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How to Clear the Ruck in Rugby

Clearing opponents out of the ruck area is the key to winning a ruck — and possibly even the game. While certainly easier said than done, a team that can win at the ruck is a team that maintains control of the ball. This guide looks at two frequently-used methods of clearing opposing players away from a ruck.

The Straight-on Ruck Clear

The straight-on ruck clearing technique is exactly what it sounds like: Engaging an opposing player in a head-on manner, and driving him away from the ruck. Here’s a breakdown of how the straight-on clear works:

  1. Approach the ruck from the front, rather than at an angle or from the side.
  2. Targeting one specific opposing player, lower your body like you’re about to make a tackle; getting lower than the player you’re going to clear makes your job much easier.
  3. Engage the ruck, approach the player you’re going to clear, and make the hit with your shoulder. Keep your feet moving.
  4. Bring your arms up and around the other player’s chest; this motion helps you maintain control of that player, and the upward momentum puts him off-balance.
  5. Drive through the player until he is safely away from the ruck.

Variations of the Straight-on Ruck Clear

As basic as the straight-on ruck clear technique sounds, it’s important to remember that opposing players in the ruck will all be in different positions. The exact technique described above would likely work easily if you meet an opposing player in the ruck at the exact same moment that you join it, but there are several other scenarios to consider as well:

  • If the player you’re trying to clear is lower than you at the moment you come in for the clear, wrap both arms around his chest and try to lock your hands at his sternum. Squeeze your arms and hands as you drive; this will hopefully give you a secure enough grip to control the opposing player.
  • If an opposing player has beaten you to the ruck and is starting to pick up the ball, engage him and wrap your arms around his arms, being sure to squeeze them as you do. This squeezing motion should force the other player’s arms inward, making it difficult to cleanly pick the ball up.

The Leg Lift Ruck Clear

Occasionally, the player you attempt to clear out will have an advantage over you, either positioning-wise (he’s got a leg over the ball carrier and is capable of quickly picking the ball up) or physically (he’s noticeably bigger than you).

According to the International Rugby Board, approximately 150 rucks occur in the average rugby game.

In either of these situations, a straight-on ruck clear probably won’t work very well. Instead, it’s a good idea to use the leg lift clearing technique:

  • The leg-lift clear starts out just like the straight-on clear. In fact, the two techniques are very similar in structure.
  • The big difference is in the manner that you attempt to clear the opposing player: Instead of wrapping up at the body, the leg lift has you focus your efforts on one of the opposing player’s legs. Specifically, you wrap up one leg, lift it, and drive backwards.

While the straight-on clear relies on body positioning, strength, and momentum, the leg-lift clear simply puts the player being cleared off-balance, and keeps him that way as long as he’s hopping along on one leg.

A Word of Caution

These are not the only ways to clear opposing players out of the ruck area; however, they are two completely legal clearing techniques. According to the IRB’s laws of the game, “lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and /or upper body come into contact with the ground first is dangerous play.”

There are several other maneuvers that clear players out of a ruck, but most of them involve lifting the opposing player off the ground in some manner. Unfortunately, the legality of such maneuvers tends to vary from one official to the next, so your best bet is to stick with the ruck-clearing techniques that aren’t in question.

Winning the ruck is one of the most important abilities a rugby team can have. This guide identifies two of the more common ways to clear players from a ruck.
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