The positions clarified

Despite what you have seen on the television, each player has a specific function, one that differs from all the others. To help you, and other spectators, including those who have been around for years, each individual position is numbered and in many cases the players starting the match will have that specific number on their back.

So let’s go through them.

1. The loose-head prop,

2. The hooker,

3. The tight-head prop,

4 and 5. The locks,

6. The blindside flanker,

7. The open side flanker,

8. The number eight,

9. The scrum-half,

10. The fly half,

11. The left wing,

12. The inside centre,

13. The outside centre,

14. The right wing,

15. The fullback.

This is nice, simple and straightforward.

Well, perhaps not that simple. There are also the numbers from 16 to 23 but they often do not go on the pitch initially. Further, the positions above have alternative names.

So just to clarify:

Those in the scrum.

The loose-head prop, the hooker and the tight-head prop are known collectively as the front line, the loose-head prop being the one nearer the put-in if it is his team with the put-in. These are the ones who lock heads, and horns, with their respective numbers from the other side. A few years ago they would run at one-another at speed, or what equated for speed for big, fat blokes.

Behind them were the two locks who stuck their heads in between the bums of the hooker and whichever prop was on their side. Collectively known as the second row, when together with the front row we get the front five or the tight five.

If we then add the blind- and open-side flankers, the blind-side being the one nearer the touch line (scrums in the middle of the pitch cause the flankers problems), who can be called the wing forwards, and the number eight, the chap right at the back, who despite making up two rows are known as the back row, not to be confused with the back line (see later), we get the pack, which is made up of all the forwards.

I’ve heard that in Canada and the USA the number eight is known as the 8-man. It would be a brave person who suggested British rugby should include, or fail to ban, nomenclature from ‘them’.

What  could be simpler?

The two opposing packs bump into one-another, fall over, and then get up again: rugby in a nutshell, or nutcase.

It can get more difficult unfortunately as we now have to bring in fractions as times.

The rest of the players, nine to fifteen, are collectively known as the backs. Some suggest that the numbers nine and ten are not really backs but then they are more not really forwards and they have to be something.

The number nine is the scrum-half, the half back or sometimes the stand-off, and his main job seems to be to get the ball into the scrum before they all fall down. In the ‘old days’ he was also referred to as the little bloke. As the number nine often receives the ball from the scrum, the opposing flankers tend to pay him a lot of attention. Further, their other job is to receive the ball from the line out catcher, so you can see when the number nine is also identified as ‘the bloke with blood coming from his eye’, or ‘the one limping’ and sometimes ‘the chap in the ambulance.’

The number ten, the chap who receives the ball from the number nine (if he hasn’t been flattened) can be the outside half, stand-off, fly half or the first five-eighths. He is also a half-back. This chap is the controller of an attack, one who directs his players, feeding them the ball in situations where they have time to pass or run with it. Number tens are great believers in myths. They tend to pass the ball as quickly as possible in the expectation that they will not be late-tackled.

There is another half-back, the number twelve, who is also the inside centre or second five-eighths and the second, or rather other, half back. If you are chuffed that being good at algebra has meant that you have not been too confused by the plethora of fractions, although there are more to come, you should hope that you are not too good at geometry as their are two centres. And don’t go all cocky with talk of ellipses as they have foci.

The inside centre and the fly half are known collectively at the half backs to differentiate them from ‘real’ backs, the assumption being that half-backs occasionally hold the ball.

The other centre is the number twelve, also known as the outside centre and sometimes just the centre, presumably just to piss off the inside centre a bit.

There are four ‘quarters’ you will be relieved to know, but as this is too simple by half, they are all called three quarters. They are the centres and the two wings, the number eleven (bet you thought we’d forgotten that one) and the fourteen, respectively on the left and right wing.

At the back there is the number fifteen or full back. He has no collection of names, mainly, it is said, because no one knows he’s there.

So there you have it, a simple and straightforward list of who is who on the rugby pitch. Whilst there are a lot of fractions mentions, don’t get worried that you F in the algebra GCSE will mean you can’t have a meaningful conversation about rugby. Just drop a fraction or two into a statement every now and again and everything will be fine. It is essential that you do not get carried away and mentioning the 11/16ths will show you up to be a bit of a burk.

Much is made of the ethos of rugby, its core beliefs which, if they were followed nationwide, would make this the best country in the world. And so it is even with the positions. This teaches us that it is best to ignore fractions.