Rugby Defensive Drills

by Henry Francis
Rugby is a combative game; practicing defensive drills is critical.

Rugby is a combative game; practicing defensive drills is critical.

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The success of a rugby team depends on its ability to defend and attack. Defensive rugby drills are plentiful, and concentrate on key skills such as tackling, positioning, strength, fitness and kicking. Other key defensive aspects of rugby are the ability to turn over line outs and, perhaps most importantly, setting up successful defensive scrums.


Tackling is one of the most important weapons in a defensive player's arsenal. Practicing tackling often involves using a tackle bag, which one player straps over his torso to soak up the impact of another's tackle. Players practice by tackling the man wearing the tackle bag as he stands still or as the tackle bag-wearer runs diagonally, enabling the tackler to practice correct angles. When carrying out tackling drills, make sure players do not dive into tackles; rather that they have at least one, if not both feet, planted so they tackle from a solid base. It is vital that players are taught to tackle correctly, using the shoulder to hit the waist (or lower) of the opponent.


A useful drill for defensive scrummaging is to set up eight players against a scrum machine. According to, the three key elements are safety, timing and technique. It is crucial that players' necks are protected for safety. Further, you must make sure the two opposing sides of a scrum are aligned straightly so the forwards' heads will lock side by side rather than clashing straight on. Practicing timing is crucial; when the referee calls "engage," your scrum must move as one fluid object into its opponents. Get a coach or volunteer to watch a scrum from an elevated position and highlight any player who is out of sync with his teammates. Finally, technique is key. Make sure players have the most aggressive and stable stance when entering a scrummage and that they do not perform illegal moves such as binding on the arm.

Line Outs

Working on defending line outs can make your side a more potent force. Complete a drill that focuses on both fitness and the need to quickly set up organized line outs. Set up cones on the touchline at the 22, halfway line and opposing 22 and assign a name for each 22 such as "near side" and "far side." Get all players in the line out to stand on the halfway line as a volunteer or coach shouts at what cone they should form their line out. Have a line out thrower stand on each cone and quickly deliver a variety of line out throws, including short throws to the first man in the line, darts to the middle and looping deliveries to a man off the back. Go through nine repetitions so that players have completed line outs three times at each cone.


Successful defensive kicking is an important component of rugby, allowing a defensive unit to regroup and gain some vital territory. Defensive kicks come in two formats: a kick for touch and a box kick. Set up a drill with a tackle bag a set distance away from the kicker, such as 5 meters, and get another player to fire passes to the kicker at different heights and speeds, just as they would receive in a match. Have each kicker in the drill receive 20 different passes and keep a track of how many times their kicks hit the bag. It is useful if all defensive players can perform both types of kicks as any member of a side can be forced to carry them out. It is most important, however, that your number 10 (fly-half) is skilled at both types of kicks as he is usually the man making these plays.

About the Author

I have been involved in coaching and administration of youth soccer with the Herts FA for several years. I have many years experience with the technical side and equipment of soccer, cricket, rugby, snooker and poker. I studied the health and fitness and dietary side of competitive sport while at University. Currently, I am not ready for on-camera opportunities, but this could change with access to training and equipment.

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