The outside centre in rugby is one of the most diverse roles on the field with players needing to have a fully rounded set of skills whilst being able to adapt their game to a number of different styles. The role of the outside centre will often depend on how the inside centre plays their game. If the incumbent inside centre is a strong play maker then the outside centre is more likely to be a strong runner capable of getting hold of the ball from the inside centre and taking it to the gain-line. If the inside centre is a stronger runner then the outside centre may instead act as more of a play-maker, latching onto the 12’s off-loads and looking to distribute the ball out to the wings.
It is becoming increasingly common for outside centres to have the pace and agility to be able to play on the wing whilst also retaining the size and strength to act as a key defensive lynch-pin. Although the outside centre is generally slightly smaller than the inside centre they are still generally of a good build and must be able to hold their own in defence as they will be taking on ball runners who are much larger than themselves.
Although not crucial it is also of benefit if the outside centre feels comfortable kicking the ball out of hand. Whilst they will rarely need to kick the ball it is beneficial if they can provide an additional kicking option in defence in order to alleviate any pressure their team may be under. The outside centre should also have good hands and be comfortable passing off either shoulder or offloading in the tackle so as to provide their wingers with the best possible opportunity to make a line break.
An outside centre is usually slightly smaller than the inside centre but should be big enough to feel comfortable taking on the oppositions forwards in both attack and defence. The outside centre should also be agile and nimble enough to step around the opposition and retain the kind of pace that we see them feel comfortable playing out on the wing.
In The Loose
The two key roles for an outside centre to perform are to act as an additional play-maker either through running the ball or passing it out wide and creating a solid defensive line that is difficult for the opposition to breach. Generally the size and strength of the player in question will determine their style of play but even if they are stronger in one area than another they still should not suffer from weaknesses in the other.
The two centres are expected to hold and defend one of the main channels in their teams defensive lines in the middle of the pitch and must therefore be comfortable tackling even the biggest of the oppositions forwards. In addition to making big hits and applying pressure to the oppositions ball carriers the outside centre will often be able to act as an additional back-row forward at the breakdown. The outside centre should feel comfortable competing on the ground during a ruck and attempting to turn over the oppositions ball or retain their own ball.
In attack the outside centre will take their lead off the inside centres play. If the inside centre takes the ball to the gain-line the outside centre should be following closely on their shoulder ready to catch any offloads during the tackle or to ruck over and retain the ball after the inside centre has been taken to ground. If however the inside centre is more of a play-maker and looks to move the ball through their teams hands the outside centre needs to be a willing runner, taking the ball towards the opposition gain-line ready to launch out to the wings. The outside centre should therefore feel comfortable offloading both in space and during the tackle.
Should other key members of their team be caught up in rucks or out of position the outside centre must feel confident putting boot to ball in order to relieve some pressure. Although the outside centre does not necessarily have to be the best tactical kicker in the team they need to be able to get some distance on the ball and have enough accuracy to avoid having it ran straight back at them. It is also useful if they feel comfortable putting little grubber kicks through for their wingers to chase onto.
In The Scrum
Depending on their teams formation and the outside centres particular skills set they may find themselves lining up on either side of the scrum. The outside centre may end up on the opposite side of the scrum to the inside centre if the scrum is somewhere near the centre of the pitch. They will generally line-up just outside the fly-half in this instance ready to act as the second receiver and take on more of the role of an inside centre.
In The Line Out
During the line out the outside centre is likely to line up in their teams normal set up. This will usually see them standing outside the inside centre ready to defend or attack depending on where the ball comes out.
In A Maul
Should the maul require some extra momentum the outside centre may opt to join the forwards in attempting to push the opposition back. Generally however the outside centre will line up with the rest of the backs ready to attack or defend depending on where the ball comes out.
Brian O’Driscoll still remains to this day one of the greatest players to ever have graced a rugby pitch. His ability to receive the ball and pick a gap to attack and resultant line-break is unparalleled. The four times Lions tourist has scored countless tries by finding space where others would have been caught up by the oppositions defence. He also has a keen eye for an off-load and is regularly involved in putting his teams backs through to score important tries. In addition to this his defensive work rate is only matched by back-row forwards as he puts in huge tackles only to get straight back to his feet to compete for the ball in the ruck. He has consistently demonstrated invaluable leadership skills and has been behind much of the success Leinster and Ireland have enjoyed over the past 14 years.