One of the best ways to completely unhinge a defense is to beat your defender one on one with a step or a tackle bust. While not all of us can step like Cheslin Kolbe, we do all have the ability to break a tackle and get our team on the front foot. No matter your size, speed, or strength, you can always bust out of a tackle with some clever use of footwork and a trust in your balance.
Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to break a tackle. Whether it's using quickness, brute power, clever angles, or a combination of the three, there's always a way to bust out of an attempted shot by the defender.
Here are some tips to help you make minced meat of your next defender:
Step 1.) Recognize who's across from you
The first thing to do as an attacker looking to break a tackle is get a gauge on the type of defender who's lined up across from you. If it's a big, burly forward, or someone who's bigger and stronger than yourself, you won't find much success trying to run over the top of him/her. Similarly, if the defender across you is a smaller, speedier player there is no sense attempting skin them on the outside.
Size up the opposition and determine what your best course of action will be. Get a look at them early, well before you get the ball so you can act with conviction and purpose. The more confident you are in your plan, the less hesitant you'll be!
Step 2.) Set the defender up before you get the ball
While we usually only see the actual breaking-the-tackle-part of a broken tackle, that is generally only half the battle. Much of the work to beat the defender comes before you even have the ball. As with most sports, defending largely comes down to leverage and positioning. A tackler will want to dictate the terms of the contact, so he/she will want to force the ballcarrier where to go and when. If they can close down the space and prevent the attacker from making a move, they are in good shape.
Therefore, as an attacker you should continuously work to mitigate the leverage your defender has against you. To do this, you can reposition yourself before you catch the ball, or you can catch the ball on an angle to wrong foot the defender. If you can change your angle, whether out-to-in or in-to-out, before receiving the ball, you can get your tackler shifting his/her momentum from side to side rather than forward. If you're trying to tackle someone without any forward momentum, there will be no power in the hit and the runner will be able to bust out of the tackle.
Watch this video here, as Wales center Hadleigh Parkes demonstrates how you can manipulate the defense before the catch:
Step 3.) Set the defender up when you have the ball
If you've already received the ball and your defender is still set up in a good position, you'll have to use some footwork to set him/her up. As mentioned in Step 2, the defender will be largely compromised if he/she has to stop their forward momentum and go side to side. The way you can do this is by using some footwork to lead the defender one way and then change direction back the other way. You may not completely juke him/her, but if you shift their momentum enough, they will only be able to get a weak arm onto you and you can break right out of the tackle. This is typically known as aiming for a "soft shoulder."
Watch here as Welsh legend Shane Williams demonstrates how to set up the defender:
Now, even if you're a much bigger player who can bump your way through the tackler, you still will want to first set them up so that they can't use their full force against you in the contact. Once you change direction and head straight for the defender, drive your knees high and forcefully and use your upper body to fend them off you as you stampede right through them.
Step 4.) Drive your legs through the contact
The last step to breaking tackles is to maintain your leg drive through the tackle and to keep pumping your feet. Even if the defender gets a strong shot on you, this doesn't mean you have to go down. The tackler may not have strong footing, so after the initial contact, they may not have any more power left to bring you down. Trust in your balance and don't just go down easily because you got hit. The players who excel at breaking tackles do everything they can to stay on their feet until they're absolutely forced to go down.
Hopefully you can take these tips and apply them successfully to the next would-be tackler to try and bring you down. Back yourself, your skills, and your ability and you can achieve things you may not have thought possible before!