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Leinster's Connors has made 48 tackles and missed zero in his last two games

The Kildare man has delivered a masterclass in effective low tackling.

THE STATISTICS BACK up the impression that Will Connors has been making for Leinster in recent times.

The Kildare man has completed 48 tackles and missed zero in his two most recent outings for the province, following up his 23-tackle effort against Connacht with a 25-tackle shift versus Glasgow Warriors on Saturday in the Guinness Pro14.

will-connors-is-presented-with-the-man-of-the-match-award-by-eric-graham Connors was man of the match for Leinster against Glasgow. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Connors’ low tackling has been remarkably effective, with the 23-year-old’s technique and power often reminiscent of England’s Sam Underhill during the World Cup.

While we have become accustomed to teams tackling with a high focus, looking to dislodge the ball, choke up the ball carrier for a maul turnover, or simply land a big body shot, the severe sanctioning of dangerous high tackles is now perhaps leading to a move away from that trend more recently.

Avoiding yellow and red cards is key, of course, and players like Underhill and Connors are demonstrating that defenders can still make a major impact with a low tackle focus.

Connors’ defending has been perhaps the highlight of Leinster’s two most recent Pro14 games, as he has consistently chopped down ball-carriers to deny the opposition attacking momentum.

The Leinster openside puts his trademark technique down to the early influence of Noel McNamara, his former coach at Clongowes Wood College. McNamara is now the Leinster academy manager and Ireland U20s boss.

“We used to go out in the rainy freezing days and we had a net that was up to your hip and you had to tackle under that,” said Connors.

“I didn’t know any different and a lot of my friends who are playing club rugby do the exact same, so it stands to us. It’s tough, you have to get your technique right, but thankfully I’ve been working on it for years.”

The results were clear to see again on Saturday as Connors was named man of the match after Leinster’s impressive 23-10 win away to Glasgow.

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Connors’ tackle on Aki Seiuli above is one of the prime examples of his defensive impact against Glasgow, as he makes a fine read and backs himself to shut the ball down in the tackle.

Seiuli does have fullback Ruaridh Jackson out the back as he sets up to receive the pass, but Connors doesn’t give the prop time to think about swivelling and passing.

With team-mates on their feet in the defensive line either side of him, Connors can back himself to race forward and shut Seiuli down. 

Connors doesn’t target the ball, however, instead dipping to drive his right shoulder into Seiuli’s hip area, while wrapping and squeezing his arms in behind Seiuli’s legs and powering through the tackle with his own leg drive.

A turnover doesn’t follow even as Connors gets back to his feet immediately but Leinster flood in behind their openside to force slow ball and Glasgow lose more ground on the following phases before resorting to a kick.

Connors’ tackles regularly see him focus on the ball carrier’s legs, as in the case below.

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Again, Leinster work hard to get into good shape defensively here with everyone on their feet before Connors makes the impact tackle.

Connors dips again and hits Glasgow lock Kiran McDonald hard directly onto the thigh as he receives the ball. Even without contact to the ball from Connors, his tackle dislodges it for a Leinster turnover.

Connors feels the effects of the impact himself here, requiring some attention from Leinster’s medical team to his right shoulder, but is swiftly back on his feet to make another seven tackles in the closing eight minutes of the game.  

The 23-year-old underwent a Head Injury Assessment in the first half of the clash with Connacht four weekends ago but returned to the pitch before being withdrawn in the closing minutes of the game. Leinster report that he came through his return-to-play protocols without any issues.

Clearly, tackling down low requires bravery and, as with most things in rugby, there is a risk of injury but Connors consistently dips down to chop carriers and make an impact.

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Connors’ leg focus in the tackle means he rapidly brings ball carriers to ground, as in the case above, simply because they can’t keep moving their legs, with his tight wrap of the arms an important part of his technique.

Connors’ technique also means that he is very often back on his feet in the next moment. His work-rate and mindset are obviously important to that, but Connors doesn’t often get trapped underneath ball carriers as he chops in low and clean.

Leinster’s two most recent Pro14 games have also seen Connors make a defensive impact around the set-piece, denying both Connacht and Glasgow chances to unleash their pre-planned plays in attack.

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Connors makes a brutally effective tackle on Connacht’s Colby Fainga’a in the instance above, chopping him instantly to ground with another superb low right-shouldered tackle.

The tackle denies Connacht the chance to get over the gainline on the first phase of their lineout attack, meaning it’s going to be more difficult for them to succeed on the planned phases that follow.

Again, the sheer impact of this hit from Connors appears to cause him some discomfort but the outcome for Leinster’s defence is an extremely positive one as Fainga’a is stopped dead in his tracks.

It’s worth noting that Leinster have had to do a lot of defending in their last two Pro14 games, with Glasgow clocking 22 minutes and 52 seconds of possession on Saturday after Connacht had racked up 19 minutes and 52 seconds.

That meant a reversal of the usual trend whereby Leinster have more possession than their opponents, but it has also allowed Connors to demonstrate his work-rate and highly-effective tackle technique.

The openside flanker made a sharp link pass to help tee up Cian Kelleher’s second try against Glasgow last weekend and has made many more contributions around the pitch,  but it was his defensive quality that stood out most. 

- Originally published at 11.10 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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