Mastering the Tap Tackle in Rugby: Unleash Your Defensive Prowess!
Mastering the Tap Tackle in Rugby: Unleash Your Defensive Prowess!

Mastering the Tap Tackle in Rugby: Unleash Your Defensive Prowess!


Are you looking to become a dominant force on the rugby pitch? Are you eager to enhance your defensive skills and make those game-changing tackles? Then it’s time to master the art of the tap tackle! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of executing the perfect tap tackle. From understanding the technique and timing to honing your body positioning, we’ve got you covered. Get ready to unleash your defensive prowess and leave your opponents in awe.

What is a Tap Tackle?

A tap tackle, also known as an ankle tap or ankle tackle, is a crucial defensive technique in rugby. It involves bringing down an opponent by making contact with their ankle or lower leg, causing them to lose their balance and fall to the ground. A well-executed tap tackle can be a game-changer, preventing a player from gaining crucial yardage or even scoring a try.

1. Understanding the Basics

Before we delve into the intricacies of the tap tackle, let’s grasp the fundamental principles that underpin this defensive move:

a. Timing is Everything

Perfectly timing your tap tackle is paramount. Attempting it too early can give your opponent ample time to adjust their position, while a poorly timed tackle might result in missing your target altogether. Patience and anticipation are key to nailing the timing.

b. Focus on the Ankle

The ankle is the target point for a tap tackle. Hitting this area disrupts your opponent’s balance, making them more susceptible to falling. However, remember to execute the tackle safely and avoid causing injury to the opposing player.

c. Body Positioning

Maintaining a low and balanced body position is essential when approaching your opponent for the tap tackle. A lower center of gravity enhances stability and power during the tackle.

d. Controlled Aggression

A successful tap tackle requires controlled aggression. While it’s important to be assertive, avoid reckless lunges that might result in penalties or missed tackles.

2. Perfecting the Technique

Mastering the technique of the tap tackle is an art that demands practice and precision. Let’s break it down step-by-step:

a. Adopt the Right Stance

Start by positioning yourself a few meters away from your opponent, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, and be prepared to move in any direction.

b. Analyze Your Opponent’s Movement

Anticipate your opponent’s next move by reading their body language. Is your opponent sprinting at full speed, juking side to side, or slowing down? This analysis will help you time your tackle effectively.

c. Closing in Smoothly

Once you’ve analyzed your opponent’s movement, close the gap smoothly and maintain a low body position. Keep your eyes locked on their ankles, focusing on the target.

d. Execute the Tackle

As you approach your opponent, extend your arm closest to them and reach for their ankle. Aim to make contact just above the foot, targeting the ankle joint. At the same time, use your other arm to maintain balance and prevent your opponent from breaking the tackle.

e. Drive and Finish

As you make contact with the ankle, drive forward with your shoulder and chest. This force, combined with the disruption to their balance, will bring your opponent down to the ground. Keep your grip on the ankle to ensure they can’t recover quickly.

f. Recovery and Get Back Up

Quickly recover from the tackle and get back on your feet. Stay engaged in the game and be ready to make more tackles if necessary.

3. Drills for Tap Tackle Mastery

Practice makes perfect, and that couldn’t be truer when it comes to tap tackling. Here are some effective drills to help you hone your skills:

a. Shadow Tackling

In this solo drill, visualize an opponent running towards you. Practice your footwork, timing, and body positioning as you execute the tap tackle without any physical contact. Shadow tackling helps reinforce the muscle memory required for a successful tackle.

b. Partner Tap Tackling

Pair up with a teammate and take turns being the tackler and the ball carrier. This drill allows you to practice tap tackling in a controlled environment. Focus on communication, timing, and ensuring the safety of both players.

c. Moving Target Drill

Set up cones to create a zigzag pattern and have a teammate or coach sprint through the course. Your task is to execute tap tackles on the moving target. This drill simulates real-game situations, where opponents rarely run in straight lines.

d. Evasive Ball Carrier

In this drill, the ball carrier attempts to avoid the tackler by using evasive moves such as side steps, spins, and dummy passes. The tackler’s goal is to execute a successful tap tackle despite the ball carrier’s attempts to evade.

4. Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even with the best intentions, players learning the tap tackle can make common mistakes. Being aware of these pitfalls will help you avoid them and refine your technique further:

a. Overcommitting

One of the most prevalent mistakes is overcommitting to the tackle, leaving you vulnerable to side steps or fends. Stay patient and pick the right moment to execute the tackle.

b. Focusing on Upper Body Only

Rugby is a physical sport, but relying solely on upper body strength during a tap tackle can lead to inefficiency. Remember to use your whole body, including your legs and core, to generate power.

c. Tackling Too High

Aim for the ankles, not the knees or thighs, when attempting a tap tackle. Going too high increases the risk of missing the target or giving the ball carrier an opportunity to offload the ball.

d. Poor Timing

As mentioned earlier, timing is crucial. Rushing the tackle or being too hesitant can compromise your effectiveness as a defender.

e. Neglecting Communication

Effective communication with teammates is vital, especially during defense. Failing to communicate about who’s responsible for a tackle can lead to gaps in the defensive line.

