Defence from Scrums – a response to a query

By | August 27, 2018

I have been asked to explain my approach to defence from the scrum. What I have done provides a blueprint for scrum but is equally applicable to the line-out and defence from phase play. From phase play there tends to be more defenders in the defence line than there are attackers in the attack line. This can lead to confusion as to who is defending who. This can be solved by continuing to defend inside out but numbering outside in so any spare defenders are close to the source of possession where pick and go and one or two pass hit ups take place. But most importantly the defence must know who is defending who.

I think it is a matter of numbering the ball carriers as follows:

In each case if the defender can’t get to the ball carrier defending inside out they call to the other members of their team that they are able to drift onto the next ball carrier.

To do this effectively they don’t drift back but hold their position on the inside position of the next defender so they can tackle the ball carrier when they cut back in. So often they drop back and leave this space and the ball carrier is able to get over the gain line.

It is also important that the defender on the current ball carrier moves up fast inside out. If you can then get boys of this age to slow down about 3 metres away, step to be square on about a metre or two away and then move directly into the tackle. This defender is closest to the opposition and the defenders inside and outside him are aligned in a flat arrowhead so they can move into play. They should also align on the inside shoulder of their attacker. At all levels attackers tend to drift across the field and this helps the defence “shepherd” them into the space of the next attacker so they end up running out of room.

Note they don’t defend the number on the back but each successive pair of hands so that attackers entering the attack line between 2 defenders are taken care of. It is a matter of numbering out.

#1 Ball carrier/ #8 or #9 run with the ball – Defensive 6 and 7 watch the ball through the scrum from their pushing position, which is also a good tackling position. They watch the hands that pick up the ball and if the legs attached to the hands go to that side then the tackle is theirs. It may be too technical but if they step wide and leave the inside space they can tackle the #8 back into the scrum.

Your #8 can assist with the tackle or drive through the ball to counter ruck to regain the ball.

Defensive #9 – Defend #2 ball carrier – probably #10. If he is unsure if the attack is going left or right he can position behind #8 as this allows him to go to the side the attack goes and tackle the second ball carrier.

I think if the attacking #9 passes immediately, as they usually do, then the defensive #9 is in a good position to make the tackle with #6 or #7 inside him as back-up. He shouldn’t have to worry about #8 and #9 running if #’s 6,7 and 8 do their job.

Defensive #10 – Defend #3 ball carrier – probably #12 or the blind side wing entering the open side from the blind side.

Defensive #12 – Defend #4 ball carrier – probably #13

Defensive #13 – Defend #5 ball carrier – Lets say #15 entering the attack line.

Defensive #11 and #14 – Defend #6 ball carrier.

Few teams will have more than 6 ball carriers in the attacking line.

You will also find that ball carriers drift and pass before committing a defender allowing the defence to drift, as I have said above. They take up each others space and enable you to gang tackle and, with greater numbers to counter ruck, although refs don’t seem to allow this, I don’t know why.

Re practicing to get the tackle running line correct and make the tackle I have used stationary tackle bags. The flaw most teams make is that they all tackle at the same time, which is unrealistic, I usually put the tackle bags in an attacking formation on the tackle line and have the defenders coming up in order to make the tackle.

I then have them return to the offside line and move one player out adding another player inside to make the first tackle. When they have moved to the end of the defence line they run back to where the scrum would be. They just shuffle out one after each tackle.

You can then add in players and the tackles made are as strong as you think they can handle.

I have added a loose ball after each tackle that they recover.

Another addition is for the inside tackler, after he has made his tackle, to tackle with the tackler next in the line to make a double tackle.

I can get carried away sometimes.


Win – Paul Cammarata

By | July 29, 2018

It’s become a taboo word, not just in soccer but in all youth sports. Most recently the debate has become an issue of coaches choosing winning or development, as if they are mutually exclusive. Coaches who develop players the right way don’t have to choose either or because winning and development go hand in hand, but first you will have to understand what “winning” truly means.

The idea we face today that winning doesn’t matter, only development, stems from the extreme “win at all costs” mentality that many involved with any youth sport promote. Because of that extreme, the polar opposite has arisen where we tell our players that winning doesn’t matter, and here is our ultimate issue.

Winning matters. But development matters more.

Let’s understand that. They both matter. There’s a score at the end of the game, there is generally a “winning” team and a “losing” team in games. There’s a reason, however, that there are quotations around both those words. What does winning mean after all? Does winning mean having the better score in a U7 league game? Does winning mean a team that goes unbeaten in Division 1 in their U8 group?

