What Is A Crocodile Roll In Rugby?

After Jack Willis’ injury while playing for England against Italy. The whole world has started talking about the infamous crocodile roll. Let’s breakdown what it is.

What Is A Crocodile Roll In Rugby?

A crocodile roll in rugby is a cleaning out method where you wrap your arms around the player’s waist and roll to the side. The playing being cleaned out rolls over their shoulders and is thrown away from the ruck.

Here Is The Crocodile Roll In Action

As you can see the crocodile roll is a highly effective method to remove a jackal who is low and has a nice strong wide base. You should use the crocodile roll when you are unable to get underneath the jackal and drive them off the ball.

The crocodile roll is only effective if their is a clear path for you and the jackal to roll to away from the ruck. Otherwise you risk running into other players who obstruct your path. This can lead to injury or you simply being unable to clear the jackal from the breakdown.

To perform the crocodile roll effectively:

  • Take an outside step so your foot is slightly outside the jackal’s hip
  • Establish a body lock around the jackal’s waist – do not interlock your fingers either use a palm to palm grip, grab your own wrist or cup your fingers, the body lock has to be as tight as possible, you need to really squeeze hard
  • Fall to your outside hip, as you are falling turn towards your try line and pull the jack towards you
  • Extend your outside leg and drag the player over your leg
  • Extend your body and turn into the jackal as he is being dragged over you for extra power

The crocodile roll is a highly technical move that is originally a wrestling technique. It becomes even more complex when players are performing it after sprinting to a breakdown and are attempting to maneuver around other players.

Before trying the crocodile roll in a rugby match you need to perform hundreds and hundreds of repetitions in training. You should start by performing it very slowly with your teammate not resisting at all.

Once your technique starts to improve you can ramp up the speed and the resistance. After being able to perform the crocodile roll on the training pitch at high speed you are now ready to give it a go during a rugby match.

If you are the jackal who is being crocodile rolled you need to be careful. Once you have been pulled off your feet you can no longer resist and need to focus on landing safely.

You need to go with the movement. You should post on the ground with your arms to stop your head driving into the ground. Then as you are being rolled over the other player’s body you need to tuck your chin so you roll over the top of your shoulders and not your neck,

If you resist the crocodile roll past the point of return you can end up slamming your head face first into the pitch. If you fail to tuck your chin you have a lot pressure applied to your neck which can easily cause an injury.

Is The Crocodile Roll In Rugby Illegal?

The crocodile roll in rugby is legal as long as the player performing the roll does not pick the player up past horizontal and throw their head into the ground. Before performing the roll the player must join the ruck at hip level or higher and not from the side.

After what happened to Jack Willis there have been calls from rugby fans for the crocodile roll to be banned. However, experts have argued that Sebastian Negri’s crocodile roll on Willis was performed incorrectly and was already illegal.

Referee, Nigel Owens argues that as Negri joined the ruck from the side and below hip height his actions were illegal.

Defenders have argued that it was just Negri’s poor crocodile rolling technique that caused the injury. Their logic is that you don’t ban tackling because someone performs a poor tackle and injures a player.

Negri basically just dived at Willis’ knee and trapped it under his own leg before pulling the English flanker away from the ruck, leading to a nasty twisting motion. The crocodile roller should never obstruct the player’s knees or legs which should be free.

When performed correctly the crocodile roll is a safe and highly effective cleaning out method. Critics want to change the breakdown completely and want jackals to be unable to camp over the ball in low stances with a wide base. They argue this is slowing down the game leading to a less offensive contest.

If jackals were prohibited from setting up permanent bases over the ball there would be no need for players to use risky techniques such as the crocodile roll.


For now, the crocodile roll is here to stay in rugby. The technique is too effective not to use especially when a jackal is in a low and strong stance. It would be unfair to the attacking side to ban the crocodile roll but still allow the jackal. If they want to ban the crocodile roll and still promote attacking rugby they also need to remove the jackal.

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