A winger in rugby will be amongst one of the fastest players on the pitch whilst also having a well-round skills set. Although being out on the wing they may not be as heavily involved in the action as some of the other players on the pitch they still have an important role to play in both attack and defence. A winger will usually be light on their feet and confident running with the ball in hand whilst taking on the opposition one-on-one.
A winger may also have to put in some of the most important tackles on the pitch as if they are beaten it is unlikely the oppositions line breaker will be caught. A winger should constantly be looking to get their hands on the ball, hanging on the ball carriers shoulder and calling for it should an opening appear.
The decision on which side a winger will play depends on their particular strengths. A right handed and right footed winger is likely to play on the right winger and vice versa for left wingers. This is as a winger is usually the last man before the ball reaches touch so is more likely to have to play the ball back inside as there is unlikely to be someone stood outside of them. In addition a predominantly right footed winger is likely to step off their right foot so will want their stronger leg on the outside to step inside players. Whilst the differences between left and right wingers may only be very subtle the small margins can make a big difference. Although saying this good wingers should feel comfortable playing on either side of the pitch.
Whilst the build of a winger can vary hugely with All Black great Jonah Lomu having the size to play in the tight 5 whilst players like Christian Wade and Shane Williams are some of the smallest players in the game. A wingers build will very much depend on their style of play but generally they will be of a more slender build than the forwards and are likely to have the lowest body fat percentages in the team. Again height isn’t too much of a concern as shown by the likes of Wade but a taller winger has the advantage of getting higher to claim balls punted in the air.
In The Loose
Although not central to their teams play a winger must be aware of any opportunities ready to make a break at a moments notice. This may involve coming in off their wing and following the ball in the hope of catching on to an offload. Chris Ashton is a great example of extra work that a winger can put in by coming inside and looking for the ball.
Generally though a winger should try to hug to the touchline waiting for the ball to be distributed out through the centres for an opening. Once the ball comes out to the winger they will generally look to take the ball to the opposition, keeping it in hand and looking to break through the defensive line.
Top wingers should also feel comfortable putting boot to ball and kicking should an opportunity present itself. As one of the fastest members of the team the winger will usually be expected to chase their own kick and look to either reclaim the ball or put pressure on the opposition catcher.
In defence a winger will usually be expected to defend the far side of the pitch hugging the touchline and is most likely to have to repel the opposition winger. If the ball is in the oppositions half the winger will usually hold back in their own half again on their side of the pitch ready to claim any long kicks out of their opponents half. The winger must then decide whether to run or kick the ball back.
In The Scrum
A winger is not involved in the scrum in anyway but must line up ready to attack or defend dependant on which side the ball comes out. The winger on the openside will line up outside the half backs and centres whilst the winger on the shortside of the scrum may find themselves defending one side of the pitch on their own.
In The Line Out
As a line out occurs on one side of the pitch this means one winger must come in off the touch line or risk running straight into the oppositions pack. Depending on their teams formation a winger may either line up on their side of the pitch nearest to the line out or may line up on the opposite wing with their teams other winger.
In A Maul
During a maul wingers will generally remain out on their wing ready to either defend against an opposition attack or to form part of their own teams offence if the ball is won.
Bryan Habana is an excellent example for aspiring wingers to follow. Not only is he one of the fastest men in world rugby, he is also solid in attack and defence and never afraid to get stuck in. His ability to take on players and leave them flat-footed is almost unparalleled whilst he is also able to kick the ball accurately over distance. The Springboks phenomenal work rate often sees him find the ball in space when his team are in possession whilst in defence he is able to pressure the opposition into mistakes. His size and strength also mean he is always able to take on players of all shapes and sizes.