Chop v Choke: the Defender’s Dilemma

While Ireland’s World Cup dragonslayers were still celebrating with touring ex-patriots on Eden Park, Australian media vultures and rugby pundits circled overhead.

The frenzy focused not on Australia’s capitulation to Paddy fervour but the raging success of the “choke tackle”, a relatively new defensive manoevre which prevents ball-carriers from seeking the safety of the turf and hampers continuity of attack.

Fast forward two weeks, and the Welsh brains trust were clapping themselves on the back for felling Irish giants Ferris and O’Brien with textbook assaults on opposition bootlaces.

So which is the best ploy?

Choke tackle virtues deny supporting forwards much of an opportunity to blast scavenging tacklers beyond the breakdown and effectively force those running support lines to assist the vertical player. Distribution too is hampered as the ball-in-all nature of the tackle prevents wouldbe offloaders from freeing the all-important pig’s bladder.  In an ideal world, the ball becomes unplayable, locked up in a mess of opposition arms and, with no chance to recycle possession, tacklers secure a scrum-feed.

The “low-chop” tackle, by comparison, scuppers any forward motion as the ball-carrier’s legs disappear from underneath him/her. With the ball (and player) on the ground, the breakdown occurs immediately and possession frequently falls the way of superior numbers. Ground gained beyond the contact is minimal, and the ball becomes the focal point for expert on-site scavengers such as Warburton, McCaw, Australia’s Pocock, Schalk Burger and, of course, our own Sean O’Brien.

The variables thereafter are endless and include quick turnover against the run of play, static distribution and commitment of attacking numbers sent in to retain possession, or the ignominious penalty awarded against the ball-carrier for not releasing.

On the greater scheme of things, these two defensive strengths can determine who plays where, which players start or finish a game, and indeed the gameplan devised prior to kick-off. Alternately, for tacklers with an aptitude for both methods, the position of the pitch becomes a factor, as does which ball-carrier they encounter, and the proximity of that carrier’s support network.

To succeed in modern rugby, players require the skill, the technical nous, and thepresence of mind to do both. At differing points in their careers coaches too may implement different systems. More importantly if a player can recognise when a player is susceptible to being held-up or sufficiently isolated for a steal, defenders can weigh the situation and decide accordingly.

For examples of “Chop” and “Choke” tackling go to:


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