Defending is best done while facing the opposition’s try line and by being squarely aligned with the player for whom you are responsible. There will be times, however, that players have to deal with compromised defence in one way or the other. It is important to know how to best deal with those situations:
Back pedal. Whether it’s dropping back to the new offside line or during a penalty, it is important that defenders not turn their backs. One of the simplest aims in attack is to penetrate deep enough that defenders have to turn and chase. This prevents them from seeing where the play is unfolding. Back pedaling quickly is the ideal way to get back onside. Two ways to do this are by ‘backwards sprinting’ – reaching as far back as possible on the balls of the feet; or by ‘back-pedaling’ – dropping one’s butt and pushing backwards on one’s heels.
Turn, but look and talk. If there’s too much ground to cover for back-pedaling / sprinting, players might need to turn and chase. When doing so, it’s important to take periodic shoulder checks and to communicate threats to teammates so everyone can move with purpose.
Get between ball and ball carrier’s support. When chasing a linebreak, a useful tactic is to pick a pursuit line that denies the ball carrier an opportunity to pass or offload. Hopefully the ball carrier will be tracked down and stopped before reaching the try line!
Nullify offload. When the tackle is completed, it’s important to remember that the tackled player can still pop the ball off the ground to support. In moving to an onside position, the player taking up a post position can delay for a second to discourage the tackled player from attempting an offload.
Plug gaps around ruck. With the tackle completed and the chance for an offload killed, defenders have to quickly get back onside and re-build their defensive wall. Filling in the post/guard positions around the ruck should be the first priority, with players actually declaring their responsibility while enroute so that other defenders do not converge on the eventual breakdown unnecessarily. Building the breakdown defence prevents quick picks through that area and forces the attack to make extra moves that will take more time.
Plug gaps in the line. With the fringes of the breakdown secure, the rest of the team need to re-establish width in their defensive wall. Players who know they are not needed at the breakdown should be sprinting straight back to take up the nearest position to them or plug gaps where they are needed.
Direct others. While back onside and in position, defenders at the ready can help by scanning for threats. They need to start communicating, directing teammates to plug gaps, mark up certain attackers, and formulate a plan for the next phase of play.