A rugby union team is made up of 15 players: eight forwards, numbered from 1 to 8; and seven backs, numbered from 9 to 15. Depending upon the competition, there may be up to seven replacements.

Each player has a fixed role and each team uses the same formation, with only minor variations; in this respect it is different from both football with its various formations (4-3-3, 3-5-2, etc.) and cricket, where players are commonly moved from one field position to another (e.g. from silly mid-on to deep cover point).


Individual players' positions are made clear by the number they wear, as this generally indicates their role on the pitch (unless they are a substitute or have switched position during the match). This means a player does not get a personal squad number for his entire career, as you tend to see in most American sports, or in football. The International Rugby Board (IRB) has laid down a numbering scheme for international matches, which is adopted at almost all levels of the sport.

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, and were traditionally stronger but slower and less agile. However, the modern game has seen a change in the athleticism of forwards - many are now just as fast and adept in open play as their counterparts in the backs. Forwards also have a role in ball carrying, but generally do so by driving into the opposing forwards. The Laws of the Game define the terms prop, hooker, locks, flankers and number eights and clearly state that a 3-2-3 or 3-4-1 formation must be used at scrums.

The role of the backs is to take the ball won by the forwards and score points, either by running or kicking the ball. They are usually more agile and faster than forwards, but not as strong. The key attribute for most positions in the back line is pace - however, the various specialist positions also require different skills, for example, the kicking abilities needed by a good flyhalf or fullback. Again, the type of person who would traditionally play in the backs - small, agile, fast - is changing, with the advent of professionalism bringing increased size and strength into the backs.

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.

Alternative names for positionsEdit

PropProp forward
HookerHook, rake
LockSecond row, lock forward
FlankerWing Forwards, breakaway, flank, flank forward
Number 8Eightman, eighthman, lock forward
Scrum halfInside half, half-back, scrum off, scrummie
Fly halfOutside half, out half, stand-off, five-eighth, first five-eighth, first five, fly, pivot
Inside centreSecond five-eighth, first centre, second five or centre
Outside centreCentre, centre three-quarter, second centre
WingerWingman, wing threequarter

Collective terms for positionsEdit

Front rowThe props and hooker
Second RowBoth locks
Tight forwards or Tight 5 or Front fiveThe combined front row and second row
Flankers or wing forwardsThe open and blind side flankers
PackThe forwards
Loose forwards (Loosies) or Back rowThe flankers and the number 8
Half backsScrum half and flyhalf
Inside backsThe inside centre, flyhalf and scrumhalf
Five-eighthsThe flyhalf and inside centre (1st and 2nd five eighths)
Three-quarters / Three-quarter lineWingers and centres
Back threeThe fullback and the wingers
Outside backsThe outside centre, wings and full back

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 the southern hemisphere, especially in New Zealand, this position is sometimes referred to as 'first five-eighth', or just 'five-eighth' - see below.

The use of the terms 'open' and 'blind' can also be confused. The two flankers are typically arranged so that one binds to the scrum on the open side of the field. This will usually be his position throughout the game, with the other flanker always taking the closed 'blind' side - also called the short side. Rarely these flankers interchange roles, simply taking the left or right side of the scrummage, irrespective of field position.

Centres will always line up as inside and outside centre - it is rare for them to always take left and right positions. For the winger, it is different - he/she will be either on the left or right side, so may be referred to as either the blindside or openside winger, depending on his position for a particular play in the game...

New Zealand TermsEdit

In New Zealand the fly half is referred to as the first five eighth, implying a slightly deeper position than halfback (the term halfback can cause confusion since some countries use it to refer solely to the scrum half, while other countries apply it to both the scrum half and the fly half) and the inside centre as the second five eighth implying a more forward position than a three quarter back. Flankers may also, though this is more historic usage, be referred to as "wing-forwards" (also an archaic term for an obsolete position associated with the old 2-3-2 scrum, popular in New Zealand in the 1920s), or together with the No 8 as "loose-forwards", since they can quickly detach from scrums.

Australian TermsEdit

In Australia, the second row of the scrum are often referred to as both "second row" and "locks". The forwards on either side of the locks are known as "flankers" with the No.8 known as the "No.8". Australians collectively refer to the flankers and No. 8 as the "back-row", with flankers and No.8 also often individually called "back-rowers". Props and Hookers are known collectively as "Front Rowers".

In the backs, the terms often overlap with that of Rugby's popular derivation, Rugby League, with Fly half's called "5/8's or Five-Eight's" and Scrumhalves "Halfback's".