5. Mastering the Mental Aspect

Apart from the physical aspects of executing a tap tackle, the mental side plays an equally important role. Here are some mental strategies to bolster your defensive prowess:

a. Focus and Concentration

Maintain unwavering focus on the game and your opponent. Avoid distractions and stay alert, especially during crucial moments when a well-timed tap tackle can change the course of the match.

b. Reading the Game

Develop your ability to read the game by studying your opponents’ patterns and strategies. Recognizing their tendencies will give you a competitive edge, enabling you to anticipate their moves and execute effective tap tackles.

c. Confidence and Resilience

Believe in your abilities and approach each tackle with confidence. Confidence breeds resilience, allowing you to bounce back from unsuccessful tackles and remain determined throughout the match.

d. Teamwork and Trust

In rugby, defense is a team effort. Trust your teammates and communicate effectively to create a formidable defensive line. Coordinate with your fellow defenders, and be ready to support each other during tackles.

6. Safety Considerations

While the tap tackle is an essential skill in rugby, players must prioritize safety at all times. Here are some safety considerations to keep in mind:

a. Proper Training and Technique

Ensure that you receive proper training and coaching in tap tackling techniques. Avoid attempting the tackle without sufficient knowledge and practice, as it may lead to injuries.

b. Respect for Opponents

Maintain respect for your opponents and avoid any actions that may endanger their well-being. The tap tackle is meant to disrupt balance, not to cause harm.

c. Awareness of Laws

Familiarize yourself with the rugby laws regarding tackling and dangerous play. Avoid actions that could result in penalties or disciplinary actions.

Tap Tackle Drills to Elevate Your Defensive Game

When it comes to rugby, defense is just as important as offense. The tap tackle is a vital skill that can make a significant impact on the outcome of a match. To excel in this essential defensive move, regular practice is crucial. In this section, we’ll explore some effective tap tackle drills that will help you refine your technique, improve your timing, and boost your overall defensive prowess.

1. Shadow Tackling

Shadow tackling is a fundamental drill to build muscle memory and perfect your tap tackle technique. It can be done individually, making it an excellent warm-up exercise before team training sessions or games.


  1. Stand in an open area with enough space to move around.
  2. Visualize an opponent running towards you.
  3. Mimic the tap tackle movement without making physical contact.
  4. Focus on maintaining a low body position, targeting the ankle, and using your arms effectively.
  5. Perform the drill in slow motion at first, gradually increasing speed as you become more comfortable.

Key Benefits:

  • Reinforces proper tap tackle form.
  • Develops quick reflexes and coordination.

2. Partner Tap Tackling

This drill involves working with a teammate, allowing you to practice tap tackles in a controlled, safe environment.


  1. Pair up with a teammate, with one player acting as the tackler and the other as the ball carrier.
  2. The ball carrier starts running towards the tackler, who must execute a tap tackle.
  3. The tackler focuses on timing, technique, and ankle targeting.
  4. Switch roles after each tackle to give both players a chance to practice.

Key Benefits:

  • Encourages communication and teamwork.
  • Builds confidence in tackling a moving opponent.

3. Moving Target Drill

In a real game, opponents rarely run in straight lines. The moving target drill simulates this scenario, challenging you to execute tap tackles on players moving in various directions.


  1. Set up a zigzag pattern using cones or markers on the field.
  2. Have a teammate or coach act as the moving target and sprint through the course.
  3. As the tackler, your goal is to execute a tap tackle on the moving target.
  4. Focus on timing your tackle when the target is within your reach.

Key Benefits:

  • Enhances lateral movement and agility.
  • Improves your ability to tackle opponents with evasive running styles.

4. Evasive Ball Carrier

In rugby, ball carriers often attempt to evade tacklers with side steps, spins, and dummy passes. This drill challenges you to tackle a player who is actively trying to avoid being brought down.


  1. Designate one player as the ball carrier and another as the tackler.
  2. The ball carrier employs evasive moves while running towards the tackler.
  3. The tackler must anticipate the ball carrier’s moves and execute a tap tackle.

Key Benefits:

  • Improves your ability to read and anticipate opponents’ movements.
  • Enhances tackling technique under dynamic conditions.

5. Game Simulation Drill

This advanced drill simulates real-game situations, incorporating both offensive and defensive elements.


  1. Divide the team into two groups: attackers and defenders.
  2. Set up a small area to serve as the playing field.
  3. The attackers attempt to score tries while the defenders aim to make tap tackles.
  4. Rotate positions after a set period, giving all players a chance to practice both attacking and defending.

Key Benefits:

  • Provides a realistic game experience for honing tap tackle skills.
  • Promotes decision-making and quick thinking under pressure.

Final Thoughts

Effective tap tackling is a fundamental aspect of rugby defense. These drills will help you refine your technique, improve your timing, and build confidence in your ability to execute successful tap tackles. Remember to prioritize safety during practice, and always communicate with your teammates to create a cohesive and formidable defensive line. Regularly incorporating these tap tackle drills into your training regimen will undoubtedly elevate your defensive game and make you a more valuable asset on the rugby pitch. So get out there, practice diligently, and watch your defensive prowess soar!