To some, yes. For me, “winning” or more specific a “winning mentality” means players who are hungry and determined to give 100% at improving everything they do. Inspire our youth to be hungry and motivated to improve constantly at whatever they do, and soon the hunger to win games will also develop. Too often, however, we start on the wrong end.

Let’s first look at the argument of why “winning over development” survives to this day, and then let’s look at what the kids think. This is their game, after all.

By the age of 13, 70% of kids involved in organized sports drop out of the game. Often, the reasoning is that they aren’t “having fun anymore” and they’ve lost interest. Here is where “winning at all costs” comes to life. After all, when adults take their own personal experience, winning is always equated to fun. They fondly remember their time as a player, coach, or even spectator, and the elation that came from winning. The equation is simple with the “win at all costs mentality”: If kids aren’t winning, kids will want to drop out because they aren’t having fun. Who enjoys losing?

It’s a poisonous idea that permeates through all aspects of youth sports and is one of the major factors that sees kids dropping out of organized sport at an alarming rate. Read again, the “win at all costs” adultification of youth sports is the most damaging aspect of youth development. Do kids want to win games? Yes, but how long do they dwell on losses as compared to mom and dad?

By the age of 13, around 70% of kids involved in organized sports drop out. It’s a fact worth repeating, and in all this debate, adults are the ones throwing around what kids want. It’s fascinating when a 50 year old is explaining what their seven year old son or daughter wants. Lucky for us, however, someone much smarter than myself decided to do a study where they simply asked kids what exactly they wanted from sports.

The results are fascinating, and incredibly encouraging if you believe in a “winning mentality.” Project Play from the Aspen Institute reports on a study conducted in 2014 by George Washington University where kids were asked why they participate in sports. Over 90 percent of children responded that they participated in sports because it was fun. Fun, however, means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. The children were asked to describe what fun meant for them, and 81 different explanations arose throughout the study.

81 different explanations for what fun means, ranked in order of most important as a response.

Guess where “winning” ends up. Top 5?
Top 10?
Top 20?
Top 40?

Try 48th on the list. Winning was ranked by children as the 48th most important reason to describe fun. Enjoy the important results (courtesy of here:

Trying your best, being treated with respect by the coach, and getting playing time are the most important factors that kids define fun by. Tournaments and trophies? Not up there, sorry folks. This is fun for one group, certainly, but unfortunately they aren’t the one’s playing.

Trying your best is essentially the idea of giving 100%. It’s that winning mentality, and if we can continue to foster it, we are one step ahead of the game in helping to create “winners.” Kids generally forget about results soon after the game is over. The game is really won or lost, however, in the car ride home. As Project Play explains, kids often forget about the result ten minutes after a game is over, but are often reminded of it constantly in the car-ride home and at dinner that day.

We are responsible for the environment we create for our players and our children. If you think your son or daughter’s value lies in winning a medal at the end of the year, even if they have (which is often the case in “win at all costs” mentality) regressed in technical development or tactical awareness, then you would much prefer playing in division 5 where your team wins 7-0 every game. You’ll get a lot of trophies to put on the mantlepiece, but they’ll all stop after a certain age. The obsession for short term success had decidedly destroyed the long term possibilities for players.

Instead of harping on the most recent scoreline in your league game, why not watch the game and see where your son or daughter could improve. Why not explain to them, as coaches should be doing also, that they have to strive for perfection within themselves before they worry about perfection manifested in scorelines and results. At 7, are we talking about perfection? No, but we are extolling the values of hard work, a never-quit attitude, and always working to get better. That’s what perfection is.

Winning is important, but development is more important. Develop the winning mentality, see kids take ownership of their own technical development, understanding that one hour of practice a week is not enough, and watch the results come, eventually. Eventually is the key word here. Don’t expect this to happen over the course of a week, a season, maybe even a year. Development is not a straight line. Ups will come with downs, and development does not mean constant, unchecked progression.

Watch your teams and watch how they play. Are they encouraged to play out of the back, pass to the keeper, play the ball on the ground and take chances? Mistakes will happen and games will be lost. Does your team kick the ball as far as they can so the striker can score a lot of goals? Mistakes will be minimized and you will undoubtedly win some trophies. Trust in the team that plays the right way and learns from their mistakes, but don’t take my advice for it, I prefer Laureano Ruiz’s explanation, the man who many claim to be the reason behind Barcelona’s playing style:

Let us say that you and I coach two teams with kids that are 10, 11, and 12 years old and all are about equally good. You try to teach them to play good football, a passing game and with tactical basics while I tell mind to only play long balls and try to shoot. I can assure you that at first, I will always win against you, by using your mistakes. Break a bad pass and goal. If we however continue with the same training methods during a three year period, you will most likely win every game against us. Your players will have learned how to play while mine haven’t. That’s how easy it is.

