Rugby union positions

A rugby union team is made up of 15 players: eight forwards, numbered 1 to 8; and seven backs, numbered 9 to 15. Depending upon the competition, there may be up to seven replacements. Each player has a fixed role and each teams will therefore play in the same formation, with only slight variations in use. Rugby union is different to other sports such as soccer with its endless number of 'playing formations' (4-3-3, 3-5-2 etc.) or cricket, where a player may be moved to a completely different position on the field (e.g. from silly mid-on to deep cover point).



Individual players' tasks are made clear by the number they wear, as this indicates their position (unless they are a substitute or have switched position during the match). This means a player does not get a personal number for his entire career, as you tend to see in most American sports or a squad number as in soccer. The IRB has laid down a numbering scheme for international matches, which is commonly adopted by other teams as well.

The main role of the forwards is to gain and retain possession of the ball. They take part in set pieces of the scrum and the line-out. Generally, forwards are larger than the backs, which makes them stronger but slower. Forwards also have a role in taking the ball forwards, but generally do so by driving into the opposing forwards.

The role of the backs is to move the game forward by running or kicking the ball. The fly-half controls how to do this. The backs tend to score more tries. The backs tend to be smaller than the forwards and as a result more agile and faster, but less strong.

The following diagram locates the various positions in the 15-man team. All members of the starting 15 wear shirts numbered from 1 to 15 and keyed to their positions (though alternatives exist); these numbers appear on the diagram below. The first eight players, known as forwards or the pack, play in the scrum. The remaining seven players play as the backs.

Template:Rugby union positions

Alternate names for positions

PropProp forward
LockSecond row or lock forward
FlankerWing forward or breakaway or flank or flank forward
Number 8Eightman or eighthman or lock forward
Scrum halfInside half or scrummie or half-back
Fly halfOutside half, out half, stand-off, first five-eighth, first five, or pivot
Inside centreSecond five-eighth or second five or centre
Outside centreCentre
WingWinger or wingman

Collective terms for positions

Front rowThe props and hooker
Tight forwards or Tight 5 or Front fiveThe combined front row and second row
Loose forwards or Back row or LoosiesThe flankers and the number 8
Half backsScrum half and flyhalf
MidfieldCentres plus flyhalf
Inside backsThe centres, the flyhalf and the scrumhalf
Three-quartersWingers plus outside centre (some nations include inside centre)
Back three or Outside backsThe fullback and the wingers

The fly-half is alternatively called the "stand-off half", since they are the half-back that stands off from the scrum rather than close to it. In addition, in New Zealand the fly half is referred to as the 1st 5/8, implying a slightly deeper position than halfback and the inside centre as the 2nd 5/8 implying a more forward position than a 3/4 back. Flankers may also, though this is more historic usage, be referred to as "wing-forwards", or together with the No 8 as "loose-forwards", since they can quickly detach from scrums.

In Australia, the second row of the scrum are often referred to as "second row", the position behind them as "lock", the forwards on either side of the lock as "breakaways", and the fly-half as "five-eighth".

As can be seen there is a lot of variation in the names of the positions. The IRB has standardised the names, yet the alternative names are still as common as ever before. A problem with standardised names is that the positions themselves are not as standard as they might seem. For example, there is a slight difference between left and right centre on the one hand and inside and outside centre on the other. Wingers can be played on the open side and the blind side (also known as strong side and weak or closed side) rather than left and right and there are also left and right flankers.


15. Full back

The role of the full back is primarily defensive; they stand back to cover defensive options as a 'sweeper' behind the main line of defence removed from the other backs. They have to catch the high kicks referred to as "up and unders" or "bombs". Having taken a kick, the full back may counter-attack or punt forwards, so speed and good kicking skills are required. In attack, the full back is often positioned behind the back line and runs into the back line at pace and may act as either a decoy runner or an extra man creating an overlap. The full back is also the last line of defence, so good tackling skills are required.

Notable fullbacks include Christian Cullen (New Zealand), JPR Williams (Wales and Lions), Serge Blanco (France) and Matt Burke (Australia).

See also: Fullback

14. and 11. Wing

The wings act as "finishers" to finish movements by scoring tries. The idea being that the space should be created by the forwards and backs inside the wingers so once they receive the ball they have a clear run to use their speed and agility to score tries. They are often the quickest members of the team and need to able to jink and side step to finish off scoring situations.

Often the wing can be the last line of defence, so they need to be able to make those important tackles when they count. They also often act as additional full backs on opposition kicks.

