
Step 2 – Positioning
Once your victim is located and you know who will be getting tackled, reduce the distance between you and him, or her. Each tackle is different and experience will show you where you need to be before you go in for the crunch.
Step 3 – Safety first – think about your head
Think for a second about your own body. If you make a show stopping tackle but break your neck, you have let your teammates down by not being available for the rest of the game and, quite possibly, an extended period of time if you make dangerous tackles. Choose a safe side which will hopefully not end up on the floor before the opponent.
Step 4 – Get low down and keep your eyes open
Usually, the winner of the duel will be decided by whoever has the lowest center of gravity. Get low and bend your knees so you can drive through your opponent when you deliver the tackle. It might be scary having a 150kg man running towards you like a steam train on crack, but fight your natural instinct to close your eyes and dip your head. Stay sharp and watch your opponent.
Step 5 – The contact
Fight the urge to spread your arms out wide; you are making the tackle with the shoulder, not your hands and arms. Get low and drive through the player, clinging to your opponent like a fat kid clings to a chocolate bar. Bring the player to the ground whilst making sure that your opponent hits the ground before your head; you don’t want someone like the late, great, Jonah Lomu landing on your head.
Step 6 – What next?
If you are successful and bring the player to the ground, the player must then release the ball. But, the game doesn’t stop and wait. You will probably have some nasty looking, sweaty forwards diving over you to try and grab the ball so roll away if you can. If you are trapped under a pile of bodies, protect yourself whilst the game continues. If you are unsuccessful and the player escapes you, which often did happen with Jonah Lomu, pick yourself up and dust yourself off before getting back in the game. Mark it down as experience and learn from your mistakes; everyone misses tackles, but learn what you did wrong and become a better player from it.
“The scrum and the tackle are the two really contentious areas of the game. If you get those two aspects right, most rugby matches will work in your favor.”
Welsh Scrum half, Alan Lewis
“It’s definitely the hardest tackle I’ve taken in my life but I’m still breathing and that’s a good sign.”
South Africa fly half, Derick Hougaard
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