The tackle

A tackle is used by the defending team to stop the attacking team moving forward and is an opportunity for the defending team to contest for possession of the ball. Competence in tackling and taking a tackle is critical in developing a safer and more enjoyable game. Recent studies from Australia and the UK have shown that 58% of injuries result from tackle situations, so it’s essential that this aspect of the Game must be coached, performed and refereed with due care and attention, with good technique and safe, appropriate practice paramount. This will enable players to become confident and competent in the tackle.

 

Law Definition
A tackle occurs when the ball carrier is held by one or more opponents and is brought to the ground.

Key points for players in every tackle situation

Tackler - contact with opponent(s)
  • ‘Eyes up’ looking at the ball carrier to keep head in correct position
  • Track the movement of the ball carrier, and get the feet close enough to make the tackle
  • Prepare for contact – adopt a body position that is strong, stable and low
  • Position the head behind or to one side of the ball carrier - never position the head in front of the ball carrier
  • Use the arms to ‘wrap’ around the ball carrier
  • Release the tackled player, get back to your feet immediately and contest for possession
Ball carrier - contact with ground
  • Carry the ball in both hands
  • Protect the ball - hold it tight to your chest with elbows in to your sides
  • Make contact with the ground with the buttocks and then shoulder
  • Don’t break your fall with your hand or the ball
  • Turn towards your team and pass, place or present the ball
  • Get back to your feet as soon as possible

 

For specific key points, see the individual tackle types below.

  • Player safety research for the tackle tells us that:55-60 % of injuries in adult Rugby result from the tackle
  • Poor head position will cause head and neck injuries - in adult Rugby, 72% of all concussion injuries are sustained in the tackle, and in junior Rugby, the head is one of the commonest body parts injured
  • Collisions are 70% more likely to result in an injury than a legal tackle

 

The safer "Eyes Up" tackling model was initiated and promoted by Trust PA in memory of Welsh player Paul-Andre Blundell - known as P.A., of Keynsham RFC in the English South West League One, whose life it might have saved.

Trust PA is a UK spinal repair charity established in P-A's memory.

 

Shoulder tackle - front-on
  • ‘Eyes up’ looking at the ball carrier to keep head in correct position
  • Maintain strong, stable and low body position
  • Target and make contact with the shoulder on the ball carrier’s thighs
  • Squeeze the arms tight around the ball carrier’s legs while driving with the legs
  • Continue the leg drive to bring the ball carrier to ground
  • Release the ball carrier
  • Get back to feet quickly
  • Contest for possession
Shoulder tackle - side-on
  • Maintain strong, stable and low body position
  • Target and make contact with the shoulder on the ball carrier’s thighs
  • Squeeze the arms tight around the ball carrier’s legs, drive with the legs and bring the ball carrier to ground
  • Roll to finish on top
  • Release the ball carrier and get back to feet quickly
  • Contest for possession
Smother tackle
  • Plant lead foot close to attacker
  • Target the ball which should be between waist and chest height
  • Try to wrap both arms around the ball carrier and in doing so trap the ball carrier’s arms and the ball
  • Drive forward after contact
  • Bring the ball carrier to the ground
Tap tackle
  • Chase the ball carrier until within diving distance
  • Dive and make contact with the ball carrier’s feet or ankles with an outstretched arm
  • Keep the head away from the ball carrier’s feet


Unless the ball carrier is held after being brought to ground, then in Law, a tackle has not been made and the referee will allow open play to continue.

Tackles involving more than one tackler
  • First tackler should follow the key points for the front-on shoulder tackle
  • Second tackler should follow the key points for the smother tackle
  • Try to communicate with the other tackler and act simultaneously
  • Both players should release the ball carrier as soon as possible, get back to their feet and compete for the ball


Nearly half of all tackles involve more than one tackler. The double tackle is rarely planned and is difficult to coach. It is not encouraged, particularly among young players.

