With 30 men on the field of play, knowing who actually does what and why can get rather confusing. Luckily, the number on each player’s back signifies their position on the field of play. And like over-sized chess pieces on a giant green board, each player performs a specific role to ensure the team operates as a well-oiled machine.
To make this easier to understand, think of any Rugby team as having two distinct parts: the ‘forwards’ and the ‘backs’. In very simple terms, the eight forwards are the heavy brigade who engage in the physical acts needed to win possession of the ball – the scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls. When they win possession, they feed the ball backwards and down the line, towards those backs who are better equipped to run at great pace towards the opposition’s try line.
That, of course, is a very simplified generalisation. What follows here adds a little more meat to the bone…
1 & 3 Props
Along with the hooker, the loose-head (1) and tight-head (3) props make up the front row, which refers to their position in the scrum (where they do most of their damage). These men literally put their head in where it hurts, on the front row of the scrum, pushing directly against their opposite number. What are they doing in that scrum, besides breathing hard and grunting? Pushing the pack forwards mainly, which enables the hooker to hook the ball backwards, towards the waiting hands of the Number 8.
But the props do more than just scrummage. They also use their muscle to propel the jumper in the lineouts high in the sky to gain possession of the ball. And in open play, they run into horrible tackles that would break mere mortals in half, in the process drawing in the opposition to open up space for the more creative backs to run into. They often have the turning circle of a tank, but that’s because they are built like tanks.
A key figure in any team’s scrummaging and lineouts. In the scrum, you’ll find the hooker stuck between the two grunting props, with much of his weight being carried by them to allow him to concentrate on coordinating the timing of the scrum and hooking the ball towards the back of the pack.
At the line-out, he is the player who must deliver the ball accurately to his team’s jumper. In open play, he plays much like the props, winning possession at rucks and mauls, drawing in the opposition before moving the ball on to his quicker, more creative teammates.
4 & 5 Locks
The beating hearts of the scrum and the totemic targets in the lineouts, the two locks – or second row forwards – provide the might and height when the situation arises. These two chaps provide the real push in the scrum and rise high at the lineout, playing crucial roles in winning possession of the ball.
In open play, where once they were simply support staff, the modern locks must now be comfortable in possession and powerful on foot. With ball in hand, a rampaging second row can make serious inroads in to enemy territory.
6 & 7 Flanker s
Relatively quiet but key components of any team, the two flankers need to be exceptional all-rounders, blessed with speed and strength, the ability to run day and night, reliable hands and an almost psychotic penchant for giving and taking terrifying tackles. These two win the ball at rucks and mauls, are on hand to collect passes from tackled teammates and make the big tackles when it matters. Neither 6 nor 7 plays a glory role, but without them functioning fully there will be no glory.
8. Number Eight
Deployed alongside the two flankers in what is known as the back row, this man has no name but simply a number. Tough but not so much that he isn’t also quick, he tackles hard, carries cleverly and moves the ball on to better-placed teammates when the situation calls for it. Crucially, he binds on right at the back of the scrum and secures possession of the ball. To pass to a better placed teammate or, if deep in enemy territory, to explode over the line himself, that is the question. And his decision making in those brief moments is key.
(The Backs )
The link man between forwards and backs is the scrum-half, a crafty schemer who sparks the backline into life when the ball is fed out from the rear of a scrum, ruck or maul. Blessed with vision, speed, quick hands and feet and lightening reactions, this creative is generally smaller than most other players on the field and would be squashed flat by the opposition’s flankers were he not protected by the bulky forwards around him.
Very often the most influential player on the pitch, think of the fly-half as the general of the team, barking orders to his forwards, setting the position of the backs and generally attempting to dictate the tempo of the Game. Actually, think of him as more of the mother of the unit – the organiser and director, without whom the whole house would crash in on itself.
Almost every attacking move will go through this man. He decides if he will pass the ball to the centres and thus run the ball in to enemy territory, or if kicking it down the field and into touch would be a wiser option.
His brain is matched by brawn, though: a strong-tackling fly-half can snuff an opposition attack before it unfolds, and as the star man he can expect to be roughed up by the opposition’s openside flanker. On top of all that, the fly-half’s accuracy with the boot makes him the perfect man to kick conversions, penalties and attempt glorious drop goals.
12 & 13 Centres
A powerful pair with very clear roles. In attack, they are responsible for taking the ball from the fly-half and either taking advantage of any spaces left by the opposition, or for creating space for others by luring opponents towards them before feeding the ball to the wingers to tear towards the try line. When the ball is lost, they are the defensive heart: accomplished tacklers who hit hard.
As a general rule, the inside centre is almost as creative and as accomplished kicking as the fly-half (so think of him as second in command), while the outside centre is quicker and more adept at feeding the ball to the wingers.
11. & 14. Wings
The two men out wide are the last line of defence when not in possession of the ball, and the glory-fuelled finishers when the team is on the attack. They are the men most likely to race over the try line and score the points. As such, they need to have been blessed with searing pace and, more importantly, lungs the size of Luxembourg.
15. Full Back
As the last line of defence, the full back spends a lot of his time watching opposition kicks come sailing out of the sky towards him. As the ball drops down, he must assess his options – to catch it and kick it downfield, or to catch it and run in to a space he’s seen in the opposition’s defence? Alongside the wingers, the full back is the man most likely to crash through the opposition defence and cross the line with a big smile on his face. Consequently, he needs to be quick of mind, fast of feet and brave of body.
This article was commissioned via NewsCred's NewsRoom and written by freelance contributor Nick Harper.