Notable wings include Jonah Lomu (New Zealand), Joe Rokocoko (New Zealand), David Campese (Australia), Gerald Davies (Wales and Lions), and Rory Underwood (England and Lions).

See also: Winger (sport)

13. Outside centre

The outside is typically the lighter, more agile of the two centres. They are the "Rapiers" that are given the ball normally via the fly half to make breaks through the opposition backs before offloading to the wingers after drawing the last line of defence. A Centre should be very strong fast and able to pass with pinpoint accuracy under pressure.

Notable outside centres include Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland and Lions), Danie Gerber (South Africa) and Jeremy Guscott (England and Lions).

12. Inside centre

The inside tends to be the larger of the two centres. In defence or attack, the inside centre is always in the thick of the action, drawing the opposition's defence, making the breaks to make the space for the outside centre and dishing out the tackles in defence along with the forwards. Accurate handling and passing skills are a must for any centre.

Some of the skills of the fly-half such as distribution and kicking can be advantageous as the Inside Centre may be expected to act as a fly-half if the normal fly-half is involved in a ruck or maul.

Notable inside centres include Scott Gibbs (Wales and Lions), Phillipe Sella (France) and Gordon D'Arcy (Ireland and Lions).

10. Fly-half

Fly half is short for flying half back because they take the ball on the run. They are probably the most influential players on the pitch. The fly half is the person who makes key decisions during a game such as whether to kick or run the ball. They should be very fast, able to kick with both feet, have brilliant handling skills, and operate well under pressure.

Games are rarely won on tries alone, which makes the fly-half the most important player in the side as they are usually the side's kicker, and therefore main points-scorer.

Notable fly-halves include Ronan O'Gara (Ireland and Lions), Joel Stransky (South Africa), Phil Bennett (Wales and Lions), Andrew Mehrtens (New Zealand), Barry John (Wales and Lions), and Jonny Wilkinson (England and Lions).

9. Scrum-half

Scrum halves form the all-important link between the forwards and the backs. Normally acts as the 'General' for the forwards and is always in the hub of the action. A scrum half is normally quite small but with a high degree of vision and able to react to situations very quickly, pound-for-pound is very strong as they will spend a large percentage of their time up with the forwards and with superb handling skills. A key player in any side.

They put the ball into the scrum and collect it afterwards, they also are allowed to stand further forward than other backs at a line-out to try to catch knock downs from the jumper.

Notable scrum-halves include Gareth Edwards (Wales and Lions), Rob Howley (Wales and Lions), George Gregan (Australia), Danie Craven (South Africa), Joost van der Westhuizen (South Africa) and Dwayne Peel (Wales).


1. Loosehead prop & 3. Tighthead prop

The role of both the loose- and tighthead props is to support the hooker in the scrum and to provide effective, dynamic support for the jumpers in the line-out. Props are provide the main power in the push forward in the scrum, and it is for this reason that they need to be exceptionally strong. Under modern rules non-specialists are not allowed to play as props as they are key to making sure that the scrum does not collapse, which can be very dangerous.

A tighthead prop is so called because they pack down on the right-hand side of the scrum and so their head fits between the opposing loosehead prop and hooker. In contrast, the loosehead prop packs down on the left-hand side where their head is outside that of the opposing tighthead prop. Although it may look to the neutral observer that the two positions are quite similar (and several players have the ability to play on both sides of the scrum), the technical challenges of each are quite different.

Props are also in the position of being able to direct the movement of the scrum in moving side to side to prevent the other teams scrum from "wheeling" the set scrum and forcing another "put in" from the opposing side

Notable loosehead props include Jason Leonard (England and Lions), Graham Price (Wales and Lions) and Os du Randt (South Africa).

Notable tighthead props include John Hayes (Ireland and Lions), Phil Vickery (England and Lions)and Olo Brown (New Zealand).

2. Hooker

The hooker uses their feet to 'hook' the ball in the scrum, because of the pressure put on the body by the scrum it is considered to be one of the most dangerous positions to play. They also normally throw the ball in at line-outs, partly because they are normally the shortest of the forwards. When line-outs go wrong the hooker is often made a scapegoat even though the fault may actually lie with the jumpers. Hookers have more in common with back row forwards than props or locks as they have a roving role at line-outs and do not push as much in the scrum as other front row forwards.

Notable hookers include Sean Fitzpatrick (New Zealand) and Keith Wood (Ireland and Lions).

