Breaking down Wigan Warriors fullback Jai Field’s ‘world-class’ try-saving tackle

Aaron Bower

“I think he’s becoming one of those players when people get against him one-on-one, you sort of expect him to make it.”

That was how Matt Peet described the moment of brilliance from Wigan Warriors fullback Jai Field which went a long way towards ensuring a fifth World Club Challenge title for the Super League champions on Saturday night: and it is hard to disagree.

In truth, there were two or three moments in defence from Field which could fit Peet’s description. The tackle in the final seconds of the match to deny Taylan May was, in itself, a superb piece of fullback play that may get overlooked in the grand scheme of things.

But Peet was specifically referring to the moment in the 68th minute when, with the score 16-12 in favour of Wigan, May punctured the Wigan line. With two Penrith players in support on the left and only Field left to cover, it seemed inevitable that the Panthers would level the scores at the very least.

But Field had other ideas. It was a spectacular piece of individual play that, in our opinion, deserves breaking down.

May is set free in centre-field and with winger Abbas Miski pushing infield after Wigan were caught narrow defensively, and with Tyrone Peachey and Luke Garner in support on the left-edge, Field’s only option at this stage is to try and push May wide and force him to commit to scoring the try himself as opposed to turning the ball on.

But Field doesn’t instantly commit. He knows that if he accelerates at full pace to try and catch May straight away, he has the option to turn the ball inside for one of Peachey or Garner, who have now checked their runs inside and are offering support to May’s right. So Field has to check his run and get the balancing act exactly right: wait for the precise moment to strike on May.

If he goes too early, May can provide the assist. If he goes too late, May will have an open path to the line. It is a simple enough concept to execute on the training field, but an extraordinary skill to get right in a game like this, where the stakes are so high.

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Field’s only chance of saving the try is to push May into this area and force him to back himself, rather than provide a simple assist.

You will see fullbacks do this all the time. Again, it is a pretty straightforward tactics for players in that position to do; but what separates Field from so many of his peers is what happens next.

As mentioned, Field has to time his acceleration exactly right. Fortunately for Wigan, he does exactly that – clearly knowing he can catch May if he gives himself enough time.

Crucially, May looks around over his shoulder twice in the build-up but when he does it a third time and notices his options out wide have disappeared, Field appears to spot that third check and realise that is the time when he needs to put his foot down. He has done his job; he has forced May wide and taken two supporting players out of the game. The presence of Miski, who has tracked back to cover Peachey and Garner, only reduces May’s options further.

By the time Field puts his foot down and begins to accelerate, Peachey, Garner and Miski are all directly out of the play. May has been forced wide and it is now a straight one-on-one.

As we know – and as anyone who has seen Field in broken play before knows – Field does catch May. He times his run to perfection and manages to catch the Penrith man but as the above freeze frame shows, there is still an extraordinary amount of work to do. What follows is yet more inch-perfect fullback play.

In that moment, with the stakes so high, it would be easy to try and make a tackle by any means necessary. Indeed if May does score, nobody looks at Field and thinks he has made a mistake. May tries to anticipate the tackle and tries to fend Field off but the nature of Field’s technique is outstanding; he goes low and grabs just one of May’s legs, knowing he is close enough to the touchline to try and roll him into touch.

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How Field manages to haul May down and then simultaneously roll him is brilliant. If he doesn’t execute the roll, May likely has enough momentum to slide over or have the time to play a more precise pass as he hits the floor. The nature of Field’s technique is such that it creates panic in May and he hurls the ball out – but by then, it is already too late.

Field has done his job, and he has done it to perfection. As mentioned, it is a piece of fullback play most Super League players in the position practice routinely. But to pull it off, it requires a combination of high-level skill, acceleration and precise tackle technique.

Fortunately for Wigan in that moment, when it mattered most, they had a player who has a combination of all three of those things in his locker in abundance.

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