Although the inside and outside centres roles are very similar there are a number of fundamental differences that mean players generally specialise in one of the two positions, although generally a player should feel comfortable playing at 12 or 13. The inside centre is generally the larger of the pair. The inside centre usually has a larger build as they are a key defensive lynchpin in the teams midfield so must be capable of tackling even the largest of opponents.
An inside centre should possess many of the skills of a fly half and therefore be comfortable acting as a first receiver should the fly half be unable to claim the ball. The inside centre should then feel comfortable either distributing the ball out to their team or kicking out of hand to gain a tactical advantage.
A good inside centre should have good leadership skills, able to help their fly half organise the team around them in both attack and defence. They should also be a good decision maker as they are likely to play the second receiver role in the team so must feel comfortable deciding whether to run the ball, kick it or distribute it out to the outside centre.
Modern inside centres generally have quite a large build and should look like they would be comfortable playing in the back row of the scrum. Generally they should have a good turn of pace although this is not essential as shown by the likes of Ma’a Nonu who although not slow will often opt to bowl over the top of his opponents rather than run around them.
In The Loose
Inside centres can come in all shapes and sizes and as such their style of play can very greatly from player to player. Larger inside centres will generally be solid in defence and a big ball carrier constantly looking to make ground with ball in hand. A smaller inside centre however may rely more on skill and guile, distributing the ball out to their outside centre or opting for clever kicks if the opportunity presents itself.
Generally the inside centre will line up just outside the fly half in their teams formations, although if they are comfortable playing the role of first receiver they may find themselves lining up on the opposite side of the play to the fly half in order to offer the scrum half multiple options.
Once the ball comes to the inside centre they will then have to decide whether to pass, kick or run with the ball. They should constantly be assessing the play in front of them ready to exploit any weaknesses in the oppositions defence. Should the inside centre look to run the ball they will generally look for contact (unless a gap opens up) and then look to offload the ball to any willing runners before they are taken down to the ground.
The inside centre has a number of essential functions to perform when in defence. They form a defensive lynchpin in the midfield often helping bridge the gap between forwards and backs. A good inside centre should make the opposition afraid of attacking their channel for fear of being hit by monstrous hits. The inside centre will often be closest to the action and should never be afraid to put their body on the line to keep the opposition out.
In defence the inside centre will act almost as an additional loose forward putting in big hits whilst also attempting to win turnovers. They should be constantly looking for opportunities to win the ball back or slow the ball down at rucks whilst being fit enough to get straight back to their feet to compete for the ball after they make a tackle.
In The Scrum
Depending on their teams formation and the inside centres particular skills set they may find themselves lining up on either side of the scrum. If the inside centre is comfortable acting as a first receiver they may often line up on the opposite side of the scrum to the fly half to provide an alternative option when the ball comes out of the back. During a defensive scrum the inside centre will generally mirror their opposite number lining up on the side of the scrum on whichever side they appear.
In The Line Out
During the line out the inside centre is likely to line up in their teams normal set up. This will usually see them standing outside the fly half ready to defend or attack depending on where the ball comes out.
In A Maul
Should the maul require some extra momentum the inside centre may opt to join the forwards in attempting to push the opposition back. Generally however the inside centre will line up with the rest of the backs ready to attack or defend depending on where the ball comes out.
Although for many Brian Lima will be best remembered for his huge hits, he also had an incredible turn of pace and was more than capable of running past or through an oppositions defence. His hard tackling style ensured he was a fearsome defender on the pitch making opponents wary of attacking his channel. He also started out his professional rugby career playing out on the wing which helped provide him with the pace and skill to attack the gain line and make ground for his team.