Playing against and stopping faster players

Carlin Isles running at full speed

There aren’t any real equals for speed when it comes to rugby. When a player like Carlin Isles gets the ball in space, it is near impossible to stop them. Playing against faster players can be very challenging and it is often difficult to catch them. So you need to be smart about it and work around it.

It is definitely not impossible, but you need to teach your players to adapt. There are basically two areas you can focus on that are both sensible defensive principles as well as ways to completely nullify speedsters.

The first would be to take away their space and the second would be to starve them of possession.

Taking away a fast player’s space

The quickest players will usually be on the wings and sometimes in the centre positions. You will sometimes find full-backs who have a decent amount of speed and are often agile.

Removing their space comes down to two very crucial principles:

  • An organized defensive line
  • A rush defense

An organized defensive line

This duty usually sits on the shoulders of the inside centre. The inside centre needs to make sure that the rest of the defensive line made up of the two centres and often a wing or loose forward works together.

The alignment of the defensive line should be able to swift as a unit push opposition players to the sidelines. The most crucial part of the defensive line is that no one rushes out of the formation. As soon as this happens, you will be exploited by the offensive team.

A good rush defence

The defensive line should train to rush attacking teams and stop them behind the advantage line. This takes away all of the momentum of a fast player and at best will result in them getting the ball under pressure.

A good rush defense is also one of the best ways to turn defense into attack. Attacking teams don’t like pressure and with every successful wave of rush defense you will accomplish two goals:

  • drive them back – you literally gain meters without the ball by taking away their space
  • force them to make errors – as they start running out of options, they will make rash decisions which often results in turnover ball that your team can exploit

Starving the fast players of possession

This is a principle that also applies to playing against bigger players. If you cut off their supply, they can’t be effective. The best place to start with that is through non-stop defensive pressure from your forwards.

If your forwards continuously put pressure on their opponents at scrum time, lineouts and at rucks, the quality of ball that the scrumhalf would receive would be bad.

Scrumhalves don’t like working under pressure. Your smaller and more agile players can play a big role in helping to nullify the effect of the fast players.

A combination of focus on the scrumhalf and the flyhalf with your defensive efforts is crucial. If the scrumhalf has to work under pressure, the delivery of ball to the flyhalf will not be good. If the flyhalf also has to work under pressure, the chances of forcing turnovers increases in a big way.