South African termsEdit

Many rugby union players in South Africa are native Afrikaans speakers, and use positional terms unique to that language, although in many cases the terms are a literal translation from the English.

Number eightAgtsteman
Scrum-halfSkrumskakel (lit. 'scrum-link')
Fly-halfLosskakel (lit. 'loose-link')

Italian termsEdit

FlankerTerza Linea Fuori
LockSeconda Linea
Number eightTerza Linea Media
Scrum-halfMediano di Mischia

French TermsEdit

Prop - Pilier
Hooker - Talonneur
Locks - Deuxiemes Lignes
Flankers - Troisiemes Lignes Aile
Number 8 - Troisième Ligne Centre
Scrum-Half - Demi de mêlée
Fly-Half - Demi d'ouverture
Centre - Centre
Wing - Ailier
Fullback - Arrière

Northern HemisphereEdit

The IRB standard names tend to reflect Northern Hemisphere usage although flyhalf is still often known as 'outside half' in Britain and 'outhalf' in Ireland.

Backs Edit

15. Fullback Edit

The full back stands back to cover defensive options as a 'sweeper' behind the main line of defence removed from the other backs. As the last line of defence, they require good tackling skills.

They have to catch the high kicks referred to as "up and unders", "Garryowens" or "bombs". Having taken a catch, the full back may choose to return the kick, and so good tactical awareness and kicking skills are required. Increasingly often, full backs are used to start counter-attacking moves from depth. Thus, they need to have excellent attacking skills, pace and open field running prowess. In attack, the full back may also run into the back line at pace, providing an extra man, either a decoy runner or an extra man creating an overlap.

Fullbacks in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Don Clarke (New Zealand), George Nepia (New Zealand), JPR Williams (Wales and Lions), Gavin Hastings (Scotland and Lions), Serge Blanco (France), Andy Irvine (Scotland and Lions)

14. and 11. Wing Edit

The wings act as "finishers" on movements by scoring tries. The idea is that space should be created by the forwards and backs inside the wingers so that once they receive the ball, they have a clear run for the try-line. Wings are almost always the quickest members of the team, but also need to be able to side step and otherwise avoid opponents in order to score tries. In modern games, wingers often "come off the wing" to provide extra men in the midfield, in the same vein as a full back, particularly if play has moved away from their wing. Traditionally, wingers are small and fast but since the game became professional (and largely due to Jonah Lomu), wingers are often as big as forwards. Wingers of this variety are often used as extra flankers to gain the "hard yards".

Wingers often act as additional full backs on opposition kicks. In addition to this responsibility, they must get back from an opposition kick to give the full back options on either side. The modern game means that the back three tend to act as a unit in fielding kicks and counterattacking, rather than all responsibility lying with the full back. Wingers need to have all the skills of a full back, though the emphasis would be on attack rather than defence. As such, many players are as competent on the wing as at full back.

A common tactic is to have the winger receive the ball and then cut towards the centre of the pitch. This changes the direction of play, which may catch the opposition off guard, or may create space for the outside centre to receive a switch pass or "scissors pass".

A modern use of the wing is as a link player. They retain all the traditional skills of a wing, but are able to combine these with skills more traditionally associated with half backs. As the play goes through multiple phases, the scrum-half or fly-half may be taken out of the play. If this occurs the blind side wing can step in to perform a creative role. Good examples of players filling this role include Breyton Paulse, Shane Williams and more recently Sitiveni Sivivatu.

Wings in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: John Kirwan (New Zealand), David Campese (Australia), Gerald Davies (Wales and Lions), Tony O'Reilly (Ireland and Lions) and André Boniface (France)

13. Outside centre & 12. Inside centre Edit

Centres need to have a strong all-round game: they need to be able to break through opposition lines and pass the ball accurately. When attack turns into defence they need to be strong in the tackle. Usually the two centres are divided into outside centre and inside centre, though sometimes teams play with left and right centres.

The inside centre is typically the heavier, more powerful 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. Some of the skills of the fly-half, such as distribution and kicking, can be advantageous to inside centres, as they may be expected to act as fly-halves if the normal fly-half is involved in a ruck or maul.