Tackle from behind
  • Chase the ball carrier until within tackling distance
  • Wrap the arms around the hips/legs of the ball carrier
  • With the head to the side, make contact with the shoulder and pull the arms inward
  • Squeeze the arms tight and slide down the ball carrier’s body (remembering to keep the head to one side) until the ball carrier is taken to the floor and finish on top
Tackling in a dangerous manner

All players are responsible for their actions when tackling a ball carrier and, as such, a tackler must NOT ‘tackle’ an opponent in a dangerous manner. Examples of dangerous ‘tackles’ include:

High contact -‘Tackling’ above the line of the shoulders, especially around the neck or head

In the air -‘Tackling’ a player whose feet are off the ground

Spear/tip tackle -Lifting a ball carrier (opponent) from the ground and dropping that player (tipping) or driving that player (spear) onto the ground so they land on their upper body, neck or head

Late (ball gone) -‘Tackling’ a player after a pass is made

Early -‘Tackling’ a player without the ball

Charging -‘Tackling’ a ball carrier without attempting to grasp that player using hands/arms

Arriving players

  • All arriving players must enter the tackle area through the gate
  • Only players on their feet may compete for the ball
  • Keep shoulders above hips
  • Players arriving at an attempted but incomplete tackle:- maintain a strong, stable and low body position
    - use the arms to grasp ball carrier
    - avoid contact with other players’ heads and necks
    - bring the ball carrier safely to the ground
  • If clearing or driving out defenders:
    - maintain a strong, stable and low body position
    - ‘eyes up’ - sight the target, chin off the chest
    - keep the spine in line with the direction of drive
    - start the drive from a low body position
    - make contact with defender using the shoulder and arms, not the head
    - close arms around opponent
    - drive the player away and clear the ball
    - bind with a team-mate to improve stability

How the tackle gate forms

During the tackle, both players should attempt to rotate to face their own team-mates.


Red team

Blue team
Red team

Blue team
  Before contact Tackle completed  

The tackle gate


Red players must join from here
No player may join from here No player may join from here
Blue players must join from here

 

Coaching Tips

Poorly executed tackles tend to be the result of poor positioning by the tackler rather than poor tackle technique. Correct positioning can and should be practised. It involves the tackler closing down the ball carrier’s space and then establishing balance and stability before stepping in close with the lead foot to allow shoulder and arm contact, which should then allow leg drive in the tackle.

  • Use the key points to improve the players’ tackle skills in a safe manner
  • Emphasise the legal requirements in the tackle regarding use of arms (see the earlier section on dangerous tackles)
  • Focus on one or two key points at a time - don’t try to coach too many key factors at once
  • Observe and analyse players to highlight good practice and correct faults
  • Provide positive and constructive feedback to improve players
  • Construct coaching sessions to encourage progressive development, and build confidence
  • An example of the tackle progression for the side-on tackle is as follows:
    - Ball carrier kneel - tackler kneel (only for side-on tackle to demonstrate head position)
    - Ball carrier stand - tackler kneel (encourage leg drive)
    - Ball carrier walk - tackler on one knee
    - Ball carrier stand - tackler squat
    - Ball carrier walk - tackler squat
    - Ball carrier walk - tackler walk
    - Ball carrier run - tackler run
  • Avoid gender, size, age and experience mismatches when introducing and developing skills
  • Ensure players practice in sufficient space to avoid accidental collisions with unseen players

 

Referee Tips

Check that:

  • The tackle is made below the shoulder line
  • The tackler uses the arms to grab and hold the ball carrier
  • If the ball carrier is lifted off the ground, they are brought back to ground safely
  • The tackler releases the tackled player
  • The tackled player passes, places or releases the ball immediately
  • Both players get to their feet
  • Arriving players enter the tackle zone through the correct gate
  • Arriving players remain on their feet

 

Watch for:

  • Illegal and/or dangerous acts, which are not tackles (see the earlier section on dangerous tackles)
  • Players who charge or obstruct opponents who are not near the ball
  • Tackles making contact with the head or neck or which might cause damage to the neck or head - these MUST be strictly dealt with


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