BLOG 11 COACHES CORNER: To ruck or not to ruck?? That is the question of counter-rucking

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Written & compiled by:

Nathan Moore: BSc (Hons) Sports Science, P.G.C.E
Founder of NM Sports Performance,
Video analyst and Coach for NM Sports Performance Click Here

BLOG 11 COACHES CORNER: To ruck or not to ruck?? That is the question of counter-rucking

If the 6 Nations can tell us anything then it is nobody is certain of a win these days in International rugby. Though on the last day of the championship, one thing became very evident and that is if you contest the ball at the breakdown (the ruck area) then you have a very good chance of turning over ball or breaking any attacking system down. A”counter-ruck” is where the defending team tries to out muscle and drive away the attacking team’s players who are guarding the ball on the ground. As you go through the ranks of grass roots to semi-pro and professional teams, the skills are the same but the playing patterns and speed of execution of these skills are much quicker. Playing patterns alone are vital both in attack and defence and it is here that teams can try to gain the upper hand on their opponents. The French are prime examples of how if a team can counter-ruck at the right time, then they can disrupt an attacking flow and can do one of two things… Either gain turn-over ball or frustrate the attacking team into making handling errors or conceding penalties.
It is very simple when look at the theory behind teams counter-rucking, in the last article we looked at the body position in the contact area and the idea of narrowing the gate for entry to the ruck. This has allowed teams at international level to ruck with either 1 or 2 men and the rest are used as runners coming off 9, 10 or 12. Allowing teams this kind of momentum can be damaging to the fitness of the team as players are constantly having to reorganise the defensive line and taking constant collisions can be physically draining to the players. When looking at the French play Wales it was clear to see that they were not going to allow Wales to build any momentum and piled in more numbers into the Welsh attacking rucks. This made the Welsh commit more attackers to winning the ruck and if they won the ruck then had little to no options outside of 10 and therefore more easily defended by the French defensive line.
So this tactical technique has brought teams success in their games but it is the knowing when to commit defenders into rucks to try to win it or when to admit the ruck is lost and to get into the defensive is the key to success. If the ruck is lost and the defending teams commit more players then they are gifting the attacking team an overlap somewhere on the pitch. So I have put down some thoughts and feelings as to when to look to counter ruck and when not to over commit players. Check out diagram 1.

Looking at the diagram the scenario that I would have players looking to counter ruck would be scenario C. If the attackers have made a mistake and the ruck has been made behind the attacking team (through a fielding of a kick for example) then the defending team should put more players into the ruck to counter it as the attacking forwards, in theory, have to take the long route round to enter through the gate.
In Scenario B both teams are coming in from the same angles so it would be a harder one to counter unless there is relatively small number of attackers in the ruck.
In Scenario A the defending players will have to run around the ruck to enter through the gate so in this case it would probably be wise to not commit and fan out in defence.
All in all, it is a game of numbers… If the attacking team has committed 4-5 players into the ruck and/or the ruck is adjacent or behind the defensive line the odds on it is better not to try to counter but fan out ready for the next assault. If the attacking team commits 3 or less in retaining possession at the ruck or the ruck happens in front of the defensive line (behind the attacking line) then it would be advisable to try to commit more players and counter-ruck.
So next time you are playing it over in your mind while on a pitch and are asking “To ruck or not to ruck?” then simply do the maths!!

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