The outside centre tends to be the smaller of the two centres. They are the "rapiers" that are given the ball, normally via the fly half, or inside centre to make breaks through the opposition backs before offloading to the wingers after drawing the last line of defence. Good size and tackle breaking skills are very important for outside centres to have. They may also need to be very aggressive in defence, espescially when a team is using a rush up style defence. Centres in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Tony O'Reilly (Ireland and Lions), André Boniface (France), Mike Gibson (Ireland and Lions), Philippe Sella (France), Tim Horan (Australia), Jo Maso (France) and Gwyn Nicholls (Wales and Lions).

10. Fly-half Edit

The fly-half position is a portmanteau of flying half back. This position is one of the most influential on the pitch. The fly-half makes key tactical decisions during a game — whether to kick for space or tactical advantage, move the ball to his outside backs, return the ball to his forwards to drive on to or run with the ball himself. An ideal fly-half should be a fast and deceptive runner, be able to make decisions quickly, direct the backline on defence and attack, have excellent kicking and handling skills and the ability to cope under pressure. Strong leadership skills are crucial for this position, as well as strong defensive skills.

Games are rarely won on tries alone, and a fly-half who is also the goal kicker (which is often the case) can be the most important player in the side.

Fly-halves in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Grant Fox (New Zealand), Barry John (Wales and Lions), Mark Ella (Australia), Cliff Morgan (Wales and Lions), Hugo Porta (Argentina), Jack Kyle (Ireland and Lions), Michael Lynagh (Australia), Phil Bennett (Wales and Lions) and Naas Botha (South Africa).

9. Scrum-half Edit

Scrum halves form the all-important link between the forwards and the backs, and are invariably at the centre of the action. A scrum half is normally relatively small but with a high degree of vision, the ability to react to situations very quickly, and good handling skills, as well as the ability to spin the ball with great ease off both hands.

They are often the first tackler in defence and are behind every scrum, maul or ruck to get the ball out and maintain movement. 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.

It is also not unusual to have talkative scrum-halves in competitive situations. Though technically illegal, most scrum-halves will subtly alert the referee to fouls and infringements committed by the opposing team - Austin Healey being an excellent case in point. AlertThe neutrality of this statement is disputed. Please start a discussion on the talk page.

Scrum-halves in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Danie Craven (South Africa), Gareth Edwards (Wales and Lions), Nick Farr-Jones (Australia) and Ken Catchpole (Australia).

Forwards Edit

1. Loosehead prop & 3. Tighthead prop Edit

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. Along with the second row, the props provide the main power in the push forward in the scrum. For this reason they need to be exceptionally strong. Under modern rules non-specialists are not allowed to play as props (or hooker) as specialist skills are required to assure the scrum does not collapse, a situation which can be very dangerous sometimes resulting in crushing or breaking of the neck and spine. If there are not enough props or hookers on either team (and no replacements are available), uncontested scrums will be set.

A tighthead prop is so called because they pack down on the right-hand side of the scrum and so (because the players engage to the left of their opponents) 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 some players have the ability to play on both sides of the scrum), the technical challenges of each are quite different. Jason Leonard was one of a rare breed who could prop on either side at the top level.

The laws of the game require the tighthead prop to bind with his or her right arm outside the left upper arm of his opposing loosehead prop and similarly they restrict what the loosehead prop can do with his left arm. Although the scrum half may put the ball in on either side of the scrum, he is unlikely to choose the tighthead side because otherwise the opposing hooker would be between him or her and his or her own hooker. Hence, the laws implicitly require the loosehead prop to be on the left side of the scrum.

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.

Props in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Wilson Whineray (New Zealand) and Syd Millar (Ireland and Lions).

2. Hooker Edit

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, but more often because they are the most skillful 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. In addition, hookers may act as an extra prop in the scrum, instead of contesting the feed, to wreak havoc on opposition feeds.

Hookers in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Sean Fitzpatrick (New Zealand) and Keith Wood (Ireland and Lions).

4. & 5. Lock Edit

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 the front row together and providing power to shift it forward. (This position is referred to as the "engine room".)

Locks are very tall, 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. They also have to push the rucks and mauls and are the main figures of rucks and mauls.

Locks in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Willie John McBride (Ireland and Lions), Colin Meads (New Zealand), Frik du Preez (South Africa), Gordon Brown (Scotland and Lions), Bill Beaumont (England and Lions), John Eales (Australia), Martin Johnson (England and Lions) and Brian Lochore (New Zealand).

