Getting across the gain line in Rugby is much harder than breaching the line of scrimmage in American Football. There are a number of reasons for this but the main one is that the defensive line you’ll be attacking has a significant advantage. Before going forward in rugby, you need to go backwards first. As an attacker in rugby, you need someone to pass the ball backwards to start each play. This is one of the major differences between Rugby and American Football, which of course has the option of a forward pass.
Needing to go backwards first puts the attacker under constant pressure from a line of defenders. Your rugby team’s style of play will be designed to combat ‘in your face’ defenses and hopefully buy you time with the ball. But for now, let’s imagine you’re attacking a line of defenders, you need to travel 5 meters to get back to the gain line and you have no time to throw a pass. What should you do to penetrate the defense and break the gain line?
What is the gain line?
The gain line in rugby is the invisible line on the field that separates both teams. At restarts, set pieces and in general play, it establishes where the defense is allowed to stand before coming forward to make a tackle. It also gives the attacking team a target to aim for when running with the ball. Much like moving the chains in Football, getting past the gain line in rugby means that your team is performing well and gaining territory. In this article we’ll refer to the Gain Line and the Advantage Line interchangeably – they mean the same thing and you might hear one or the other depending on the rugby team you play for.
Why breaking the gain line matters
The gain line separates attack and defense in rugby. It’s where each play starts from and is the key reference point during the game. Whether you have the ball or not you’re trying to move forward across the gain line before the next ruck occurs. During the game, a play will start with a backwards pass to an attacker who is then trying to get across the gain line before he/she is tackled.
The gain line is critical because it becomes the new offside line when a tackle occurs. When a new play starts, players from both teams must be on their team’s side of the gain line or they will be offside. This forces both the attack and the defense to retreat and get set in an on-side position after every tackle. Only then can the play continue without a penalty. If you cross the gain line in attack and are tackled, then the defense must go backwards before they can assemble their defensive structure. If you fail to reach the gain line, the defense can continually come forward at you, without needing to go backwards in order to reset. The team that crosses the gain line before the next tackle occurs is winning the contact.
The gain line is relative
No matter where you are on the field, the gain line remains a constant throughout a rugby game. It’s the mark both teams are trying to get to within a play. That means the gain line is like a fluid constant. It moves with each tackle but its always in the same place relative to both teams and the tackle situation or Ruck. If you come from a Football background, you can think of it just like as if the line of scrimmage and the new down marker were combined into one single entity.
Running at arms not shoulders
Even when a rugby tackle is legal, getting hit by a 250 lb shoulder really hurts. Just ask Jules Plisson. If you were to watch a highlight reel, you might think that rugby players are constantly running through gaps in the defensive line. In fact, most attacking runs in rugby end with the ball carrier being hit by several tacklers. The key to breaking the gain line in rugby is to know that the tackle is imminent and to prepare correctly. This means running at the tackler’s arms not their shoulders. Even with limited space to work in, you want to avoid shoulder contact and force the defenders to reach for you with their arms, resulting in a less forceful tackle.
This technique won’t help you make clean line breaks very often. But that’s not what it’s used for. The Triangle is designed to help you with breaking the gain line in rugby when you know that you have to take contact. Hopefully this will get your team enough “go forward” ball to continue play quickly at the next ruck.
#1 – STEP
- To the open side of the field away from where the pass came and the last ruck that occurred (see below).
- Commit the defender first by running directly at them or slightly to their inside shoulder. When they set their feet and brace for impact, then step hard off your inside leg away from where you caught the pass.
- Get close to the defender so that they’re pretty sure you’ll run straight into contact.
- Step laterally. As close to 90 degrees as you can considering your momentum is going to take you forward.
#2 – STRAIGHTEN
- Once your first step has been made, you need to plant your outside foot firmly and drive forward.
- If seen from above, this second step should complete the second side of an isosceles triangle with the first and second steps being about the same distance.
- Your straightening step should be directly forward relative to the defensive line. That doesn’t mean you’ll be going directly down field. If the play is going across field, you’ll be angling out slightly.
- Don’t try to get all the way to pointing down field, that would l be too much step and not enough straighten. This is a critical part of maintaining possession.
- Take contact with the ball in your outside arm, away from the defender. This limits the chances of a fumble in contact and also gives you the ability to stand up taller and fend the defender if a gap opens up.
#3 – DRIVE
- If you’ve done steps 1 and 2 correctly, you should be in position to take contact against the tacklers arm. While this will help you with momentum for braking the gain line, it also puts your possession of the ball at risk. The solution to this is to always have the ball in your outside arm.
- Which is your outside arm? If the pass cam from the left, your outside arm is your right arm and the contact with the tackler will be made with your left shoulder.
THE NEXT LEVEL
One reason to use the Triangle method is that it puts you in excellent body position for your team mates to help drive you through the contact. If you’ve stepped and braced correctly with the ball to the outside away from the defender, a supporting player will be able to ‘Latch’ onto your outside hip and assist with driving you through contact.
During touch rugby – instead of trying to avoid touches you can easily work on your triangle when you’re getting touched. The trick is to try and commit the defender by running directly at them. This will force the defender to plant their feet as if they were bracing to make a tackle. Then, complete a triangle step to one side (usually the side the ball is being played to) this will cause the defender to reach for the touch in bad body position with their feet planted.
If you’re working in the gym, consider doing single-footed hops using the triangle pattern to build up your strength and power. Grab a quick cup of pre-workout and get to work!