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Rugby positions explained: Names, numbers and what they do

Positions

It is a big year for women’s rugby with the TikTok Women’s Six Nations kicking us off in style, and World Cups in Sevens and XVs still to come. For those who are getting to know the sport this season, it can sometimes be daunting to work out the roles of every player on the pitch.

Thankfully, we have come up with a handy little explainer of the positions for you:

Loosehead prop

  • Wears the No.1 jersey, stands to the left of the hooker at the scrum
  • Plays a key role in helping a team get on top at scrum time
  • Often involved with lifting jumpers during lineouts
  • Among the strongest players in the game, as they have to absorb force from players behind them in the scrum, while also using their legs to drive forward

For a loosehead prop, such as Ireland’s Linda Djougang or France’s Annaëlle Deshaye, their primary function remains providing a solid base at a scrum.

They are so-called because their head is on the outside of a scrum when it engages and their tasks involve putting pressure on the opposition’s tighthead and rendering them a less effective anchor.

A loosehead is also there to provide their hooker with a clear view to strike the ball, although they tend to be far more prevalent in the loose these days than they were 30 or 40 years ago.

Hooker

  • Wears the No.2 jersey and is positioned in the middle of the front row
  • They are tasked with striking for the ball (or ‘hooking’) with their feet at the scrum in order to win possession for their team
  • A hooker is also the player responsible for throwing a ball during their team’s lineout
  • Tend to be more mobile in the loose than the props

A hooker, such as Scotland’s Lana Skeldon or England’s Lark Davies, plays a vital role at set-pieces.

At a scrum, they either try to secure possession during their team’s own put-in or provide enough of a disruption to prevent their opposite number from doing so during an opposition’s.

A hooker also needs to be aware of the various line-out calls a team has, in order for them to throw the ball (two-handed these days, as it used to be done with just one) into the right area.

Additionally, modern hookers are expected to get around the park and make plenty of tackles, work hard at the breakdown and slow opposition ball, or even poach the possession away.

Tighthead prop

  • Wears the No.3 jersey, stood to the right of the hooker at the scrum
  • Provides an anchor for the team’s scrum and is vital to how the set-piece functions
  • Often involved with lifting jumpers during lineouts
  • Among the strongest players in the game, as they have to absorb force from players behind them in the scrum, while also using their legs to drive forward

A rugby team struggles to function without an effective tighthead, such as England’s Sarah Bern or Wales’ Donna Rose, during the battle at the scrum.

So-called due to their head being between the opposition’s hooker and loosehead prop when a scrum engages, their role is to provide stability at their team’s put-in.

They also play a key role in disrupting the two players directly in front of them when it’s the opposition’s ball and are often responsible for drawing penalties for their side.

An immovable force on which the scrum is traditionally built, the value of a good tighthead cannot be underestimated. Yet as shown by the mobile Bern, many modern tightheads are just as influential in terms of ball carrying and loose play.

Locks

  • Wear the No.4 and No.5 jerseys, positioned in the second row of forwards
  • Often the tallest players in the team, they play a crucial role at lineouts
  • Get through plenty of tackles while defending
  • Also provide a significant presence in the loose, with their size and strength making them effective ball-carriers

The locks are often considered as part of the ‘engine room’ of the scrum, as their efforts at the set-piece supplement that of their front row forwards.

An effective second row, such as England’s Abbie Ward or France’s Madoussou Fall, needs to have good handling skills for catching at line-outs, in which they are lifted by their team-mates, no matter which team is throwing in.

Their height also makes them important in claiming kick-offs or restarts and they are usually first on the scene whenever their team is trying to secure possession at a ruck or maul.

The No.4, who usually pushes behind the tighthead, is usually the stronger of the two and regarded as an enforcer while the No.5 is often more athletic and focused on dominating the lineouts – both in attack and defence.

Blindside flanker

  • Wears the No.6 jersey, covers the nearest touchline in the back row at the scrum
  • Like the locks, they also provide a good option when it comes to catching at lineouts
  • Responsible for cover defence at set-pieces by preventing breaks down the ‘blindside’
  • Needs to have an all-round skill set of speed, strength, tackling and handling

We’re into the back row – or the ‘loose forwards’ – and while they’re not as integral at a scrum, a blindside flanker, such as Wales’ Alisha Butchers or England’s Poppy Cleall, is expected to cover plenty of ground during a game.

A blindside tends to be bigger in size than their partner on the openside and play a key role in preventing the opposition from launching attacks from a scrum.

While also providing support to their backs while their team is in possession, a blindside is usually quick to arrive at the breakdown in trying to claim the ball after an opponent has been tackled.

In many cases, the art of selection involves picking a balanced back row, so many players have the versatility to play multiple positions, including both Butchers and Cleall – the latter who can effectively play across the second row and back row.

Openside flanker

Marlie Packer with Sene Naoupu and Aoife McDermott

  • Wears the No.7 jersey, stands furthest from the nearest touchline in the back row at the scrum
  • Tends to have the best view whenever the ball comes out of an opposition’s scrum
  • Vital in securing turnovers in possession for their team
  • Needs to have an all-round skill set of speed, strength, tackling and handling

An openside flanker, such as England’s Marlie Packer or France’s Gaëlle Hermet, tends to be most visible at the breakdown as it’s often someone in their position who is trying to secure possession for their team.

Tending to be smaller and more mobile than a blindside flanker, an openside flanker plays just as vital a role in making tackle after tackle during a match. In the case of Packer, the pre-eminent player at the position in the world, the openside also has a big role to play with ball in hand as a ball-carrier.

