The Wallaby centre is known for his huge – and legal – hits. He talks to Iain Payten
Hunter Paisami on dominant tackles
Hunter Paisami, the 24-year-old Reds centre who will start for Australia in the second Test against England this weekend, has an uncanny knack for pulling off pulverising – but pure-as-snow – tackles.
One of the more remarkable aspects of his highlight reels is that many of the players sent flying backwards have a considerable size advantage.
Paisami is not a huge man himself. He is 5ft 8in and, at 90kg, he’ll routinely give away 10kg to a rival centre. But Paisami isn’t bothered by the size discrepancy. It’s all he’s ever known and he has a simple philosophy that carries a similar tune to the one about the size of the fight in the dog.
“To me, size was never a problem,” says Paisami in Rugby World’s Summer Tours Special. “I knew I was always going to be a small dude and not as big as the other centres. But my mindset is I act like I am as big as other centres. Even though I am not as big or as heavy, I believe I am and therefore I play like I am.
“Once you cross that line, it’s a collision sport so you have to be physical. You have to win those collisions. When I am coming up against my opponents, I try to think about dominating them.”
It won’t surprise anyone to learn that in his maiden Test in October 2020, Paisami rocked All Blacks star Richie Mo’unga twice.
“I always loved physicality, even when I played juniors and school. I used to love watching the leaguies putting on shots – guys like Steve Matai,” Paisami explains. “The coaches give me permission to go out and read what is going on. If I can see a chance to kill it, go take it. Back yourself. But make sure you don’t miss.
“The best feeling is if you’ve killed the play. There is no point making a big hit and the ball stays in play and they score, or if they keep attacking.”
Big hitters in rugby are nothing new; the game’s history is littered with them. But Paisami’s effectiveness in ‘killing’ an attack stands out in the current era of head protection and card-a-palooza, where the price of making mistakes in attempting a high-velocity tackle can be game-defining for a player and their side.
Where many players will seek to mete out a big hit with a shoulder to the chest – and get in trouble when it slips up – Paisami goes midriff and goes massive.
And while living on the edge, he almost always stays on the clean side. It would be no surprise to learn World Rugby suits roll out clips of Paisami when making the case of “see, dominant defence can be done legally”.
“He has naturally got good timing with his tackles. He accelerates in, he dips and he explodes into the tackle,” says Matt Taylor, the Wallabies and former Scotland defence coach.
“And his centre of gravity, because he is not the tallest of guys, allows him to also get under many players who are taller than him. By getting underneath you have the ability to change momentum. He also uses his legs really well, with leg drive in the tackle.
“And the other thing outside those natural physical abilities is reading of defence; he can read plays very well.”
Along the way, Paisami figured out that the way to win collisions as the smaller combatant is to win the commitment. “For me it is just going in full speed,” he says. “If I don’t commit to going in 100%, I probably won’t come out the best. But if I commit and put 100% that I am going in to kill this play, I will back myself.
“You don’t want to get red or yellow cards, so you want to go as low as you can. And make it a good one. If I see the momentum has switched around to the other team, I try to use a tackle like that to switch it back to our team.”
Read the full version of this article in Rugby World’s August 2022 issue, which is on sale until 1 August 2022.
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