Setting conditions for a ruck starts with the ball carrier’s placement of the ball. This needs to be a purposeful act so possession can be retained and the ball can be played as easily and quickly as possible, before defenders have time to re-align.
- Keep tight – Single support player over-top. Long place might make the ball ‘out’.
- Long place – Place to the back of the ruck and/or for arriving player to use without having to dig.
- Roll – When on the ground, roll body once to get into a good position to place
- Roll back – Ball under immediate threat, better off rolled out to arriving player (sevens, especially).
- Jackknife – Fold body, back to opposition and at least arms (if not feet as well) as far away as possible.
- Pencil / Dagger – Twist entire body, arms away from opposition, making the gate long and narrow.
- Turtle – When face down, squeeze ball between legs (should not be done by young players)
Without going too much into the specific techniques of rucking, players can think about doing one of two things at the ruck to ensure security of the ball or make sure the scrum half doesn’t have to dig to play it quickly:
Park (squat low over the ball, keep it in the ruck)
· scrum half not there yet
· get low, shoulder above hips and with wide base
· hold onto body on the ground for support / resist counter ruck (play the ref)
· ready for on-coming defender’s clear-out attempt, shove weight forward on impact
· a second team mate can bind on and “lock in” by putting knee behind leg of first to arrive
Clear (drive over the ball, remove all threats)
· scrum half is arriving and ball at the back with no body parts obstructing allows a quicker pass
· rucking player(s) drive over so ball is exposed
· easier to move the ball without digging or having body parts obstructing
· support and receivers must be ready because the ball is coming quick
Clear and Park
· working in pairs or group of three
· first to arrive drives threat out of the way, second parks to secure the ball
Economy of Effort
Every player is responsible for recognising need at the ruck. As a rule of thumb, the two players around the ball carrier should commit themselves to securing the ball in the tackle contest. Sometimes you can get away with just one, sometimes you need more than two. If a scrum half has to call in players upon arrival, defenders will have time to reorganise. If too many players fly in, there may not be enough players for the next phase to go smoothly. If all players can consider the following they can efficiently secure possession and maximise potential on the next phase:
Am I needed here? Where else could I be effective? (But do not get in the way… )
Being able to anticipate play is the mark of a great player; reading immediate needs vs next phase needs. If this phase is taken care of, I don’t need to be here. Quickly get to where I can be useful.
Attacks often stall when too many players are in a ruck – or hanging out near the ruck – when they could be instrumental in executing or overloading on the next phase. The tell-tale signs of this are players leaning on rucks doing nothing, getting caught in between scrum half and first receiver, or walking / jogging well behind the play.
It is also important for those players who’ve committed themselves to the ruck, to spend those few seconds working their hardest so no one else has to come in and so the ball comes out quickly! Players efficiently and economically contesting and moving between breakdowns should also save them energy in the long run. Hustling to get to a breakdown that’s already been won and then moving onto the next is a waste of energy when one could have gone straight to the next. The same rings true for players in rucks, working hard in this one and knowing that someone else is going to do the hard work in the next one or two, conserving energy whilst moving to the next best position.
Who Goes Into the Ruck?
If we are working same way or otherwise trying to free up certain players, it can be a waste of personnel to ask the two players around a strike runner to ruck for him. Let’s say we’re playing off a lineout and the inside centre has a go at the defensive line. If the fly half and outside centre have to come in to ruck the ball, they are not on-hand for the next phase. It make take longer for players in the lineout to set themselves up for the next phase. So it’s wise to have an understanding within the team of what such moves are meant to do. In this case, it’s probably easier for the two forwards at the end of the lineout to clean up the inside centre’s run, allowing the rest of the backs to be on their feet for the next phase.
If players around the ball have to go in to clean it up, it might allow for an advantageous switch in direction. Using the same lineout play, the outside centre has taken on the defence and two more backs have gone in to clean up. Forwards from the lineout should quickly set themselves up to play on the near side rather than swing all the way around to the wide side, which would give the defenders time to set up.
Either way, the ball carrier must do his best to stay on his feet, driving forward, not only getting over the gainline but also buying time for IDEAL support to arrive.