Rugby Defence Drills


Defence is important, in tight games it can be the difference between winning and losing, however, it’s not an aspect of the game which players will enjoy practicing. As a coach you need to ensure you have a strong defensive plan. In this article I will look as some important aspects of coaching defensive and provide you with some resources to get you started.

Backline Communication

The key to good backline defence is communication. A player needs to cover all of an opponent’s attacking options. A common mistake is when players get caught “ball watching” when the ball is still back at a breakdown. This can lead to overlaps, and mismatches. It is important for players to observe any formation changes in the opposition backline and communicate this to thier own players.

Key points to get across to your players when coaching defence

  • Tackling technique is important, particularly at youth level coaching proper tackling technique is key
  • Use your speed to close down an attackers space
  • Use control and balance when approaching the attacking line
  • Support your outside player`s inside shoulder.
  • Put pressure on the player you are marking
  • Don’t be afraid to adapt or change defensive patterns, to stop the opposition reading your plan
  • If you commit to a tackle, make sure you commit the attacker to a decision

Where’s your head at?

Defence is a mental game.  You often see at junior levels young rugby players showing fear of tackling larger players. Coaching this fear out of younger players is an important aspect of teaching defence at younger levels of the game. If your players won’t tackle, they aren’t going to win games. Fear can be coached out of younger players with experience. They soon see that bigger players fall harder, and if you work on their fitness, and technique there is no reason why an aggressive small team can’t steam roll a much larger side.


It is often a good idea to explain your defensive plan in terms of formations. The following are a few basic formations used in our modern game, some of which originated from Rugby League.

Slide Defence or “Up and Out”

Slide defence is all about marking up and standing inside your opponent giving them space outside you. This encourages opponents to slide towards the sideline. This is a good tactic if you have very fast backs, as your players need to have the wheels on their opposition.  It works as your are encouraging opponents to use the outside space, but at the same time you are using your speed, and the side line to limit their options.

Up and In

For an “Up and In” defence you stand and mark up on the outside of your opponent, limiting their outside options, and driving them back towards your forwards. This is a good plan when you suspect your backs are slower than the opposition, and where you have a much bigger forward pack. This formation encourages more action in tight where your forwards operate.

Up and Decide

The “Up and Decide” formation is a combination of both the above. Where the first 4 players from the ruck mark up on the outside, forcing close play to stay tight. This closes down space for those players hitting the ball up. However, if the ball is spread wide, outside backs mark up on the inside of their opponents, and use slide defence, speed and the sideline to limit their opponent’s space.

  1. Jim Nariel says

    Yes I’ve tried a few of these – but some are new – great stuff will use in Sunday Training

  2. Kinna says

    Yes I’ve tried a few of these – but some are new – great stuff will use in Sunday Training

  3. Orisi Naio says

    it helps me a lot because i would like to be a professional defensive coach in the near future. Do you have any test in defence coach?

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