Ruck Strategies

Including the centre bounce, throw-ins from various positions and around-the-ground play.

The Centre Bounce

The centre bounce is the one contest in football which is evenly matched in terms of numbers around the ball, and normally, the types of players involved. Winning these contests gives your team a decisive advantage.

The centre bounce is one of the most crucial parts of the game. A team that can consistently win the ball out of the centre bounce will invariably win the game. It allows the forwardline to have first use of the ball and immediately puts the opposition back’s under pressure.

There are two styles of play for clearing the ball out of the centre. One is to have players responsible for an area of the centre square and hitting the ball to a given area. The person in the area that the ball is tapped to must be assisted by way of blocks, shepherds and disposal options. It is important to vary the direction of the tap as well as the length of the tap or punch. This makes the opposition guess constantly where the next tap might be heading.

The other way of successfully clearing the ball out of the centre is to divide the players involved into four roles.

  1. Ruckman - responsible for getting the tap out and directing the ball to a predetermined spot
  2. Sweeper - responsible for roving the opposition ruckman’s knock and putting pressure on the opposition players if they get the bal. It is important that this person does not over commit or get too close to the contest and have the opposition tap the ball into space behind the sweeper.
  3. Receiver - responsible for roving to the ruckman's tap. 
  4. Protector - responsible for assisting the receiver in getting the ball by shepherding and blocking out the opposition.

Before each centre bounce there is a break in play. The four players involved should have a short discussion about the spot that the ruckman will hit the ball to and the role each of the other players.

After each bounce the players involved and the coach may analyse what went right or wrong and at  the next short discussion provide feedback to the ruckman to enable a more informed choice of tap to take place.

Once the tap has been won and received then the options are as follows:

  • If the receiver is well protected then he may play on quickly by running, kicking or handpassing.
  • If one of the players in the centre bounce contest is being tagged then he immediately becomes the sweeper. This negates the tag because the tagger is defending a defensive position.
  • If the opposition man up in the centre it is quite easy for the protector to shepherd or block the player who is tagging the receiver. This should release the receiver into space and give him plenty of time to collect and dispose of the ball.

Defending the Centre Bounce

If the opposition’s ruckman is dominating the centre bounce it is up to the players in at the centre bounce to amend their strategies in order to temper that influence.

If your ruckman is consistently losing the tap it becomes important to minimise the damage done by the opposition centre bounce team.

There are two ways to defend the centre bounce. The first is to man up the opposition players. This can be successful if the opposition is hitting the ball into zones with only one person responsible for each zone. That way you get a one-on-one contest in each zone and a 50/50 chance of sharking the tap or minimising the damage done.

The other way of defending the losing centre bounce is to play a defensive zone. This involves placing an additional person as a sweeper, usually the ruck-rover. This has the effect of flooding the attacking areas to which the winning opposition ruckman would hit the ball.

Boundary Throw-ins - Backline

The ruckman should win the hit out in the backline. This is because the opposition ruckman usually has formed a wall a kick behind the play and the ruckman would be contesting the hit out against a CHF, FF or FP. This frees up their respective opponents and makes them a viable option to direct the tap to, protect the receiver or provide an outlet for the receiver.

The receiver can either dispose of the ball down the boundary line or if he is well protected and has space, may play on and switch the play to the opposite back pocket and the team would run the ball out of the backline and therefore bypass the wall set up by the opposition players.

By tapping the ball forward in these boundary throw in situations if the opposition sharks the hit out then it is a difficult position for them to kick a goal from. It is always advisable to have someone at the back of the contest to make sure that the opposition do not get an uncontested kick in the scoring corridor. This person could be the spare backman.

Boundary Throw-ins - Forwardline

The aim of the contest is to get the ball into the corridor to increase the opportunities for a successful shot at goal.

With the ruckman usually forming a wall that is positioned a kick behind the play, it is usually the centre half forward or another tall forward who takes that tap out.

  • Communication between the players is crucial to make sure that someone actually contests the tap
  • The tap receiver would run from the defending side of the contest into the space behind the ruck contest towards the goal with the tap being put into space in front of the running receiver
  • Another option for the player is to tap the ball to the front or side of the contest to a stationary player who then handballs quickly into the space in front of the player running towards goal through the corridor or kicks to the front of the goal square

Smaller ruckmen should not get into wrestling matches with bigger opponents.

Another option is for the attacking team to assign someone to wrestle with the opposing ruckman and have a third person jump over the contest to win the tap and direct it to the advantage of the team.

Boundary Throw-Ins / Ball Ups - Centreline

A boundary throw-in or ball up around the centre of the ground can have a decisive impact on the game’s momentum. Ruck set-ups can be attacking or defensive depending on the circumstances.

This is the only time when the two ruckmen (if they are playing a kick behind play) will contest a throw-in or ball up. If your ruckman is dominating the hit outs then the on-ballers can afford to be a bit more attacking. It makes the corridor a more preferable option with the receiver tyring to find space at the back of the contest. If your ruckman is consistently losing the hit out then it would be advisable for the on-ballers to man up. The tap should be directed to the defensive of the contest where a sharked hit out would cause less damage.

The ruckman, when under pressure or losing the hit outs, attempts to direct the ball into the defensive area. If the players in that area win the ball they can kick quickly into the forwardline or if under pressure have the safety of the boundary line to force another throw in. If the opposition win the ball in this area then they are not in a favourable position to open up their forwardline and can be put under pressure and forced out of bounds.

Around the Ground Play

Ruckmen must determine how to be of most value to their team when moving around the ground. Their obvious height and strength advantages must be utilised to the highest degree.

There are two styles a ruckman can use in around the ground play situations. The first is to play man on man with his opposing ruckman. This has the ruckman running with his opposition and creating a contest all around the ground. This is an advantage if the opposing ruckman pick you up and shifts his focus from just reading the pay and getting unopposed kicks and marks.

If the upfield players are aware of the opposing ruckman not picking you up then become very dangerous option for an attacking kick or a defensive outlet kick. With the opposition ruckman picking you up it frees up the CHF to have a one on one contest with the CHB instead of having to deal with the ruckman as well.

The other style of play around the ground is playing a kick behind play. This has the ruckman positioned 50m to the defensive side of that ball in a direct line between the ball and the opposition goal. The advantages of playing a kick behind is the assistance a ruckman can give the teams backline and the throw-ins and ball ups that he ruckman should win against the CHF, FF or FP. The disadvantage is that it leaves your forwardline players to contest against the opposition ruckman.

Reproduced from 'Secrets of the Modern Ruckman' compiled by Simon Madden and Darren Flanigan 

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