The Players

There are specific playing positions for each of the 15 players on each team. They are grouped as eight forwards and seven backs with the forwards involved in scrums and lineouts, with the backs lined up 'outside' the forwards.

The playing positions are as follows:

Fullback

The fullback normally plays deep behind the backline. In attack they can come from deep, hitting gaps at pace, either acting as a decoy runner or an extra man creating an overlap.

As defenders they stand back to cover as sweeper behind the main line of defence. They have to catch the high kicks referred to as "up and unders", "bombs" or "Garryowens". Having caught a kick, the fullback may counter-attack or punt forwards, so speed and good kicking skills are required.

Delon Armitage

Example fullback: Delon Armitage (London Irish)

Wing

Each of the two wings will normally stay on their side of the pitch throughout the match and are expected to finish movements by scoring tries. The idea is that 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 evade tackles and side step to finish off scoring situations.

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

James Simpson-Daniel

Example wing: James Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester Rugby)

Centre

The centres - either number 12 (inside) or number 13 (outside) - are powerful runners who are the heart of the action both in attack and defence.

The outside is typically the lighter, more agile of the two centres. They aim to make breaks through the opposition backs before offloading to the wings after drawing the last line of defence. A centre should be very strong and fast and able to pass with pinpoint accuracy under pressure.

The inside tends to be the larger of the two centres. In attack, the inside centre will aim to drawing the opposition's defence, making breaks to create space for the outside centre and in defence must be a strong tackler to snuff out opposition attacks.

Alex Grove

Example centre: Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors)

Fly half

The fly half wears number 10 and normally receives the ball from the scrum 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, making key decisions during a match, the most notable being whether to kick or run the ball. They should be fast, able to kick with both feet, have brilliant handling skills and operate well under pressure.

Toby Flood

Example fly half: Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers)

Scrum half

The scrum half feeds the ball into a scrum and retrieves the ball at the base of scrums, rucks, and mauls. They also are the back closest to the forwards at the lineout and collect cleanly caught ball or tidy up any tapped down possession. They form the all-important link between the forwards and the backs; they will act as the general for the forwards and are always at the centre of the action.

The scrum half will have a high degree of vision, have superb handling skills and be able to react to situations very quickly. A key player in any side.

Michael Claassens

Example scrum half: Michael Claassens (Bath Rugby)

Binding

Binding differs between positions but essentially it is when one player grasps firmly onto another player's body from the shoulder to the hips with the whole arm from hand to shoulder.

Prop

The two props, designated either loose head (number one) or tight head (number 3) depending on where they place their head when engaging the opposition front row at the scrum.

The role of both props is to support the hooker in the scrum and to provide effective, dynamic support for the jumpers in the lineout. Props also 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.

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. Modern day props are also good ball handlers and will be used in open play as 'first receivers' with the scrum half popping a pass to the prop who will try to burst a hole in the first line of defence.

Marcos Ayerza

Example prop: Marcos Ayerza (Leicester Tigers)

Lifting

Usually occurs in the lineout when a jumper is lifted in the air to catch a throw from his hooker or to try and intercept the ball thrown in by the opposition hooker. Lifting also occurs at the restarts when the man jumping for the ball is well supported in the air.

Hooker

The hooker is the front row forward who is supported on either side in the scrum by props and is required to gain possession of the ball in the scrum by hooking or blocking the ball with one of their feet.

The hooker will normally also be the forward who throws the ball into the lineout. When lineouts 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 lineouts and do not push as much in the scrum as other front row forwards.

David Paice

Example hooker: David Paice (London Irish)

Second row

Typically the largest players on the field, they have primary responsibility for being the power in scrums and securing the ball in lineouts. Due to their size, they are also powerful forces in all loose play, rucks, and mauls. At lineouts, second rows 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 second rows stick their heads between the two props and the hooker in the scrums and are responsible for keeping the scrum square and provide the power to shift it forward. They 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.

Courtney Lawes

Example second row: Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)

Flanker

Numbered six and seven the flankers bind onto the scrum on either side of the second row but in open play have the fewest set responsibilities and therefore flankers need to have good speed, strength, fitness and handling skills. Flankers do less pushing in the scrum than the props and second rows, but need to be fast as their task is to break quickly and cover the opposing half-backs if the opponents win the scrum.

Flankers can play either openside, who attach themselves to the scrum on whichever side is furthest from the touchline and blindside, 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. The flanker, and in particular the openside flanker, is called upon to win the ball in broken play and has the responsibility of marking the other side's fly half. 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.

James Gaskell

Example flanker: James Gaskell (Sale Sharks)

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 eight 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 eight 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. Normally tall and athletic they are also used as an option to win the ball in the lineout. A number eight should be a key ball winner in broken play, and occasionally a battering ram at the front of rucks.

Nick Easter

Example number eight: Nick Easter (Harlequins)

The bench

Each side are allowed to use eight replacements coming on for either tactical or injury reasons. Over the years the bench has developed into a crucial part of the game and with impact players coming into play at crucial times, rugby has become a 22-man game.

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