As you might imagine the number 8 on a rugby field wears the number 8 shirt for their team. It is the one position in a rugby team that has never been properly named for some reason. A perfect number 8 should be equally capable of filling in at prop or at blindside flanker at lower league levels. Combining the size and strength of a prop with the athleticism of a blindside flanker, the number 8 is usually their teams key ball carrier.
A good number 8 should be capable of putting in huge tackles, making hard yards with ball in hand whilst also getting involved with rucks trying to protect possession as well as winning opposition ball at the breakdown. The number 8 will usually be one of the most skilful players in the pack, possession great ball handling skills and may even be capable of kicking the ball.
A number 8 will usually combine the height of a blindside flanker and the muscular build of a prop (minus the extra padding). Most modern number 8’s are usually 6’2″+ and hovering around or over the 18st mark. This means the number 8 is large enough to be a key ball carrying threat whilst also having the height and athleticism to be a jumper in the line out and compete heavily at the breakdown. It is also key for a number 8 to be extremely fit so they can get around the field and involve themselves in both attack and defence, moving between key danger points to give their team an advantage all over the field.
In The Loose
The number 8 has two main roles in open play as well as a variety of other secondary tasks that must be performed during a game. In attack the number 8 will provide a strong ball carrying option often taking the play to the opposition at pace using a crash ball to make hard yards and get their team over the gain line. The number 8 should be adept at spotting weaknesses or mismatches in the oppositions defence and exploiting them wherever possible. They should also however be more than comfortable taking hits from the largest members of the oppositions team and still coming out on top.
In defence the number 8 has an important role to play, putting in huge tackles and bringing down the oppositions ball carriers before competing in the ensuing ruck to attempt to turn over the ball. As well as competing at the breakdown the number 8 should also defend around the fringes of rucks or alternatively look to join into their teams defensive line, potentially even within the backs formation to add a bit more grunt to their teams defence. When the ball is in the oppositions half the number 8 will usually hold back with the full back and wingers on their team ready to catch the ball and carry it back up field at pace should the opposition kick it long.
In The Scrum
The number 8 packs down at the very back of the scrum placing their head between the hips of the two second rowers. They will then focus on pushing the locks forward to add additional drive to the scrum and support their props attempts to wrestle control of the contest.The number 8 must ensure both their shoulders are touching the locks in front of them when scrummaging or else may be penalised for not binding.
If the number 8’s team have the put in at the scrum then the ball is likely to come to the feet of the number 8 which will then result in one of three options. The first is that the number 8 must control the ball at the base of the scrum with their feet whilst their team drives the scrum forwards. Alternatively the decision may be made to take the ball out of the scrum in which case one of two options will be used.
The first is for the number 8 to pick the ball up from the base of the scrum and attempt to run around the side and gain ground whilst the opposition are still bound. This will often occur as a result of a call from the scrum half who is able to assess the oppositions defensive lines and decide if their is an opportunity for ground to be made. Alternatively the number 8 may control the ball at the base of the scrum for the scrum half to pick up and either run himself (in which case the number 8 should act as a support runner), or more likely fire the ball out to the backs to launch an attack.
In a defensive scrum the number 8 will often be a second up tackler should the opposition attempt to run off the base of the scrum. The number 8 will then have to be prepared to make a tackle should the runner break through the first line of defence or alternatively be prepared to ruck over and turn the ball over should the opposition runner be brought to the ground.
In The Line Out
Number 8’s are often deployed nearer the back of a line-out ready to catch long balls and run it into the oppositions defence. Being one of the more athletic members of the team the number 8 is also more likely to be able to chase any opposition runners or compete for the ball on the ground. Some lighter number 8’s may also be used as jumpers in the line-out as well as being prepared to throw other members of their team up to compete for the ball.
In A Maul
During a maul the number 8 will usually be one of the key driving forces helping to either push their team forwards with the ball or trying to repel the opposition drive and stop them gaining territory. The number 8 may also attempt to interfere with the oppositions ball and lock it into the maul rather than allowing them to distribute it out of the back.
Zinzan Brooke must be considered one of the greatest number 8’s to have ever played the game. Combining strength, power and sheer athleticism with accomplished ball handling skills and even an effective boot he was the complete player during his time. A real leader of men showing his team the way Brooke could always be found in the heart of the action getting stuck into the dirty dogged work expected of forwards whilst always being a threat in open play. He was more than capable of joining the backs line and playing the ball through his hands before taking it up field and getting over the gain line.