Unfortunately, as many coaches who value proper development know, it isn’t always easy. It takes a village to educate a child. Coaches can and should do their part to ensure they are developing a player for long term success, but we need help from parents to. The environment we create for these players is of the utmost importance.

Next time you’re watching your son or daughter play, forget the result at the end. The result only serves to guide your player on what they need to improve on, nothing more. I have dozens of trophies and medals from my own days playing sports as a youth, and to be completely honest, I barely remember any of them. As a coach, my fondest memory isn’t the victories I’ve had with different teams. Nor is it the playoff appearances, or tournaments I’ve been to or even won.

My fondest memory is much more simple, and much more memorable. It was a text I received a week ago from a former player who thanked me for changing the mentality of the program he was in, and for giving him an experience that was instrumental to his high school career.

The focus wasn’t on short term success. It was always much larger than that.

Develop and win. One comes before the other, and for good reason.

Paul Cammarata

Continue the Discussion!

The Demise of Contest for the sake of Continuity at the Elite Levels of Rugby Union.

By | June 21, 2018

by Roy Harvey

The initial reduction of ‘contest’ began several years ago with the interpretation of the post-tackle situation wherein a tackled player was permitted to reposition body position/ball location directly after a tackle. This replaced the requirement for the tackled player to release the ball and roll away/get to feet immediately – yet the same Law was strictly adhered to for the tackler who was still subject to the original requirements of Law; immediate release and immediate move away or get to feet.

This ‘adjustment’ to the written Law was introduced to promote continuation of play to the detriment of fair contest for the ball directly following a tackle.

Since this ‘interpretation’ of events relating to a tackle other interpretations (rather than applications) of Laws have gradually reduced the concept of ‘fair contest’ and have replaced it by a desire for continuity for the sake of entertainment through rapid continuity. A prime example of which is the interpretation of the Advantage Law, which states that gaining an advantage from an opponent’s error shall be territorial or tactical. However, a major change in interpretation has occurred over time; rather than a team electing to play an immediate advantage over a restart, playing advantage is now applied over the consequence of the restart – the potential outcome of the restart. In other words, the team playing advantage is permitted ‘two bites of the cherry’ by either gaining territorial or tactical advantage, but not to the betterment of the consequence of the restart, and is awarded the restart even though advantage has been gained according to Law.

The following provides further examples of how the game has deviated from Contest & Continuity according to its Charter; sacrificing Contest for the promotion of Continuity of the team in possession.

When a player is on the ground with the ball, whether after a tackle or not, that player has three immediate choices: get up (without the ball after a tackle), pass the ball, or release the ball by putting/pushing it on or on/along the ground. Such release optimizes potential for ‘contest’. In practice this is rarely the case, as tackled players are allowed to (i) reposition and/or (ii) keep a hand on the ball for the sake of stability and, consequently, provide for greater continuity (at the sacrifice of contest for the ball).
At the same time, although the Laws state that nearby players on their feet must remain on their feet, in practice they often do not. A loophole in Law 14.2 allows this as long as it is not intentional. Consequently, arriving players initially standing often end up being supported by other body parts as they set a defensive platform for (again) continuity of possession, at the sacrifice of potential contest.
Within this aspect of play, players not in possession of the ball are expected to adhere to associated Laws so that play may continue. Since this aspect of the game usually occurs many dozens of time during a match the opportunity for possession is skewed to the advantage of the team in possession because of diminished opportunity for contest. It may be argued that the only instance the player in possession of the ball on the ground is sanctioned is when the ball is not made available for continuity by its release to opponents who have fairly won the contest for possession.

Associated with the above is the circumstance where a player is tackled by an opponent who remains standing (According to Law, this player is not a tackler although a tackle has been made). Having made a tackle, this player is unable to take possession of the ball from the tackled player immediately; rather ‘release and retreat’ is demanded before further involvement is permitted. Again, contest is diminished for the sake of continuity by the team in possession.

Compounding this situation, even though the ball is often seen to be out of the ruck following a tackle, associated offside Laws are maintained even when the scrum-half has a hand or foot on the ball well clear of the backmost foot as options for continuity are determined.

Conversely, the scrum-half may be seen reaching well into the ruck (or scrum) to take possession of the ball, despite associated Law forbidding this.

Furthermore, to ensure the team not in possession does not advance at rucks, ‘pillars’ are located well in advance of the back-foot, blatantly flaunting offside Law.

It may be claimed that the prevalent way to gain possession of the ball is when the team in possession makes an error, such as a ‘knock-on’, ‘forward pass’ etc..

