This spring the Boise State University football team was looking for something new and different in their defensive approach.
Head Coach Chris Peterson and Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski felt strongly that the rules regarding tackling will change as the discussions about concussions in football expand. So the coaches decided to try something new, and asked the Snake River Rugby Club to run a tackling session for the football team.
Some of the Snake River players have played football at Boise State, and the football team was certainly aware of SRRFC’s success on the DII national stage. Their having former USA captain Mike Saunders, still considered one of the smartest rugby coaches in the game, didn’t hurt, either.
“I think we wanted to look at a different approach,” Kwiatkowski told RUGBYMag.com. “They do a lot of the same stuff we do in terms of footwork and getting in the right position to make the tackle, but the way they hold their hands is very different, and where you place your heads is different – in rugby you put the head to the side, whereas in football you bring it across the front of the ballcarrier’s body.”
That, in essence, is the major issue for football.
“Football players are taught to put the helmet into the chest and drive the player back,” said Saunders. “And I know the coaches at Boise State are looking at a different way to go about it because of the issues with concussions.”
Launching into a tackle is different, too, said, Kwiatkowski. Football players have to defend every inch, whereas in rugby, unless you’re defending your goal line, you can give up a foot or two to bring the man down. How players wrap, align their bodies, and launch is all different.
“We showed them some drills that we do and some different approaches,” said Saunders. “And they were really receptive. I think there’s a good level of respect there in what we’ve done. And we have a connection with some of our players coming from that program. The guys were great and we really enjoyed it.
Kwiatkowski seconded that sentiment, saying the Broncos got a lot out of the session.
“Coach Peterson is always trying to get ahead of what’s coming next in the game, and we know that changes are coming because of concussions,” said the Boise State defensive coordinator. “We look at rugby and see they’ve been able to manage it well, and it was really good for us.”