The game of rugby union usually features two teams with fifteen players on each team. The fifteen players are divided and allotted into different rugby positions in which they will play when the match begins. The teams comprise of eight forwards putting on jerseys with numbers one to eight, seven backs with numbers nine to fifteen on their jerseys. There may be up to eight substitution players on the bench, although the standard number of substitutions allowed in rugby union is 7, and their jerseys carry the numbers 16 go 23. Either one of the positions can be taken up by any of the players, and they can choose more than one. No player is restricted or under a mandatory oath to only choose one position. However, players normally specialize in one or two that fits their style, body type, and skills just right. Players who specialize two or more positions are termed ‘utility players’.
The Utility Players
These players have the ability to play more than one positions in a team. They are usually seen as jack of all trades. They occupy reserved positions in a team. As a result, many players don’t like being labelled ‘utilities’ so they try to avoid it. They cover a greater number of positions; players usually switch between scrum half and fly half, fly half and center, or wing and full back.
This is a rugby union game where teams only have 7 players on the field and have the opportunity to make five substitutes. Those seven players are divided into four backs and three forwards. Three players bind together to form the scrum. There are usually four backs which include the scrum half, fly half, wing, and center of which the scrum half is the one responsible for kicking or carrying the ball into the scrum while the remaining three form the back line. During defense or penalty kick, a line of six defenders across the court is usually formed. One of the players will be made the sweeper. His role is to kick ball or tackle attacking players who broke through the defense line.
The Positions in the Past
In the early days of the rugby union game, the positions were just two: forwards and defensive tends. Majority of players played in the forwards forming part of the scrimmage or, as it is known now, the scrum, while the rest formed the defensive tends. Later on, it became possible to attack and play while standing behind the scrimmage. Some players do position themselves between the forwards and tends. Those players were called ‘half tends’. As time went on, they discovered that those players who were standing outside the scrimmage were not constricted to a defensive role. Therefore, the tends and half-tends were given another name: backs and half backs. The more the game grew and became more standard and sophisticated, the backs were positioned behind the forwards at various depths. Later on, they were divided into half-backs, three quarter backs, and full backs. Also, introduced into the positions were the wing forwards, now known as modern day flankers, employed majorly to for as protection for the half backs.
The first international competition happened between Scotland and England in 1871. The game featured two teams with twenty players on each team. The players were grouped into four: thirteen forwards, three half backs, three full backs, and one three quarter. Later, in 1877, the number of players were reduced to 15 for each team. The style of putting numbers on the backs of players’ jerseys came about in 1920. It was done majorly for the coaches and selectors to be able to rate each player.
Changes in the Names of the Positions
Over time, position names have been changed. Apart from this, different countries had different names which they gave to the positions. The changes include:
- Players who are now known as flankers were referred to as the ‘wing forwards’ at the initial stage;
- The backs: the outside center were once referred to as the ‘center three quarter’ and the wings were termed the ‘wing three quarter’;
- The scrum half was once referred to as ‘half back’ while the fly half was referred to as the first five-eight;
- The inside center was called the second five-eight;
- In America and Canada, what is now simply called ‘8’ was once referred to as 8-man.
- Unlike now where similar positions carried different names, back then, collective terms were used to describe them. For instance, the props and hookers combine to form front row; the locks combine to form the second row, while the flankers and number eight are combined to form the back row or the loose forwards (also known as the loosies); the front row and second row are combined to form the tight five; the scrum half and fly half are both joined together to form the half-backs; inside backs are used to denote the scrum half, inside center, and fly half; the midfield was used to describe the fly half and the two centers; outside backs used to describe the outside center, full back, and wings.
Obviously, so much changes have occurred over the years. And, there is no doubt about it that there are still many changes to be made.
The Positions Explained
The position of ‘backs’ re divided into 3: the full backs, three quarter, and half backs.
