Sale Sharks full-back Mike Haley gives his top tips on how to defend in different situations

Mike Haley made more carries (207) and more metres (1,180) than any other full-back in last season’s Aviva Premiership. Here the Sale Shark talks through how a No 15 should defend in a variety of situations…


Danger area: A lineout during a Mitre 10 Cup game in New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images


“If the opposition have a lineout near their 22, I’ll be on halfway in the middle with one of our wings tight to the same touchline as the lineout. If they box-kick, our wing is there to take it and I support him. If they kick cross-field, I’ll move across to cover it.”

2. SCRUM IN 22

“For an opposition scrum in their 22, I’ll be deep behind halfway. Our wings are further forward covering the touchlines. I’ll look at their kickers and the way the scrum wheels to predict where the ball will be kicked, then work in a pendulum with the wings.”

Midfield lineout

Central positioning: For a lineout in the middle of the field, Haley would sit deep. Photo: Inpho


“For an opposition lineout around halfway: one wing covers the touchline, the other is about 15m in from the other touchline and I’ll be further back to cover the long kick. If their back-line is standing quite flat, it’s an indication that they’re going to kick.”


“If there’s a counter-ruck, I’ll drop deep in the middle of the park. They might have a left-footed and a right-footed kicker and I need to cover both. As soon as it looks obvious who is going to kick it, I’ll hedge my bets – move forward/left/right.”


Be alert: It’s important to get your positioning right from a restart. Photo: Inpho


“At a restart, if our ten kicks left, we’ll keep the eight back behind halfway close to the touchline and I’ll be a few metres inside him. That covers a box-kick, one to catch it and one to support. If I kick it back, the ten will drop to cover a cross-field kick.”


“If the opposition are attacking between the ten-metre line and our 22, myself and the nine will each cover half the pitch in the 22, standing just behind the defensive line. If I make a tackle, the nearest wing will drop back to cover with the nine.”



  • The back three is all about support play – communicate and understand what you’re trying to do in defence.
  • Work out what’s best for your team, whether you use the nine and eight in the backfield with the 15 or drop your wingers.
  • To take a high ball, you need a high knee, high elbows, high hands – and your eyes on the ball.
  • This is a drill focusing on support play: someone puts up a box-kick to you and a support player. You take it and decide whether to pass, run or go into contact, with the support player to clear out.
  • Here’s another training game: the attacking team kick from just outside their 22. The defending team kick it back, then the back three look to counter. So it’s a two-kick drill and then you counter-attack.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Rugby World.