4. & 5. Lock

Locks are almost always the tallest players on the team and so are the primary targets at line-outs. At line-outs, locks must jump aggressively to catch the ball and get it to the scrum half or at least get the first touch so that the ball comes down on their own side.

The two locks stick their heads between the two props and the hooker in the scrums. They are also responsible for keeping the scrum square and provide the power to shift it forward. (This position is referred to as the "engine room".)

Locks are normally tall, very athletic and have an excellent standing jump along with good strength. They also make good ball carriers, bashing holes in the defence around the ruck and maul.

Notable locks include Paul O'Connell (Ireland and Lions), John Eales (Australia), Colin Meads (New Zealand), Malcolm O'Kelly (Ireland and Lions), Fabien Pelous (France), Donncha O'Callaghan (Ireland and Lions) and Martin Johnson (England and Lions).

6. Blindside flanker & 7. Openside flanker

The players with the fewest set responsibilities and therefore the position where the player should have all round attributes, speed strength fitness handling skills amongst other skills. Flankers are always involved in the game, as they are the real ball winners in broken play especially the no. 7.

Flankers do less pushing in the scrum than the tight five, but need to be fast as their task is to break quickly and cover the opposing half-backs if the opponents win the scrum. At one time flankers were allowed to break away from the scrum with the ball. They are the main ball winners

Flankers can be broken down into opensides (occasionally known as strong side), who attach themselves to the scrum on whichever side is furthest from the touchline and blindsides (occasionally known as weak side or closed side), who attach themselves to the scrum on whichever side is closest to the touchline. The openside is normally smaller, faster and more mobile as he starts play nearer to the potential action and needs to be the first person to arrive at the breakdown. Opensides have the responsibility of marking the other side's fly-half. They do this by quickly closing them down, reducing the time they have to kick or pass. The blindside flankers are generally larger as they have a more physical role to play at the lineout and may well be used as a jumper.

Flankers are not always divided into opensides and blindsides: French teams tend not to make a distinction between the two roles, and usually play left and right rather than open and blind. Nor do shirt numbers necessarily denote which role a flanker plays. As an example, the outstanding flanker Serge Betsen (France) wears the number six (the blindside's number in the Home Nations, New Zealand and Australia), but packs down on both open and blind sides of the scrum during a game, and harasses the opposition fly-half in the manner of an openside. South African teams tend to play the faster, more agile 'fetcher' in the six shirt, while the larger flanker wears seven. Other international teams have also abandoned conventions from time to time; flankers Findlay Calder and John Jeffrey (Scotland) played left and right, rather than open and blind.

Notable blindsides include Francois Pienaar (South Africa), Mike Teague (England) and Jerry Collins (New Zealand).

Notable opensides include Neil Back (England and Lions), Michael Jones (New Zealand), Fergus Slattery (Ireland and Lions) and Josh Kronfeld (New Zealand).

George Smith (Australia) is a notable flanker who is often played on the blindside, but generally plays like a second openside in tandem with Phil Waugh. Richard Hill (England and Lions) is similarly versatile, as is the young South Africa star Schalk Burger. Serge Betsen and Olivier Magne (France) are the perhaps the most outstanding left/right combination of recent years.

8. Number eight

The modern number eight has the physical strength of a forward along with the speed and skill of a back. The number eight packs down at the rear of the scrum, controlling the movement and feeding the ball to the scrum-half. The number 8 is the position where the ball enters the backline from the scrum and hence both fly half and inside centre take their role from the number 8 who as the last player in the scrum can elect to pick and run with the ball like a back. No other forward player from a scrum can legally do this. As a result the number 8 has the opportunities as a back to run from set plays.

Normally tall and athletic and used as an option to win the ball in the lineout. Like flankers they do less of the pushing than locks or props, but need to be quick to cover opposition half-backs. Number eight is the only position that does not have a specific name and is simply referred to as 'number eight'. A number eight should be a key ball winner in broken play, and occasionally a 'battering rams' at the front of rucks.

Notable number eights include Zinzan Brooke (New Zealand), Lawrence Dallaglio (England and Lions), Dean Richards (England and Lions), Victor Costello (Ireland) and Imanol Harinordoquy (France).

Some back-row players are versatile enough to play either of the flanker positions or at Number 8; one notable example is Joe van Niekerk (South Africa). Another even more versatile player in this vein is Michael Owen (Wales and Lions), who is normally a Number 8, but has frequently played at both flanker positions, and has even successfully played at lock.

See also

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