The 2022 Guinness Six Nations kicks off this weekend, with each side fighting tooth and nail to get the better of their opponents in what is often regarded as the ‘ultimate team sport.’
With each of the 15 players that make up a rugby team playing a vital part, we take a look at the roles they all play during a match ahead of Rugby’s Greatest Championship getting underway.
For a loosehead prop, such as England’s Joe Marler or Scotland’s Rory Sutherland, their primary function remains providing a solid base at a scrum. They’re also the player who often has the chance of wheeling the 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 him 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.
A hooker, such as France’s Julien Marchand or England’s Luke Cowan-Dickie, 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.
A rugby team struggles to function without an effective tighthead, such as Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong, England’s Kyle Sinckler or France’s Uini Atonio, 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 Furlong, many modern tightheads are just as influential in terms of ball carrying and loose play.
The locks are often considered as 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 Maro Itoje or Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne, 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 – with Wales lock Adam Beard a prime example – 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.
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 Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony or France’s Cameron Woki, is expected to cover plenty of ground during a game.
A blindside tends to be bigger in size than his 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.
An openside flanker, such as England’s Tom Curry or Scotland’s Hamish Watson, 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 fact, 2021 Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship Watson made all 55 of his attempted tackles for Scotland during last year’s campaign.
It is not uncommon for an openside to play on the other flank whenever called upon and teams have been known to have plenty of success in fielding ‘two sevens’ in their back row.
In the tight, a No.8 like France’s Gregory Alldritt or Ireland’s Jack Conan 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 line-out, 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.
We move into the backs and the scrum-half, such as France’s Antoine Dupont, Scotland’s Ali Price or Wales’ Gareth Davies, 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, as well as their hands, while during an opposition scrum they put pressure on their opposite number and help defend the blindside.
A fly-half, such as Wales’ Dan Biggar, England’s Marcus Smith or Scotland’s Finn Russell, 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, line-out 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.
A key to how a team operates is how they use their inside centre, which can be a second playmaker, like England’s Henry Slade, or a direct runner that punches holes in defences, like Ireland’s Bundee Aki.
However they are deployed, they usually stand nearest to the fly-half following a scrum, line-out 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.
An outside centre, such as Scotland’s Chris Harris or France’s Gael Fickou, are usually faster runners than their counterparts on the inside and are often outstanding readers of the game.
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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.
The skills of a left winger, like Scotland’s Duhan van der Merwe, or a right winger, such as Wales’ Josh Adams, tend to be much the same, although those two examples show how they can vary in size.
Wingers were traditionally one of the smaller players in the team, but the game-changing impact of New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu went a long way towards other teams employing larger men as finishers of attacking moves.
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.
A full-back, such as Scotland captain Stuart Hogg or Wales No.15 Liam Williams, 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.