Rugby, a game of raw power and intricate strategy, is often defined by the moments that don't make the highlight reels. The breakdown, a chaotic and crucial phase of play following a tackle, is one such moment. This article delves into the dark arts of the rugby breakdown, unraveling the roles of key players, the importance of the "jackal", and the strategies teams employ to secure turnovers. Let's journey into the heart of the tackle, rucks, breakdowns, and the heroes in the form of flankers that master these elements.


The Anatomy of a Breakdown

A breakdown occurs immediately after a tackle. The tackled player must release the ball, and a ruck forms if at least one player from each team are contesting the ball on their feet. Understanding the breakdown requires a grasp of the roles within it. Key among these are the tackler, the first arriving player (often a flanker), and the jackal.

The Tackle and the Jackal

A good tackle is the first step to a successful breakdown. It's not just about bringing the player down; it's about positioning oneself to contest the ball immediately after. This is where the jackal comes in - the player who, after a tackle, clamps onto the ball and attempts to win it back. Flankers often fulfill this role, using their strength, speed, and agility to arrive first at the breakdown and secure a turnover.


Flankers: The Breakdown Specialists 

Flankers are often the unsung heroes of rugby. They're usually the first on the scene after a tackle, ready to jackal the ball or clear out opposition players. Their role is critical in securing possession at rucks and creating turnovers, often turning the tide of the game.

Mastering the Ruck 

Rucks are the most common form of breakdown, and mastering them is key to controlling the game. Teams must be efficient in securing their own ball and disruptive when the opposition has possession. This requires a combination of physical strength, technical skill, and strategic nous.

Turnovers: The Game Changers

Turnovers, when one team wins possession from the other, are often the most exciting moments in a game. They're also pivotal in determining the outcome. A well-executed jackal, a powerful counter-ruck, or a strategic choke tackle can swing momentum and put the attacking team on the front foot.



The breakdown, while not as glamorous as a try or a bone-crushing tackle, is the heartbeat of a rugby match. It's a battleground where the game's dark arts are practiced and perfected. It's where flankers become heroes, where the jackal is king, and where games are won and lost. Understanding the breakdown is understanding rugby - a game of tackles, turnovers, and triumph.

By delving into these elements, we appreciate the complexity and strategy involved in rugby, beyond the high-paced action and thrilling tries.


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Peter Breen