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Introduction Outcome Goals: Attack - Defense - Performance Goals: Attack - Defense - Frequent Errors - Team Selection - Conclusion

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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.


  1. Contesting possession
  2. Denying space
  3. Tackling the ball carrier
  4. Regaining possession

  2. Once the opposing team has the ball, the other principles of defence apply. However, this can be assisted greatly by contesting possession so that it is difficult for the opposition to control the ball. This applies to kick-offs, scrums 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 opposition off the ball. This can force the opposition to hook the ball without control, 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.

    Defensive scrummaging

    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 positioning.

    Secondly, the loosehead should lead in to turn the attacking hooker away from 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 alongside the attacking scrum-half. In this posiiion the ball can be followed and the untidy delivery exploited to regain possession.

    When the scrum is over, the first member of the scrum to leave should be the 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 defensive props 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.

    However, if the ball is won, then the same problem is posed to the opposition. Consequently, 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 on the left and right flanks, and players considerably deeper in the centre of the field.

    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 in position.

  4. 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 basketball, can 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 in-goal area.

    Each individual must identify which player they are marking and communicate this to team-mates. The defensive players should align on each other, so that they have vision of play taking place inside. They must also not concede space 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 outside in, space is created because the tackler moves in to make the tackle. The ball carrier can then pass into the space the tackler has moved from, to a team-mate who penetrates.

    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 inside. 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 space behind them. This involves risk, but can be very effective if it is used as an option when the opposing team assumes only one pattern will be used.

    The Sweeper

    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 sweeper.

    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 penetrate. 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 the lane.

    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.

  6. When the tackle is made, the act of tackling will draw the tackler away from a space in the defensive screen. if the ball carrier is able to pass into the space, 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.

    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.

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