Isolated carriers can still protect the ball, explains the Northampton Saints back-row

Tom Wood: How to buy time in contact

Tom Wood, the Northampton Saints back-row, won 50 caps for England. He explains how you can buy extra time when you become isolated going into contact…

Slow it down

“If you get isolated as a ball-carrier, you need to change your approach to the contact.

“The worst response is to run as hard and fast as you can, get low-tackled and end up on the floor quickly. The quicker you’re on the floor, the quicker you must release the ball and the more time the opposition have to attack it.”

Hold off

“Once you recognise the danger, hold your feet as long as possible to buy team-mates time to get to you. To hold your feet, slow up, get your balance, get as low a centre of gravity as you can, and try to fend people off with a hand-off. Keep the ball away from contact.

“It’s a balance. If I’m opposite bigger defenders, I might get propelled backwards. So 
I can’t afford to just be 
a sitting duck.”

Tom Wood v Wasps

Under lock and key: Wood keeps close hold of the ball as he goes to ground v Wasps (Action Plus/Getty)

On a roll

“Once you’re heading to ground with the ball, and you’re away from your support, get the ball under your body.

“You can often ‘fight on the ground’, a roll in the momentum of the tackle. Once I hit the deck and I’m static, if I start rolling there’s a good chance a penalty is going to go against me. If I do it with momentum as I’m hitting the ground, that might buy me an extra yard and an extra second. Making yourself a moving target makes you difficult to get hold of.”


Tight squeeze

“One way to present the ball is to lie on your side and push it back. Another is the long (or pencil) placement where you lie feet pointing at the opposition and reach back towards your own posts. But squeeze ball is the best technique when isolated because anything else exposes the ball. This is when you have the ball under your body and press it between your legs, as if laying an egg.

Munster v Exeter

Laying an egg: Exeter using squeeze ball to make life difficult for opponents Munster (Sportsfile/Getty)

“There’s no clear target for opponents and it’s difficult for them to attack the ball with both hands. If they have a jackal specialist, like a George Smith or Heinrich Brüssow, you’re probably just doing damage limitation. But against an outside back less good over the ball, squeeze ball might allow a team-mate to make a clear-out and secure the ball.”

This article appeared in the May 2019 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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