When contact is inevitable, players still have a few close-quarters power moves as their disposal to avoid being tackled:
To state the obvious, a hand off that creates separation between the ball carrier and a would-be tackler requires the ball carrier to tuck the ball under the arm furthest away from the defender. Players with long arms have a clear advantage when using a powerful straight arm but every player should develop their ability to hand off or fend opponents.
The most common approach is to aim for the shoulder and extend slightly – do not punch or thrust! – to jar the defender backwards. Against an upright defender, the fend takes away momentum and can even knock him/her over if strong enough and the defender isn’t well balanced. Against a defender who has already bent to make a low tackle, targeting the upper and backside of the shoulder can force him/her down into the ground.
While not technically a ‘hand off’, another fending technique might be favourable to shorter / shorter-armed players. As the defender leans in with arms in front, the ball carrier can swipe his/her arm downward against the defender’s arms. This can force the defender’s momentum downward and is a commonly used technique by NFL running backs.
One of the most thrilling things for bigger rugby players is to bump off a would-be tackler. This means literally barging into someone and knocking them down. This technique is not limited to big, rampaging players either. Ball carriers must lower their centre of gravity just before contact to brace for impact and concentrate force, but also to maintain balance. This body shape, with a slight forward lean, also makes it very difficult for tacklers to do anything but go high because it’s nearly impossible to reach waist / legs head-on without being bumped off first! Taller players might have difficulty sustaining this position over several steps regardless of how fit they are, so might need to time their dip accordingly.
This is one instance where you often see players keep the ball in the arm closest to the defender. I’m not sure if this is by design, but it certainly allows the player to use the forearm as a bumper with the ball under lessening the impact, perhaps?
While running straight over a would-be tackler can be fun, even if successful, it tends to slow you down, allowing other defenders time to catch up and finish what the trampled one couldn’t. Therefore, it’s generally more effective to use what is called a power step. A full side-step is intended to avoid a tackle, but a power step is smaller. The ball carrier tends to use this when there isn’t much space to step into.
Rather than attack a defender’s trunk, using the analogy of a tree, the power step aims to plunge through the ‘branches’ of that tree. The ball carrier makes a sudden and short step to the side with the outside foot, away from the midline of the defender, followed by a powerful step forward with the inside foot into space or at the defender’s shoulder. The hope is to get the defender fixed to the ground with the straight run, bracing for a head-on tackle, and then suddenly force him off balance into a more difficult arm tackle. Done with a low, balanced body position and intensity, it’s a perfect way to break a tackle when there’s not much of a gap to run into. At the very least, it puts the ball carrier in a strong position with arms free to pop a pass to a supporting teammate or accept a tackle on the front foot for a pop off the deck or a clean placement.
If a bump off or a power step isn’t possible, before accepting the tackle and thinking about an offload, the ball carrier can make what’s called a screen pass. This involves throwing one’s weight into the defender, using shoulder, torso and hip as a shield, keeping arms free. This is a very strong position to make a pop pass, and it can possibly open just enough space for a teammate to slip through. The advantage of this over a typical offload is the forceful impact and quick pass might leave the ball carrier on his/her feet to stay in support, where an offload usually results in a full take down.