Richie Gray, Scotland’s defensive contact consultant, explains how to get your rucks right

Australia flanker David Pocock is known as one of rugby’s best jacklers but Scotland coach Richie Gray, owner of Global Sports Innovation, says every player has a role to fill at the breakdown. Here the collision coach explains how to make sure you get things right at the contact area…


“The breakdown is not an add-on for your defence or attack coach. If you do it properly it can be that 1% that makes the difference – you do it 160 times a game. Treat it like another set-piece and set certain targets for each player.”


In position: Glasgow players set up at a ruck. Photo: Inpho


“Break it down into key stages. You need to look at different aspects of both attack and defence: what you do when you fall, looking at your ball presentation, how you fight on the ground, hand placement, how you recoil, how you get up off the deck.”


“Breakdown training can be a nightmare for your medics. I’m a big fan of using training aids – although nothing can replace live practice. So instead of doing 20 minutes live, try ten minutes with equipment and ten minutes live.”

Billy Vunipola

Go low: Billy Vunipola goes through his drills in England training. Photo: Getty Images


“You want to know how opponents attack and defend – how someone carries, steps or gets forward. Teams target weaker individuals and you never want to be the weak link. I tend to watch every player and see if I can spot any weaknesses.”


“Every player must be multifaceted, you must have all the skills. But be sensible. At 6ft 9in, Richie Gray won’t attack the breakdown the same way as John Hardie. Find the right technique for the right player. Not everyone can be the jackler.”


Move in: Munster players adopt different roles at the contact area. Photo: Inpho


“The breakdown is so dynamic that if players have ten things in their head it’s a problem. Terminology is key. Train under fatigue but with two or three things in mind. Give detail on specifics – Francois Louw, say, is told things a front-row won’t need.”


  • Understand defence and attack coaches and work with conditioners. You need players to have the right movement principles and remain dynamic for the breakdown. Everyone can be quicker – but you must coach the technique first.

    Richie Gray

    Collision coach: Richie Gray (second left) worked with South Africa at RWC 2015. Photo: Getty Images

  • Have detailed plans for each of your players.
  • You must do it every day. Some do a lot in pre-season then lose it later. Keep at it.
  • Try this drill: set up a triangle of cones – white, red and blue – a few paces apart. Put a tackle bag in the middle, a ball beside it and a player holding a shield. After a down-and-up, a second player runs to a cone – call out a colour – and gets over the ball to rip it while the shield-holder puts pressure on them.

 This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Rugby World. For the latest subscription offers, click here.