A Beginners’s Guide to the Basics of Rugby Union Positions
In the game of rugby union which is a contact team sport, there are 15 players in each team, consisting eight forwards (numbered 1–8) and seven backs (numbered 9–15). Additionally, there can be up to eight replacement players “on the bench”. Jersey numbers 16–23 are used to distinguish them. Players are not confined to any single position on the field, even though they mostly focus in only one or two that suit their skills and body types. Players who train in over three positions are called “utility players”. The scrum (an assemblage used to restart play), however should consist of eight players (if a team still has fifteen on the field); three in the front row, two in the second and three at the rear.
The positions as given by the International Rugby Board are full-back, wings (left and right), centres (inside and outside), fly-half, scrum-half, number eight, flanker (openside and blindside), lock, hooker and props (loosehead and tighthead). The names have changed with time and geography. Initial names such as “three-quarters” and “out-halves” are still used by a few people, while in New Zealand the fly-half and inside centre are called “first five-eighth” and “second five-eighth” respectively, while the scrum-half is recognized as the half-back. Besides, there are many names for different groupings of players: the “front row” is the two props and the hooker; the “tight five” is made up of the props, locks and hooker; the “back row”, or sometimes “loosies”, are the number eight and flankers; the “inside backs” are the scrum-half, fly-half and inside centre; the “outside backs” are the outside centre, wings and full-back; and the “back three” are the two wings and the full-back.
The backs play behind the forwards and are normally more lightly built and faster. Successful backs are skilful at passing and kicking. Full-backs need to be good defenders and kickers, and have the capability to catch a kicked ball. The wingers are generally among the fastest players in a team and score many of the team’s tries. The centres key attacking roles are to try and break through the defensive line and link successfully with wingers. The fly-half can be a good kicker and usually directs the backline. The scrum-half reclaims the ball from the forwards but needs a quick and accurate pass to get the ball to the backs (often firstly to the fly-half). Forwards compete for the ball in scrums and line-outs and are predominantly bigger and stronger than the backs. Props push in the scrums, while the hooker tries to “hook” the ball. Locks are tall and jump for the ball at the line-out after the hooker has thrown it in. The flankers and number eight should be the first forwards to a tackle and play a crucial role in obtaining possession of the ball for their team.