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How ex-Springboks centre van Rensburg graduated from tackle school

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

One clash that went under the radar at Welford Road last Saturday was the sight of opposing midfielders – Rohan Janse van Rensburg of Sale and Dan Kelly of Leicester – going at it having just graduated from the tackle school that shaved a week off respective three-week bans they were given in early October. 


If those suspensions were fully served, neither visiting outside centre van Rensburg nor home team inside centre Kelly would have been available to play as both would have been serving the final game of their Gallagher Premiership suspensions.  

Sale’s 27-year-old one-cap Springbok was banned for his red-carded tackle on October 3 on Exeter’s Harvey Skinner, while Leicester’s 20-year-old one-cap England centre was cited for striking Saracens’ Aled Davies the previous day. 

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Ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw guests on RugbyPass Offload

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Ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw guests on RugbyPass Offload

Each player was suspended for three weeks but they applied to World Rugby for a coaching intervention and having satisfactorily completed this programme, they were excused the final week of their bans and were free to be selected to start in a match that the Tigers won 19-11. 

It’s a new World Rugby initiative that Sale boss Alex Sanderson believes is worthwhile and he detailed to RugbyPass the work that was involved in getting van Rensburg graduated from tackle school and able to retake his place in the Sharks line-up a week earlier than originally intended. 

“Tackle technique is something we work on all the time,” explained Sanderson. “In Rohan’s situation, it’s a really good thing because you have to go to an independent adjudicator, who is also a contact coach, and you can also get some tips on how to improve tackle technique. You can get a similar length of ban for hitting someone in the head recklessly or otherwise, but tackle school allows you some wriggle room with a rehabilitation programme to negate that black and white scenario that has been in place over the last few years.

“It is in place for the right reasons because everyone agreed that it [the high tackle law] was a little bit too stringent in some areas. Rohan could have got six weeks, pleaded guilty, gets three on the understanding that he could have kept his elbows tighter and that it wasn’t a real intent where he looked to take somebody’s head off. Then if he can improve that in a couple of weeks, which he can, then you should get two weeks as opposed to the three weeks for someone who is coming in with the swinging arm and with the intent to hurt. 


“It’s good for getting the players back on the field and rehabilitating them. Because what are they going to do off the field? The alternative is to sit off the field, don’t play. It’s no good for the game, no good for them, they are not going to be better because they are not playing, they are not improving their skills because they are not playing and yet they have to suffer the punishment. It is a really positive thing I guess in all ways.

“Tackle school gets you extra focused on what they might improve upon, it gives extra impetus on them getting better as opposed to just serving the time which was happening in the past.”

So how does a player successful graduate from tackle school? “In Rohan’s case we have 15-minute sharpening sessions, some people call them extras at the end of every session, and those are down to the players and the coaches to decide what they are going to work on. 

“So with Rohan every day he was training he would do about 15 minutes of contact training or tackle technique at the end of it. What he does will be decided by the player and the coach in terms of improving his technique with third-party intervention advice. We videoed it all and sent it back to them for reference, ‘Is this what you think he should be doing?’


“It is a collaborative understanding of our effort to improve his technique, so every day he was in he would so some with varying degrees of physicality every day for 15 minutes. That is about as good as you can get when it comes to tackle work.”

A lesson learned then by van Rensburg, the ex-Springboks Sale midfielder? “He was kind of embarrassed by it and wanted to make it right. He didn’t see the ball he wanted to see against Exeter and that probably lent to a bit of frustration… where you end up reaching for people so we talked a little bit about that as well. He was just frustrated he wasn’t putting the best of himself out there, really frustrated. He is a better player than what he was showing.”





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