6. Blindside flanker & 7. Openside flanker Edit

Template:Verylong The players with the fewest set responsibilities and therefore the position where the player should have all round attributes: speed, strength, fitness, tackling and handling skills. Flankers are always involved in the game, as they are the real ball winners in broken play, especially the no. 7. Because of their fewer responsibilities, flankers generally are not considered to 'lose' games, but can have such an influence that they can 'win' games. AlertThe neutrality of this statement is disputed. Please start a discussion on the talk page. Blindside flankers tend to be bigger (so they can stop the opposite number 8 off the back of scrums) than their partners on the openside who tend to be the smaller, quicker players.

In open play, flankers will often stand behind the back line 'supporting' them in open play. If any ball is dropped by the backs, the flankers job is to clear up messy ball and take it ito contact to start a fresh and new phase of play. Because they are always close to the ball, they are often first to the break down.

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 but this is no longer allowed and they must remain 'bound' to the scrum until the ball is out. Flankers also have to defend at the back of the scrum if the opposition wins the ball and the opposing number 8 decides to pick and go, a term used to describe the action where the number 8 picks up the ball from the back of the scrum and drives forward with it.

Flankers usually protect scrum-halves during scrummages from the opposing scrum-half following around and tackling him/her.

The two flankers do not usually bind to the scrum in a fixed position. Instead, the openside (occasionally known as the strong side) flanker will attach to the scrum on whichever side is further from the nearer touchline, while the blind-side (occasionally known as weak side or closed side) flanker attaches himself to the scrum on the side closer to the touchline.

Since most of the back play is usually on the open side, where there is more space, it is usually the openside flanker's job to be the first to any breakdown of play and to get his/her hands on any loose ball (or to cause a breakdown by tackling the ball carrier or otherwise harrying him into error). At a scrum where the ball has been won by the opposition, the openside flanker often has the best view of when the ball is out and is able to break away and close down the opposing ball-carrier, reducing the time available for a pass or kick. Openside flankers are often smaller, faster and more mobile than their blindside counterparts.

The blindside flanker has the job of stopping any move by the opponents on the blind (or 'narrow') side from a scrum. This flanker may not be as fast as the openside. Blindside flankers are often responsible for cover defence from set pieces and may play a more physical role at the line-out, where they may well be used as a jumper. They are generally larger than openside flankers.

Flankers are not always assigned specific roles as opensides and blindsides. For example, flankers Finlay Calder and John Jeffrey (Scotland) played left and right, rather than open and blind. French teams tend not to make a distinction between the two roles, and their flankers also usually play left and right rather than open and blind: thus, Serge Betsen (France) wears the number six (which in most teams denotes a blindside flanker) but may pack down on either the open or blind sides of the scrum, and will often harass the opposition fly-half in the manner of an openside; like Calder and Jeffrey for Scotland, he and Olivier Magne have, in recent years, formed an outstanding left-right partnership for France. South African teams generally use openside and blindside flankers, but play the faster, more agile 'fetcher' in the number six shirt, while the larger (blindside) flanker wears seven. George Smith is a notable flanker who sometimes played on the blindside, but nowadays plays on the openside.

Flankers in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Jean-Pierre Rives (France), Jean Prat (France), Michael Jones (New Zealand), Ian Kirkpatrick (New Zealand), Dave Gallaher (New Zealand), Wavell Wakefield (England) and Francois Pienaar (South Africa).

8. Number eight Edit

Number eight is the only position that does not have a specific name and is simply referred to as 'the number eight'. The modern number eight has the physical strength of a tight forward along with the mobility of other loose forwards. The number eight packs down at the rear of the scrum, controlling the movement of the ball to the scrum-half with his/her feet. 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 hindmost player in the scrum can elect to pick and run with the ball like a back. As a result, the number 8 has the opportunities as a back to run from set plays.

They are normally tall and athletic and used as an option to win the ball from the back of the lineout. Like flankers they do less of the pushing than locks or props, but need to be quick to cover opposition half-backs. A number eight should be a key ball winner in broken play, and occasionally a 'battering ram' at the front of rucks.

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).

Even more versatile players in this vein are Michael Owen (Wales and Lions) and Martin Corry (England and Lions), who normally play number 8, but also frequently play at both flanker positions, and have even successfully played at lock. David Wallace (Ireland and Lions) is one of the few players who has experience playing at number 8, both flankers, centre and even on the wing at club level for Munster.

Number eights in the International Rugby Hall of Fame include: Mervyn Davies (Wales and Lions), Morne du Plessis (South Africa), Hennie Muller (South Africa) and Brian Lochore (New Zealand).

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

Bath Rugby

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original content was at Rugby union positions. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Rugby Union Wikia, the content of Wikipedia is available under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.