When opponents gain possession, it is their turn to continue play with minimal opportunity for contest for the opposition…..

Such opponents initially may be awarded the opportunity to gain possession through the awarding of a scrum for a minor infringement. According to the second paragraph of its Definition,’ front row players can compete for possession’. However, despite having the advantage of the loose-head-prop (and the rest of the front row) being closer to the ball being thrown in, and knowing when the ball is thrown in, the current state of affairs sees no consideration for contest as the ball is almost always thrown in contrary to Law. Most recently, contest is further removed by the position of the scrum-half. Two questions that need address: (a) At the senior levels, is there a competition for possession of the ball, and (b) Why is so much playing time taken up with this aspect of play when resultant possession is a foregone conclusion, and so much time is wasted resetting involved players during the futile efforts to compete without any effort to play the ball?

Once possession is gained, Laws relating to contest are, once more, regularly disregarded for promotion of continuity. It may be claimed that The Game has become compromised for the sake of entertainment.

Most recently, one Experimental Variation has seen the advent of a one-player ruck in order that an offside line may be established at the tackle; again, to promote continuity. Yet at such a ruck the ball may be handled if done so before two opposing players on their feet make contact over the ball. In a roundabout way, an offside-line has been established at the tackle.

In summary, the modern game at the elite level has become a game that has lost its roots regarding contest for the sake of spectacle through optimal continuity. And, if this is how rugby is to evolve, it would be a simple issue to address: Change the Charter and Laws for all participants!

Let us not forget the fact that the game being played at senior levels is not the game being played by the very great majority of players around the world. Their game – and the game match officials are obliged to arbitrate – is played according to The Laws of The Game. Local match officials must be pitied as they attempt to control a game in which players emulate their idols seen on television by playing according to what they observe, only to be sanctioned.

In reality, there are two different games being played; one at the elite level, and the other everywhere else..

Sadly, Rugby Union, as written in The Charter & The Laws of The Game, has lost its direction at the elite level; their game is very similar to, but it is not, Rugby.

Roy Harvey

Lee Smiths Response to Roy Harper’s article

I thought that the article “ The Demise of Contest for the sake of Continuity At the Elite Levels of Rugby Union” was excellent and I would make the following points:

  1. I remember a diagram Tom did some years ago in which the contest for possession was linked to the continuity of play and not the continuity of possession. In it the point was made that if the continuity of play was to be the aim this could be achieved if we let the Laws and refereeing place emphasis on the continuity of possession to the detriment of the contest for possession.
  2. If the entertainment element was to be emphasised by the continuity of possession then the domination of the team in possession of the ball would lead to a sameness about their attack which of course forces the defence to play to a consistent pattern that at least stops the defence from going forward even if the contest for possession is denied them.
  3. Your point re advantage is well taken. In many cases the return to the infringement takes an age.
  4. Perhaps it is because someone with our coaching background is not employed by the IRB while refereeing does have some residents and these employees make sure that the interpretation of the Law has their emphasis which is entertainment and which they see as being solved favouring the attack.
  5. Tell me re the maul is there a trial law that demands that the ball is in the hands of an attacker in contact with the defence? I saw it in a northern hemisphere last week.
  6. Any Law is flawed if it tries to base the implementation on the motivation of the players, in other words, players’ intent.
  7. The refs should be asked what gave them the right to impose “release and retreat”, to interpret offside with such latitude in favour of the team in possession and including using the “pillars” to obstruct the defenders when they move forward.
  8. So much of what the refs are doing is their concept of what the game should look like and their desire to tidy up the contest as this is messy.
  9. Good point re time wasting in many respects.
  10. The ruck definition creates a play the ball as in rugby league. Also remember that modern day players and increasing numbers of refs and coaches have never seen a ruck that could be described as a loose scrum with players in different positions competing for the ball.
    I cannot emphasize enough that The Charter that bases rugby on 5 principles, these are in order of priority and the contest for possession is the first of these, it is #1 priority.

After I went home, other principles were added, things like respect etc, they are in the Law Book. The flaw is that these apply to any civil society and any institution in that society and they facilitate civil human discourse. They are not the exclusive preserve of rugby union and, what is worse, I can quote many situations in which they have been infringed.
If we start with the principles for the performance of the game and use these to get the Laws, officiating, coaching and playing right then we wouldn’t have this mess.

I cannot overlook the weakness of session chairmen at the conference on the game that has led to a few telling the rest, a few with limited knowledge and ability, what to do. It doesn’t matter if there is blood on the floor so long as you are together enough to resolve the issues and from which we depart with common agreement.

We seem to have some momentum – can we keep it going?

Kind regards,