Although the scrum half is often the smallest player on the pitch, they are also amongst one of the most tenacious. A good number 9 needs to have strong on-field leadership skills to help manage their teams play and be able to influence the referee without becoming a nuisance. The scrum half must also be amongst the fittest players on the pitch as they will need to run from ruck to ruck to distribute the ball.
The scrum half must have one of the most rounded skill sets on the field able to kick, tackle and pass well on either sidewith all three of these skill sets being regularly tested throughout a match. The scrum half is a key leader of the pack and must be the eyes for their forwards during rucks and scrums making decisions for them and distributing them around the field in attack and defence.
The actual build of a scrum half isn’t really that important in the modern game with number 9’s coming in all shapes and sizes. Whilst Mike Phillips is big enough to play in the back row of his forwards, many other scrum halves are significantly smaller than other members of their team. Ideally a scrum half shouldn’t be too big as they will be required to do a lot of explosive running but must still be large enough to bring down any member of the oppositions team.
In The Loose
The scrum half has a variety of roles to play whilst the ball is in the loose. One of their key roles is the distribution of the ball from the base of the ruck. After the forwards have secured the ball the scrum half will pick the ball up from the base to either recycle it through their forwards or distribute it out to their backs to run a play. In defensive rucks the scrum half will usually stand behind the ruck ready to defend against any player who may attempt to run over the top.
The scrum half may also opt to kick the ball either to try to gain territory or by utilising the box kick to allow their team to attempt to reclaim the ball after it is punted into the air. As a final alternative the scrum half may decide to run the ball themselves if they feel a gap has opened up in the opposition defensive line which would allow them to dart through.
Both in attack and defence the scrum half must organise their teams forwards, distributing them around the field to either create an opening in attack or to counter any potential opposition moves. In defence the scrum half will also often act as a kind of sweeper following the ball across the pitch ready to jump on any balls chipped over their teams defensive line or making a last ditch tackle on any opposition players who breakthrough.
In The Scrum
Although the scrum half isn’t actually in the scrum they still have an important role to play during the set-piece. On their own put in they will stand on the left hand side of the scrum and feed the ball in between their loosehead and the opposition tighthead. It is important the ball is fed in straight although the scrum half may provide their hooker with a signal that the ball is being put in so as to give their team the best chance of winning the ball back.
Once the ball has been hooked back to the feet of the number 8 the scrum half will move round to the back of the scrum ready to pick the ball up to kick or pass or support their number 8 should they pick up and go. During an opposition put-in the scrum half will follow the opposition 9 round to the back of the scrum but must remain on their teams side of the ball or risk being called as offside. Once the ball comes out of the back of the scrum the number 9 will then often be the first up tackler attempting to disrupt the opposition runners and ball players.
Whilst the forwards are bound in the scrum the number 9 becomes their eyes and will therefore be the key decision maker. The scrum half will have to alert their loose forwards to any potential dangers as players attempt to break off the scrum with the ball. They will also let the number 8 know whether there is an opposition to pick the ball up and make a run down either side of the scrum.
In The Line Out
The scrum half isn’t directly involved in the actual line-out but will often act as the distributor should their team win the ball. The scrum half must be ready to catch and knock-downs or grab the ball out of the hands of their forwards after it has been caught. Once the ball has been won the scrum half must again decide how best to distribute the ball, this may involve kicking, passing or calling on their forwards to carry it forward.
On defensive line outs the scrum half will often stand in the channel whilst the opposition hooker throws the ball into the set piece. This allows the scrum halves hooker to defend the back of the line out whilst the scrum half must defence the channel in front of the line out should and opposition players attempt to run down it.
In A Maul
The scrum half plays around the back of a maul in a very similar way to how they play around a ruck. Whilst the forwards will attempt to drive the maul forwards the scrum half will remain out of the maul but close at the back ready to receive the ball for distribution. Should the opposition hold the ball in a maul the scrum half will usually defend around the fringes of the maul ready to tackle and opposition runners.
Joost van der Westhuizen must be considered one of the greatest scrum halves to have every played the game. A pivotal figure in South Africa’s 1995 World Cup triumph, he perfectly combined brains and brawn to fulfil the scrum half role perfectly. He will forever be remembered for his tackles on giant All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu but his quick bursts through the opposition defence were also key to a South African victory.