Organising defense for Under 16

One the youth coaches of a club I help asked me to come and help to improve the defence of his team.

There is lot to do at a young age, where to begin? I always feel like that working on defence is a good start:

  • Where attack is a whole philosophy, defence merely is a set of things we agree on;
  • It can quickly bring a team together;

Tactical situation, the reference

By now, I have a clear understanding how you can built the organisation of the defence throughout the age groups to become the whole complete package. A good example is the ABC – Guard thing. Good to have the roles sorted and practised at senior level, but how to introduce this in the youth? For the Under 14 team I would like to start with just AB.

  • A: Defends the pick & go from the base of the ruck;
  • B: is the Leader in the run-up in defence;
  • Later we will add C in that last role and make B the defender that sorts out the movement from their 9;

I feel that a lot of books/articles/presentations are a good description of a defensive system but I like to present this to players in the order in which the action unfolds and decisions are made. I use a Mindmap to built these basic tactical situations. It looks like this:

It shows the steps in which the tactical situation unfolds from left to right. So how to get from this tactical understanding to a program for that Under 16 team?

Step 1: where are they now?

Because we have the homework done with the model, we can check against it. I love to use video, it really accelerates learning. This time I used iMovie on my Mac to set-up a 4 minute clip with 6 examples of defensive situations. When you have the match video, It takes me about an hour to make such a clip. Because I will present the clip, I did not bother with fancy graphics. (I use Dartfish do to this in other situations).

So, the Under 16 team is poor in:

  1. Building the defence around the tackle situation – lots of space for the attack to explore;
  2. Running in an organised line – still very individual, leaving lots of gaps;
  3. Folding around the tackle to match the number of attackers – getting outnumbered;
  4. Up & Out: tracking to line up the attacker on the outside shoulder – getting right in front and vulnerable on the left and right side;

They are a very good in:

  1. Moving up in defence;
  2. Absolutely not passive;
  3. Enthusiastic and hard working;

Step 2: create awareness with the team

We had a video session with the team, they already had seen the video that was distributed using WhatsApp (of course). We showed it again and I have a great example clip from the Toulon – Racing Metro match in Lille for the players to compare the two. Just like the model it helps to have a reference video.

We made groups of three and they had to write down their observations. Some very interesting observations were made! Also, I showed the Mindmap and explained the 5 step model.

All good, 30mins passed and players started to get restless! With an understanding what we needed to achieve we were ready to go outside.

Step 3: Explain the model on the pitch

The team coach and I worked with the team on building the structure from the tackle situation outwards. Basic drill presenting the ball in front on the defence, run-up, two players simulating the tackle by kneeing down, built A – A – B – B. After some reps, we added folding around the tackle.

We ended with basic up & out defensive drill from the Waikato Rugby youtube channel.

Later in this exercise I have the middle player (nr. 12) hang behind the two others and let him enter that first line in various positions.

Step 4: Building the training program

The team coach and I sat together and we defined the trainingsgoals for the upcoming six weeks. I always enjoy these discussions because it is great way for us coaches to think about the what and how and learn from each other. Last step was feeding the trainingsgoals into the SuperCoach Online tool that detailed all the relevant exercises. the coach can now go online and look-up the individual sessions or just get it pushed to the SuperCoach Online App on his Smartphone. Let us see how this will look in a match in six weeks time!

Additional information

  • Lots of material on Defence on The Rugby Site;
  • I used that same tactical situation model to determine what kind of exercises I needed to put into the SuperCoach Online database;
  • How the R.F.U. changed the rules in order to stimulate the development in age grade rugby, “Kids First Rugby“;


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