The Full Backs
The full backs usually line up behind the back line by several meters. The full back is much like a sweeper in defense in rugby. However, they full backs also get serious kicks from their opponents. As a result of this, they must be ready and at comfortable positions to be able to catch balls that are thrown very high. Also, they must be comfortable enough to make attacks of their own in order to gain possession of the ball. So, players in the position of the full back are expected to have enough tactical awareness so they can know when to kick in counter response, also to know when to run with the ball. Most of the time, they run from deep with their own half. The full back is a position of very high pressure. Three notable attributes of full backs are: must be good at catching a ball at high kick; must be able to successfully and accurately punt the ball over a very long distance; must possess enough speed and notable skill to quickly join the back line in their attacks.
A faint-hearted player who cannot withstand tackling, kicking, catching, and running cannot survive in this position. However, players who can withstand the activities of full back players and still keep a clear head and calm composure has a future here.
The Three Quarter
Under the three quarter, there are the wing and center.
The wing: are usually positioned right outside of the backline with each number on different sides: number 11 on the left hand side, and number 14 on the right hand side. Their major role and function is to score tries and finish off moves. Players in the wing position are especially known by their fastness; they are the fastest players on the team and are either elusive runners or strong and big players that are perfectly capable of breaking out of tackling. Left wing and right wing players need similar skills to function adequately in these positions. However, left-footed players normally are known, of course, to play on the left wings due to the fact that their left foot is their strong point i.e. they can kick better with their left foot. Wingers on the blindside come off the wing providing an extra man in the midfield, much like the full backs. Either or both of the wingers usually drop back on opposition kicks so that the full backs can get an additional opportunity to counter-attack.
The Center: in any rugby team, two centers are present: the inside center usually carrying the number 12 and the outside center usually carrying the number 13. The inside center stands as close as possible to the fly half. Similar to the fly half, the centers are expected to possess a good kicking game. They must be very good at reading plays and in attacking. The outside and inside centers are positioned outside and inside respectively. Although, outside centers usually can move more since they have more room than the inside centers. Centers provide support at the breakdowns. Centers have the ability to run as decoys for the purpose of confusing the defense.
The Half Backs
The half backs are divided into two: the fly-half and the scrum-half
The fly-half: this position is one of the most crucial positions in a team’s game plan. They have the crown as leaders and order of the back line. Usually, when there is a breakdown, line out, or scrum and decisions need to be taken as to what actions to take and how to have an effective communication with the outside backs, the fly-half is the first to receive the ball from the scrum-half. To be in the position of they fly-half, player must have good kicking and passing skills. Most of the time, the kicker is known to be the best kicker in the team and so, if you’re interested in this position, you must be able to make attacking kicks. Attacking kicks include: up and unders, chip kicks, and grubbers. They must also be able and ready to kick for their territory. They are also seen as any team’s goal kickers.
The Scrum-half: players in this position are the links between the backs and the forwards. They are to receive the ball from the line-out and remove it from the back of the scrum. After this, they pass it to the fly-half. Apart from receiving and passing balls, they also feed the scrum. They join hands with the fly half to make many of the tactical decisions on the pitch. When the play is going on, the scrum half usually receives the ball from the forwards and transfers it to the backs. They are known to be very good communicators most especially when they are doing the forwards. Their main objective is to make sure the backs get a clean ball. Scrum halves are considered good if they can pass excellently, kick tactically, and run in a deceptive manner to deceive the opponents. They are usually the fewest in number in any team.
The forwards position is divided into six other positions: the back row (or loose forwards) including the number eight, flankers, and locks, and the front row including hookers, and props.
The Back Row or Loose Forwards
This position consists of three playing positions – two flankers with one on both sides of the scrum, and a number eight right behind the scrum.
Players in this position are often regarded as the players with the lowest number of responsibilities given to them to carry out. However, they are not just figureheads as the position also requires skills in which not everyone possesses. Flankers must be excellent players with a lot of energy that is almost if not altogether inexhaustible. They must have speed, fitness, tackling and handling skills and, of course, strength are all important qualities a flanker must possess if he wants to fully utilize the position. Out of all the positions in rugby union, these players are, most of the time, right at the center of the action of collecting short passes from players being tackled, winning balls, and also tackling in open play. Even though they are hardly blamed for any loss that may happen in a match, they are definitely important and key to their team’s victory. They improve the chances of their team winning.
