The ball carrier’s first responsibility is to decide whether or not it is possible to advance the ball by just running forward or passing to a supporting player in a better position to advance the ball. If neither option is available the ball carrier may decide to kick the ball or attempt to run and evade the defender.
If the ball carrier decides to run and fails to evade a defender then this results in a tackle and the ball carrier must prepare for contact and the possibility of going to ground. These possible actions by the ball carrier are the basis for decision making. Good decision makers make good decisions which is another way of saying it makes them more skillful.
Once the ball carrier decides to make contact with the defender, the process of preparing for contact is crucial. It involves preparing mentally and physically for contact and consciously wrapping the ball up tight so it isn’t dislodges on contact. In preparing physically for contact it is usually worthwhile to attack a space on either side of the potential tackler. This achieves two goals: Firstly, it ensures the defender is less likely to dominate the collision and may later create the opportunity of an offload for the ball carrier.
Once in contact the ball carrier should retain a strong body position and leg drive in order to drive past the point of contact and dominate the collision. Staying low and keeping ones hips square and facing the opposition goal line throughout contact, is a good way of achieving that strong body position. If the ball carrier can dominate the collision achieve some “go forward’ before going to ground they set the platform for a quick ruck.
On going to ground the ball carrier becomes the tackled player so their priority changes to presenting the ball in the tackle. They have just one opportunity to achieve goal of presenting the ball as a second attempt to achieve this is against the law.
The tackled player should immediately turn or “torc” their body back on going to ground and reach as far back as possible towards their own goal line while placing the ball on the ground. The further back they reach in placing the ball the more difficult it will be for the defense get at the ball. This also makes the role of the Cleanout easier to execute as the 1st defender will have to get further through the tackle area to access the ball.
If the ball carrier loses the collision and is driven backwards in the tackle the priorities remain the same in terms of presenting the ball. Despite losing territory in contact they should still reach as far back towards their own goal mine when placing the ball.
Once the tackled player places the ball their role is completed as they are no longer allowed to play the ball and are effectively out of the game. The role of the Cleanout becomes the next priority for the support players.
I will discuss the role of the Cleanout in more detail in the next segment on Tackle/Ruck Transition.