Defensive strategies in rugby union

Percept Mot Skills. 2013 Aug;117(1):1107-29. doi: 10.2466/30.25.pms.117x17z6.


Success in rugby union competition is dependent partly on the defensive strategies of a team. Despite this, little empirical evidence exists about effective defensive strategies used during play. This study attempted to identify defensive characteristics associated with increased likelihood of a successful outcome in rugby union, while considering the game situation. Twenty-one matches of the 2010 Super 14 competition were analysed, amounting to 2,394 coded tackle contacts. The likelihood of the defending team winning the breakdown (the post-tackle contact situation where opposing teams compete for possession of the ball) increased as the match progressed. Defensive speed, measured as the speed of the defence in response to the attacking line, was a statistically significant predictor of breakdown wins and preventing the attacking team from advancing towards the gain line. Identifying the relative effectiveness of such strategies allows understanding of rugby match behaviour and may be applied to improve organisation, design, training, teaching and learning the game.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Performance / psychology*
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Football / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Orientation
  • Problem Solving
  • Reaction Time
  • Running