15 Rugby Team Positions Explained
As part of our Beginner Series for people new to the game of rugby, here at RugbySmarts we have followed our rugby terminology blog article with an explanation of the 15 on-field positions in rugby union.
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Rugby Union Positions from 1 to 15
Each position below is numbered with the typical jersey number in a starting 15 on a rugby team.
1. Loosehead Prop:
The strong foundation in the scrum, the loosehead prop forward binds to the hooker from the left. In open play, they provide power in rucks and mauls, and are key in ball retention. Os du Randt of South Africa, Jason Leonard of England and Gethin Jenkins of Wales are amongst the best to ever play loosehead prop.
The hooker throws accurately in lineouts and anchors the scrum as the centre of the front row. Dynamic in open play, they secure possession in rucks and contribute to both attacking and defensive phases. Some of the greats in world rugby in this position include Sean Fitzpatrick (NZ), John Smit (SA), Keith Wood (Ire) and Brian Moore (Eng).
3. Tighthead Prop:
The right-hand anchor in the scrum, the tighthead prop offers stability and strength. In open play, they provide support in rucks, mauls, and contribute to ball retention. Carl Hayman of New Zealand is seen by many as one of the greats of the men’s game in this position.
4. Lock (Second Row):
The second row forward, also known as a lock, is pivotal in lineouts, often securing possession. Locks tend to be tall, powerful players provide power and precision timing from the second row in scrums, contribute to rucks and mauls, and act as ball carriers in open play.
5. Lock (Second Row):
Similar to the first lock, the second lock is crucial in lineouts, scrums, and open play. They add physicality, secure possession, and contribute to the team’s forward momentum. Some of the best locks of all time include Paul O’Connell (Ire), Martin Johnson (Eng), John Eales (Aus) and Brodie Retallick (NZ).
6. Blindside Flanker:
Flankers, also known as wing forwards, bring huge energy to field of play. The blindside flanker is a dynamic all-round force usually in the thick of the action in a rugby match, excelling in tackling and ball carrying. They disrupt opponents in rucks and mauls, adding physicality and securing possession for the team. All Blacks legend Jeome Kaino, France’s Thierry Dusautoir and South Africa’s Francois Pienaar are heralded amongst the best at this position down through the years.
7. Openside Flanker:
Agile and quick, the openside flanker is a defensive specialist, disrupting the opposition’s play. They excel in turnovers, tackles, and contribute to the team’s speed in open play. This position has been occupied by the likes of Sam Warburton (Wales), Neil Back (Eng), Schalk Burger of South Africa and legendary Kiwi captain Richie McCaw who won two World Cups in his 148-cap All Black career.
8. Number Eight:
Positioned at the back of the scrum, the number eight is a powerful ball carrier and a key figure in both attacking and defensive phases. They add physicality and leadership. Italy’s Sergio Parisse, England’s Lawrence Dallaglio and Kiwi’s Kieran Read and Zinzan Brooke are noted Number 8’s in rugby union folklore.
The heartbeat of the team, the scrum-half orchestrates play, linking forwards and backs. Quick and strategic, they deliver crisp passes, execute kicks, and dictate the tempo of the game. Joost van der Westhuizen (SA) and George Gregan of Australia are notable figures from rugby history who excelled in this position.
The playmaker, the fly-half (also known as out-half) directs attacking plays. They make crucial decisions, execute precise kicks for scoring and tactical purposes, and distribute the ball effectively to create scoring opportunities for the backs. The history of rugby union has many heroes in this position including Michael Lynagh (Australia), Andre Mehrtens (NZ), Neil Jenkins (Wales), Johnny Wilkinson (England), Ronan O’Gara and Johnny Sexton (Ireland) and Dan Carter (NZ).
11. Left Wing:
The left wing, known for speed and agility, exploits space on the left flank. They are crucial finishers, scoring tries, and contribute to defensive efforts with solid tackling. Giant All-Black Jonah Lomu lit up the 1995 World Cup from this position while fellow New Zealander Joe Rokocoko and South Africa’s Bryan Habana are amongst other leading examples from men’s rugby down through the years.
12. Inside Centre:
The inside centre is a versatile player, bridging forwards and backs. They run strategic lines, break opposition defences, and provide a robust defensive presence in the midfield. Double World Cup winner Ma’a Nonu (NZ), Tim Horan (Australia) and Philippe Sella (France) are considered amongst the most exciting players to have played inside centre at international level.
13. Outside Centre:
A dynamic force in the midfield, the outside centre runs powerful lines, breaks tackles, and acts as a defensive linchpin. They link with both forwards and backs to create attacking opportunities. Mathieu Bastareaud (France), Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland), Tana Umaga (NZ) and Jonathan Davies (Wales) are considered by many observers as the best ever at outside centre.
14. Right Wing:
Similar to the left wing, the right wing is a rapid and agile finisher. They exploit space on the right flank, score tries, and contribute defensively with effective tackling. Doug Howlett (NZ) is probably the finest right winger to never win a World Cup, while England’s Jason Robinson and Australia’s Ben Tune both got their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup playing for their respective countries.
A versatile player, the fullback covers the entire field. They secure high balls, counter-attack, and provide a last line of defence. The fullback is usually an accomplished kicker and a strategic decision-maker in positional play. Serge Blanco (France) might be regarded as the greatest to ever play at full back with Christian Cullen (NZ), Percy Montgomery (South Africa) and Gavin Hastings (Scotland) also considered as outstanding contributors to the game.
While the 15 rugby team positions listed above are the key on-field positions, the game has evolved significantly over the last 20 years to encompass 20+ players per match with key tactical substitutions used to refresh defensive and attacking strategies throughout the 80 minutes.