BLOG 9 COACHES CORNER: The in’s and out’s of rucking… Get it right and you win the game!

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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 9 COACHES CORNER: The in’s and out’s of rucking… Get it right and you win the game!

A few weeks ago we started looking at rucking with ball presentation being the topic of interest and how to narrow the gate of the ruck to make it harder to counter. So to re-cap,

The International Rugby Boards classification of a ruck is:
“…a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on
their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground. Open play has
ended. Players are rucking when they are in a ruck and using their feet to try to win or
keep possession of the ball, without being guilty of foul play.” (IRB 2011)
Then the interpretation of the gate was the following:

So seeing as we now have the falling in check let’s have a look at how to build a ruck over these players on the ground. Usually coaches put in four forwards at most into attacking rucks as it let’s the other four forwards roam around the pitch as ball-carriers. In some cases if the team can get away with rucking three or two players then they will reduce the number of players into the attacking ruck. There is evidence of this in the 6 Nations where rucks can be won with 1 or 2 players standing over the ball engaged in the ruck. However this can lead to counter-rucking so knowing when to do add two or four to the ruck is something we must teach our players to do.
Let’s start with putting four players into the ruck, these four need to know their roles and responsibility for when approaching the ruck to ensure it is won effectively and efficiently. The first player at the breakdown (ruck) needs to know that they are in a “combatant” role and that they are there to clear the area of the break-down. That may be by driving straight over the ruck, or rolling a player of the side of the ruck, basically shifting the defending ruck players by any means possible. If this is done successfully then the roles of the next 3 are to secure possession by binding like a snake formation over the long-bodied player on the ground. This would mean that the gate has been narrowed and there is only a small entry for defending rucks to engage the ruck. If the defending team tries to counter-ruck then the 2nd attacking player who joined the ruck becomes the combatant and tries to shift this new defender backwards or off to the side, which would mean attackers 3 and 4 become the “safety” players and secure the ball. The “safety” player is a vital role as if all four players became the combatants and drove well past the ball the ruck would be over and defending team would be allowed to come and pick up the ball. If the safety player is stood over the ball, it keeps the defensive players behind the ruck and some vital seconds for the attacking team to set their next phase of attack.
So if we were to look at this as a diagram it would be something like the following:

So rucking with four players would have the following roles and it is easy to assign these roles if there is only 2 or 3 attacking players entering the breakdown area. The only drawback now is the interpretation of this by the referee. Throughout my coaching career and working in area of analysis, this type of rucking works very well at professional and in the international arena but when teams try to utilise this method at grass roots level it is sometimes not governed as first expected. As we have already discussed in earlier blogs under the All Ireland League there is only one official on the park and sometimes whilst ensuring all else is being monitored may not see the occasional side entry by a defending player. If this happens then the attacking ruck can be destabilised and a perfectly good attacking system can be stopped.
That said, my advice would be to educate and teach both rucking types, through the “long body” technique but also rucking with the side falling technique as seeing rugby is a dynamic game a ball carrying player can fall in any direction so players need to experience all types to know when and where to use the differing techniques.
When we re-visit this area next I’ll add some drills that I have found useful over the years to build this player knowledge.

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