Number Eight: this position is the only position without a specific name in English. Therefore, they are simply called number eight or eight-man. They are positioned in a bind between locks at the back of the scrum and they serve the purpose of providing extra weight to a push. They communicate with the scrum-half at the back of the scrum in order to provide a clean ball for the backs and also to control the ball. The number eight position can also be involved in carrying the ball from the back of the scrum and then running with it. Or they can just send it to the scrum-half. They can be another jumper at lineouts or they can be a lifter. Their responsibilities are quite similar to the flankers in that they also support the play, tackling, and carrying of the ball. The number eight and the flankers work as a unit to form the back row. Players in the number eight position are expected to be very agile, fast, and dynamic runners.
The Locks: these players form the second row. Their task is to push against the front row; they serve as providers of power hence the name given to them ‘engine room’. Players in the locks position are usually the tallest players in the team. Their main purpose is to catch the ball thrown directly at them during lineouts. They are expected to be very good at catching and tackling. They are lifted and supported by their team mates, thus giving them the chance to compete for the ball either by tapping it or passing it to the scrum half. Or they can set up a drive. There are usually two locks in the scrum and the two locks form a tight bind with their heads between a prop and the hooker. They are in the business of kick-offs, and securing the ball in rucks and mauls. They make crash balls.
The Front Row
The front row position consists of two sets of positions: the hookers and the props.
The Hookers: hookers are positioned in between the two props in the scrum. They are usually the ones to throw the ball into the lineout. When the scrum half has passed the ball into the scrum, the hookers then hook the ball holding it back to the scrum with their feet thereby winning possession for their team. When it is the opposition that kicked the ball into the scrum, the hookers either attempt to gain possession of the ball or they hinder the opposition from gaining possession. They are usually mobile players than the props since they are saddled with the responsibility of carrying the ball up during an open play. Hookers can be played only by front row specialists. Scrums remain uncontested for if any of the teams is unable to field for whatever reason.
The Prop: as the name implies, props naturally serve as a prop-up for hookers in the scrum. They are part of the players in the front row of the scrum and they work together in pushing against opponent props.
The Loosehead or Tighthead Prop – the loose-head and tight-head props with the hookers form the front row. The front row position is their position in a rugby union game. For them to have a success at what they do, both of the props must have very strong necks, shoulders, upper body and legs since they engage in head-to-head competitions. Their responsibilities are to stop their side of the scrum from going backwards, to support the hooker’s body weight so that he can see the ball and be able to strike the moment it is placed in the scrum. During lineouts, the props are expected to be able to help the jumper up by lifting so that the opposition doesn’t gain possession of the ball. They also help to hold the ball down and keep the team from losing it especially when a player is being tackles. They also batter rams in attack, receive short passes, and hit opponents’ defense so that they can try to take the place of defenders and make space for stronger players.
Although scrummaging is their major duty, they are expected to partake in attacking and defense. They must be strong enough because they are ensued with the responsibility of taking in pressure from the locks and loose forward who are pushing in from behind and the opponents pushing against them.
The Center: this position includes the inside and outside centers. The inside center stands the closest to the fly half when the backs have lined up. The outside centers, on the other hand, are usually strong dynamic runners with very sharp eyesight with which they detect and expose gaps in the opposition defense. They run very direct lines when they are attacking. They take on their opponents to break their defense line or to draw in enough opposition defenders in order to create more chances at making goal points for their teammates. It is therefore not surprising that players in this position are expected to be very strong, powerful and tactical so that when attacks turn into defense, they can effectively tackle.
The inside centers are usually the more creative of the two centers when it comes to center painting. Hence, they should be able to pass and kick almost as good as they fly halve do. On the other hand, the outside centers also have their distinctive quality which is that they are the faster of both centers and have the ability to get the ball off to the wingers as quickly as possible.
The game of rugby union can be a lot of fun as well as addictive. In the past, it was played just for fun but as the game advanced, more notable competitions and tournaments have been organized.
So, now that you know all the positions involved in rugby union sport, you can go ahead to decide which one is best for you and get to work in perfecting it. If you decide to be a utility player, you can too. Whichever one you decide to do, every single rugby position in the union requires diligent practice.