Five defensive lessons from 2008 Six Nations

Learn how Welsh rugby coach, Shaun Edwards, transformed his team's defence.

The Welsh Six Nations Grand Slam winning team in 2008 conceded only two tries across the five games in which they played. What was the secret to their success? And what lessons can you learn from the Welsh example?

Ruck defence

The final game of the series was against France. In this game Wales used a policy of letting the opponents win ruck ball in return for spreading out a blanket defence.

Often the French team committed more than three players to the ruck and so then faced an unequal challenge with perhaps 10 attackers facing a wall of 12 defenders, with two more in the back field.

Against a side who counter attack and like to spread the ball about, this makes perfect sense.

However, against a team like England who prefer to keep the ball tight, a more aggressive ruck defence is required, with greater numbers at the breakdown to disrupt the possession.

Lesson 1

You need to balance the risk of not winning the ruck against having a defensive wall to force the attacking team to "make" the plays. France had plenty of phases without disrupting the Welsh defence but eventually turned over the ball or kicked away possession.

Tackle completion

Wales completed 446 tackles in their five matches, more than England and France, but less than Ireland, Scotland and Italy.

What is more important is that they completed 95% of all their tackles, missing only 25, a significantly better statistic than all but France. So for every 20 tackles attempted, 19 were made and one was missed.

If you look at the top tacklers, the back row three of Williams, Jones and Thomas made a third of all their tackles!

Interestingly most of the other sides spread their tackles across a greater range of positions.

Lesson 2

In defence make sure you put your best tacklers in a position where they are going to make tackles. Don't commit them to rucks.

Lesson 3

Don't forget that different positions tend to make different types of tackles. For instance, props and locks make a lot of close quarter tackles, which require different skills to open field tackles. Do you practise specific tackling by position?

Kicking out of defence

The advantage of a good kicking full back means that sides receiving the ball will have to attack from deeper.

In the 2008 Six Nations, Wales boomed the ball back out of defence, frequently with little regard for finding touch. A good chase then put pressure on the counter attack.

This was the undoing of both England and France, who made little headway on the counter or counter kicks.

Lesson 4

Make opposition teams attack from deeper by kicking the ball very long and not always to touch. This requires the back three (the two wingers and full back) to co-ordinate, to move the ball swiftly to your best kicker.

Lesson 5

Do your wingers practise kicking off both feet? And can they pass long back into the midfield?

This article is from the International Rugby Technical Journal.

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