Playing against bigger and stronger players

Probably the first thing that a school rugby team will see about their opponents is the size of their opponents. At a junior level, there is a huge level of intimidation that comes with playing against bigger players and this sadly results in games often being lost before they start.

As players get older they usually catch up in size and strength, but probably until about the age of 14 or 15 the size of an opposing player or players can be a problem. There are however ways to counter this size and to make sure that you minimize the impact of these players.

How big players are often used

From an early age, the big players are often used for one goal only and that his to run at opponents hard and as often as possible.

Everyone has seen these players in action and they are often difficult to contend with. They are riding a wave of confidence but often hit a wall around the age of 14 or 15 when their size isn’t as much of a factor as it used to be. Then they need to start focusing on developing other skills to remain competitive.

…but I digress…

Playing against a team with one or two bigger players doesn’t need to be a problem as the use of these players are largely one-dimensional. You will often see them run off the shoulder of a flyhalf or get the ball directly from a scrumhalf.

If these are the two main areas where they are effective, there are plenty of opportunities:

  • in other areas to launch counterattacks
  • ways to stop this player from being effective and stopping their whole team

Stopping the bigger players

This is the first thing you should try to concentrate on and there are a number of ways to do this.

Cut off their supply

The players that can be most effective in helping out with this are usually your smallest players amongst the forwards as well as the scrumhalf.

Working hard at every ruck, scrum and lineout to put the scrumhalf under pressure will result in more wayward passes. These wayward passes then result in more pressure on the big player receiving the ball or the flyhalf that has to play it to the big player.

If the opposition scrumhalf doesn’t have time on the ball, the big player will rarely receive the ball on the front foot.

At lower age levels it is more difficult to put pressure on at scrum time in terms of driving the other team back. This is as a result of rules that mainly focus on player safety.

So it is important to work with what you can. Teaching your players to counter ruck will also starve the opposition’s big and strong players from getting into the game.

Don’t allow them to build-up speed

If your players allow the big players to build-up some steam they are allowing them to dominate.

The crucial 2nd part of an effective 1-2 punch is to have a few players that work quickly off the line. Their only focus is to get to the big player and wrap them up so that they can’t start running.

Physics also then shifts in favor of the smaller player as he has the momentum, while the big player is standing still.

Turning the tables

The main focus of opposing giants is usually on offense rather than on defense. More often than not you will find that it is the only thing that the opposing team’s game plan evolves around.

To create scoring opportunities you need to force the opposition to do what they aren’t comfortable with.

Forcing turnovers and launching counterattacks

If you first work hard on your defensive efforts by putting continuous pressure on the opposition, you will force them into rash decisions. This will often result in them losing the ball or kicking it downfield to relieve pressure.

It is very important to teach your back three to work together to take full advantage of these opportunities. When the ball gets turned over through a kick downfield, the opposition usually wouldn’t have a well-settled defensive structure. Your back three should aim to run at the mismatches:

  • big holes in the defense – this one is fairly obvious
  • big guys in the defense – targeting props and locks with your more agile and quick players will often result in line breaks and scoring opportunities

Move the ball away from contact

The goal of moving the ball away from contact is to tire out opposition players that are bigger. They are used to having a couple of runs on offense, but often not as comfortable with defending continuously.

A key to success here is to teach your players to have patience. By moving the ball away from contact, they must know that they won’t necessarily score on the first go but should set up the next phase and move it back in the other direction.

At lower age group levels if you are able to move the ball through 4 or 5 phases you will start to see huge gaps and overlaps appearing. This will allow your smaller players to rather get around their opposition than trying to take them on physically in 1-on-1 situations.