Fixing defenders. It sounds pretty easy doesn’t it. As we all know it’s no where near as easy as it sounds when you’ve got a ball in your hands and your dealing with space in front of you as well as defenders trying to smash you. Fixing defenders is key to being a good attacking team. Tom May gives us his five Top Tips for fixing defenders to make sure that you have an effective attack.
1) The first thing to focus on is your hands. When looking to receive the ball we are told from an early age to have our hands out in front of us. That’s great but let’s get more specific. Push the outside hand forward. Not only does this allow us an early catch but if we push our outside hand forward that will naturally pull our body round meaning that in actual fact, it feels like we are running back against the ball. It will feel weird but the more we exaggerate the angle we run back against the ball in training, in the pressure of a game situation we will find that this leads to a perfect straight running line. Running lines are key to fixing defenders as they don’t allow them the chance to slide off onto the next attacker. They have to stay with you which preserves space elsewhere.
2) Handling drills in training allow us the opportunity to vary and find out how much pace we put into the running before and after catching the ball and how that can affect what plays out in front of us. Clearly by starting slowly and ‘getting into the groove’ when working on handling we give ourselves a good chance to improve and better our skills. There is only one way to fix a defender properly though; by running at him or into a space with pace. Be threatening enough for him to think he has to wait for you to pass. Pace does this. Jogging or going through the motions knowing you are going to take the option to pass doesn’t do anything apart from allow defenders to shift focus to someone else and smash them instead!!
3) Footwork is not something that comes as naturally to some as others but even the smallest of steps or changes of angle can allow every player to do enough to fix their nearest defender. Too often in the last few seasons we have seen opportunities to score missed at EVERY level of the game (including internationals) because players have not done enough when in possession of the ball to fix their opponent. If we are being honest, you don’t even have to be that quick - music to the ears of some of the big lads! Making people think you are going somewhere else might not be too easy but can make the world of difference when preserving space and fixing your man.
4) Perhaps not the easiest of things to do early on in the game but a good way to fix your defender is to understand what sort of defensive system their team is using; it might be a rush defence, a slide defence or one that comes out to in. Understanding what problems the defence might impose on you as attackers is something that will potentially allow you more time on the ball and more opportunity to change your body angle to fix the defender better. It might take you or one of your team mates getting smashed once or twice but all for a good cause right? Learning to adapt to what is being played out in front of you is one of the best ways to ensure that you can fix defenders effectively as the game goes on.
5) One of the tips I am going to give might seem slightly odd because it involves players without the ball - I’ve actually put two in here which might help. I thought I would give E4R readers a bonus! Firstly, when running through your set piece moves or phase shapes, don’t sulk because you aren't getting the ball. You have a role to play and it’s an important one. Run as if you are getting the ball. Look convincing! No one is going to bother waiting to defend someone who is wiping away tears about not getting the ball when clearly the pace you are running at, the fact you don’t look convincing as a runner combined with the dabbing of those tears means people would be wasting their time. By fixing a defender and completing your role in a play you allow the team the best chance to get the outcomes it is looking for.
The second point I would mention briefly is something to focus on just after you have passed the ball. Once you have completed the pass, continue your run and go through the defensive line before slowing up. In fact you can slow up once you are in the line, even better. This will disrupt the defenders rhythm as a unit and make it much harder for the to defend together if you get in the way. Be the pest you want to be.
Have a look at some of our other Top Tips from some of the professional players looking to help develop you as players:
5 Tips for Back Rows from Scotland's Dave Denton
5 Tips for Scrum Halves from England's Lee Dickson
6 Tips for Locks from Ireland's Mike McCarthy