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'I can't believe there is any Premiership coach in the country practising diving into rucks and clear-outs with your arms tucked'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

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Rob Baxter has warned that more red cards can be expected in the Premiership for collisions with the head due to how difficult it is to coach players good habits about getting their tackle bind in early. The English top-flight has been blighted in recent weeks by a deluge of red cards for players whose tackles have resulted in contact to the head.


Exeter themselves were affected last weekend when Jack Yeandle, one of their most experienced operators, was caught out for an incident at Sale and his red card resulted in a three-game ban. Baxter has even suggested the current clampdown will literally mean players having to walk towards breakdowns as the risks of getting something wrong are now too high and it will take time to adjust given the dynamic nature of the ever-changing picture for a tackler.

Reflecting on the incident that led to Yeandle’s Premiership sending off in Manchester and resulted in him joining the growing list of recent red cards, Baxter said: “Everyone is only human. If you watch the footage – and I have watched it numerous times from every angle – you do see Jack start to look to try and scoop under the player.

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Wales back row Dan Lydiate guests with Jamie Roberts and Dylan Hartley on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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Wales back row Dan Lydiate guests with Jamie Roberts and Dylan Hartley on the latest RugbyPass Offload

I know exactly what Jack is thinking of doing there. He has got his left arm down and he is bringing it up and he is looking to put it underneath the body to create a scoop, a lifting motion. He is 100 per cent aiming to have some bind. But because everything moves and changes in front of him he ends up with his arm going onto the body as his shoulder makes contact. The way you have got to protect yourself from that scenario is your whole approach has to be not that all your movements are clear.

“I’m not going to be the only coach to say this but your whole approach to a breakdown needs to be with a clear and obvious move. That you are not moving to bind late because any movement with your hand behind you that is going to bind late, if it gets blocked or if the picture changes and you change how you approach and the shoulder contact is before the grasp then you are in trouble.

“You have almost got to have an approach where the grasp is happening before any kind of contact and that is going to take a little bit of doing because it’s relatively unnatural action. You wouldn’t run into a moving object with your hands out in front of you because things are going to change. You want to be able to move but there is going to have to be some kind of adaptation that players make over a period of time and a huge amount of that is going to be that muscle memory, movement memory whereby you need to do repeat training.


“We’re doing it but every coach will tell you the same. I can’t believe there is any Premiership coach in the country practising diving into rucks and clear-outs with your arms tucked. I can’t believe anyone is doing that. That and the very fact that things are still happening shows there is still a whole new set of muscle memory that guys are going to have to learn if they are going to avoid those incidences with not getting a bind as they approach.

“The head contact in a ruck situation, I know you can talk about having more control but it is a very dynamic situation with a lot of moving parts. It would be quite naive of us to say there is never going to be any head contact because a defending player can be at such a variety of heights from almost lying on the ground to being completely stood up and then moving through that range all the time it is happening.

“To say it can never happen means that as the clearing player you literally have to walk to the breakdown, have a look and by that time it is finished. I do think it is going to be more about good habit-forming, getting binds in very early… we’re just going to work on that repeat action of getting binds in as quickly and as obviously as possible.

“It is the binding process and not using your bind late and then potentially missing a bind that is going to help protect you from the clear red cards that are based around you are always illegal because you didn’t get a bind. So there are various things we can work towards.”


Baxter agreed it is a new trend in rugby for Premiership players to be getting zero intent red cards in a climate where the sport is looking to clear up its image. “We have moved into something that is relatively new in rugby. If you think of the history of rugby it’s quite a new process now that you can be sent off with zero intent for foul play.

“A massive part of rugby was about was there an intent to commit foul play there. There used to be that kind of sanction there that moved you towards the red card level, that’s not the case now. There are quite a few circumstances now where you can be red-carded and people know there is zero intent there.

“I have seen plenty of red cards in the last two years where you know there is no intent there for foul play but for whatever reason, it has happened. Some of that can be players taken out in the air when players have lost track of where they are and have been watching the ball right down to some of the clear-outs or tackles where people have moved very late or slipped or fallen or there have been multiple people involved in collisions.

“All of us who watch rugby are aware of them but now rugby has moved on from that. You can easily end up with players missing through almost mistakes over anything else and that is where we need to keep working, getting technically better with what everyone does and then an ability to manage the scenarios when they happen.”


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