No.8

Siwan Lillicrap

  • Stands at the base of the scrum
  • Provides extra weight at the scrum and crucial once possession has been secured
  • Controls the ball with their feet and responsible for providing clean ball for their scrum-half
  • Provides a vital link between forwards and backs, with attacks from set-pieces often being instigated by them

In the tight, a No.8 like France’s Romane Ménager or Wales’ Siwan Lillicrap provides extra ballast by binding between the two locks and using their considerable size and strength.

However, they play just as vital a role in the loose, as they can pick the ball out of a scrum and run with it, while they also make effective ball-carriers due to their ability to break through opposition defences.

The No.8 can also be a jumper or lifter at a lineout, while they can back up their flankers in scavenging for possession at the breakdown. Like the flankers, a No.8 will play according to their own individual skill set.

Scrum-half

  • Wears the No.9 jersey, responsible for putting the ball in for their team’s scrum
  • Provides a vital link between forwards and backs by collecting the ball after a completed scrum
  • Responsible for feeding the ball out of a ruck
  • Needs to be an excellent communicator while also being a reliable passer of the ball

We move into the backs and the scrum-half, such as France’s Laure Sansus or Italy’s Sara Barattin, who is usually the first player to get their hands on the ball following a set-piece or breakdown.

They tend to be one of the smallest players in the team, with their ability of being quick off the mark making them elusive runners and their quick thinking often putting them at the forefront of a team’s attacks.

A scrum-half is also expected to be good with their feet, often used to box-kick and relieve pressure on their team.

Fly-half

  • Wears the No.10 jersey, is often the first receiver during an attack
  • Regarded as the playmaker of the team
  • Needs a good passing range to get the best out of their team’s backline
  • Often puts boot to ball, whether that’s during free play or from the kicking tee

A fly-half, such as England’s Zoe Harrison or France’s Caroline Drouin, can come in different styles, but they are always vital for how their teams play.

They are often the first player to receive the ball from their scrum-half, whether it’s from a scrum, lineout or ruck and they need to be decisive in their distribution to the players outside them.

A fly-half is often the best kicker in the team and use a variety of techniques in attempting to either gain territory for their side or keep an attack going, while they are frequently that team’s goal-kicker.

Inside centre

Beatrice Rigoni numbers Italy

  • Wears the No.12 jersey, is often the second receiver during an attack
  • Teams can deploy them as a second playmaker or as a powerful midfield runner
  • Like the fly-half, they need to possess a good kicking game
  • Plays a key role in providing space to the players outside them

A key to how a team operates is how they use their inside centre, which can be a second playmaker, like Italy’s Beatrice Rigoni or Scotland’s Helen Nelson, or a direct runner that punches holes in defences, like France’s Gabrielle Vernier.

However they are deployed, they usually stand nearest to the fly-half following a scrum, lineout or ruck and as a result, are often the next to receive the ball once it has gone through their No.10’s hands.

This means an inside centre needs to be a strong runner while also possessing good passing skills and footwork, all of which can create space effectively.

Outside centre

Emily Scarratt England v Wales Women's Six Nations 2022

  • Wears the No.13 jersey, positions themselves outside the inside centre
  • Tend to be fast runners, which makes them dangerous to opposition defences
  • Needs to be an aggressive tackler when faced by an oncoming opponent
  • Plays a key role in providing space to the players outside them

An outside centre, such as England’s Emily Scarratt or Ireland’s Eve Higgins, are usually faster runners than their counterparts on the inside and are often outstanding readers of the game.

That doesn’t just make them potent attackers, as they’re often required to put in tackles to prevent the opposition from getting at their team’s last line of defence; their full-back.

An outside centre can also provide support at breakdowns or mauls when needed, although they tend to enjoy the increased space they receive that little bit more. In the case of Scarratt, they can also be outstanding kickers at goal.

Wingers

  • Wear the No.11 and No.14 jerseys, positioned on the left and right of the field, respectively
  • Often the most potent try scorers in the team
  • Can sometimes ‘come off their wing’ to provide extra support in the centres
  • Need to be quick runners who are capable of eluding tacklers

The skills of a left winger, like Wales’ Jazz Joyce, or a right winger, such as France’s Caroline Boujard, tend to be much the same.

Generally relatively slight in stature, wingers need to be quick and capable of beating opponents one-on-one with little space in which to work.

Successful wingers are measured by their try-scoring abilities, but they do also drop back to give their full-back an extra option once they’ve fielded an opposition kick.

Full-back

Chloe Rollie

  • Wears the No.15 shirt, fielded as the deepest player in the team
  • Often responsible for catching opposition kicks, while they need to be good kickers themselves
  • As the last line of defence, they have to be reliable tacklers
  • Need the speed and skill to join attacks, as well as instigating counter attacks themselves

A full-back, such as Scotland’s Chloe Rollie or Italy’s Manuela Furlan, needs to be a player who is every bit as comfortable in defence as they are in attack.

They are the most likely player to field a high ball from the opposition, so their handling needs to be reliable, while their kicking game requires them to clear the ball as far from their try line as possible.

A full-back also needs a good positional sense, as this can not only shut down the opposition’s attack but also provide a platform for them to run the ball out and create a try-scoring opportunity of their own.

Often, they also have the pace to play on the wing if required, with the back three working together to ensure each area of the backfield, particularly since the introduction of the 50:22 law which gives teams possession at a lineout if they kick it from their own half into the opposition 22, with the ball bouncing before it goes out.