What Are The Rules For Tackling In Rugby?

In the sport of Rugby, there is nothing more exciting to watch than a flawless tackle. To end a possession, the ball-handler has to be taken down to the ground without time to pass the ball backward to his teammates. While it sounds simple to tear your opponent to the ground, there's much more that goes into a proper tackle.

The Importance Of Tackling

Tackling is one of the hardest parts of Rugby to master because of how many moving variables go into it. Although the end goal is to score higher than your opponent, the essence of each play is the tackle. Whether you’re trying to regain possession or stop an offensive run, the most important thing is consistency between tackles. Similar to Soccer. There are strict penalties when players commit illegal tackles such as yellow cards, red cards, and penalty kicks. In the event that a player is given two yellow cards or one red card they are immediately ejected from the game, so if you don’t know how to tackle properly it’s a liability to the whole team.

Low vs. High Tackling

When running in for the tackle it’s important to take time to adjust your grapple point on the player to ensure it’s safe and efficient. The height of a tackle varies wildly as players only have a matter of seconds to latch on to the ball runner. The official rule is to stay below the shoulders and this was chosen in order to decrease the number of neck injuries. When tackles are made above the shoulder line they are known simply as a “High Tackle”. These are often made by amateur athletes when they do not have the speed to better their position. When a high tackle call is made, the player receives a yellow card which ejects the player for 15 minutes. Although a high tackle will also bring the player down, a lower tackle will offset the player’s center of gravity which results in a quicker fall. This is why the lower you can latch onto the opposing player, the better.

Head Positioning

One of the most interesting differences between Rugby and Football is the lack of helmets in Rugby which can cause some rough injuries on the field. When running up to tackle your opponent you’ll want to protect your head from any impact possible. This is why you should keep your head and body a few inches to the side of which you plan to tackle on. Staggering your body will allow you to hit with momentum while keeping your head above the action. When going in for a tackle straight on it’s best to move your head to behind the carrier. In every tackle, if you can keep your chin up and eyes forward you’ll have a good chance at making contact.

Body Positioning

In a tackle in Rugby, the body is the only weapon to stop the ball carrier from passing through your goal line. This is why the positioning of your body going into the tackle makes all the difference. The first step is to align the feet with the direction the ball carrier is coming. Then the player needs to make sure their hips and chest are aimed at the ball itself. The shoulders will be used by the ball carrier to mislead the defense, but if the defense keeps their body locked on the ball then there is no way for the ball carrier to evade being tackled.

Once the defense is about to make contact with the ball carrier, they should bend their knees to lower their own center of gravity. This is usually done within two to three feet of the ball carrier and is known as “foot in hoop”. They then move towards the ball carrier with their shoulder at the front of the collision and strike in the upper thigh.

Arm Placement

After the initial contact has been made through the shoulder of the defense, they should lock their arms around the ball carrier's waist to tear them down to the ground. It’s best to keep your arms as close to your body as possible to direct the energy through your torso. This is where teammates can come in handy as the other defensive players on the field can assist by pushing and pulling the opponent to the ground if one man cannot alone as long as they stay on their feet. Once down on the ground the defense should release their locked hands and roll off of the downed player.

Leg Placement

When preparing to tackle, the defender must keep their legs loose and a firm stance. If the ball carrier doesn’t drop after the initial contact then the defender can keep their hold and push back onto the defender to take them down. With a firm footing during the initial tackle, the player can dig their feet into the field to get more leverage over their opponent. Additionally, by rolling to the ground on your legs and hips, the chance of injury is far lower than if you were to land on your upper body.

Holding the Ball Law

The holding the ball law in Rugby states that if a player isn’t able to pass off the ball legally after being tackled, then the opposing team is awarded a free kick from the current location of the ball.

Ball on Ground Law

The ball on ground law in Rugby states that if the ball carrier falls to the ground and the end of the run can’t be attributed to one tackle then the player must either pass off the ball to a teammate or drop the ball and end the play.

Possible Injuries From Being Illegally Tackled

Tackle injuries in Rugby usually stem from one of two illegal tackle types. The high tackle which was mentioned earlier is any tackle that is made above the shoulder length. By taking the player down from above their neck it can result in broken necks and broken collarbones. Then there is the spear tackle which occurs when a defender lifts up the ball carrier and throws them down on their neck or head instead of their back. This usually results in a red card from the referee for the defender and injuries similar to those sustained from high tackles.