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Richard Sharp - Oxford and England's Classic Fly Half

by Gavin Hickie, Dartmouth Men's Head Coach

This month’s blog is the first in a series featuring the skills and responsibilities of each of the positions in a rugby team. We start with the ‘fly half’ (also called ‘out half’ or ‘number 10’) role which is responsible for executing the team’s strategy on the field.

The Role of Fly Half

The ‘King’ and key decision maker of the team, so what they say goes. Given the pivotal role it’s no coincidence the best teams have the best number 10s.

Skills required to play fly half

Game Management

An ability to read the game and make decisions under pressure is at the heart of the 10’s role on the field. There is a lot of responsibility on their shoulders and a 10 must not be daunted by this and be willing to make mistakes as part of the learning process. Having the ability to make the right calls at the right time is something that is learned through experience and over time. A fly half is motivated by their desire to learn and the drive to win.

Leadership

The fly half is a leader on the field and is charged with shaping the game. In collaboration with the 9, he delivers the coaches’ tactics based on what he sees play out in front of him. To achieve this he has to be a strong communicator, instilling confidence in his team mates through his decisions and actions.

Distribution

The fly half’s ‘weapons’ are his core skills and it is crucial that a 10 has the ability to influence the game through their distribution skills. Due to his central role in the game he needs to be able to catch and pass in any scenario, and be equally skilled on both sides to ensure consistent accurate distribution of the ball.

Kicking

The fly half has to be a highly competent kicker of the ball, both out of hand and from the tee if he has the added responsibility for goal kicking for the team. You need to be able to execute long kicks for territory, high kicks for possible turn overs or ball retention, cross field kicks for scoring opportunities, grubber kicks for getting behind the opposition and a lot more. Add conversion and penalty kicks into this and you can see a lot of responsibilities on the 10.

Fly half’s role in attack

Playmakers who dictate the style, tactics and pace of the game, a fly half takes decisions throughout a match aimed at creating scoring opportunities for their team. They make the most of their team’s strengths and seek out the weaknesses in their opponents with the aim of continually getting their team in the right places on the pitch to launch the next attack. Fly halves are not controlling the game from afar they are right in the thick of the action.

Doing homework before a match by analysing footage of opponents helps identify potential weak spots which can be targeted as part of the game plan. However 10s have to be able to think on their feet and play what is in front of them as the game evolves. They must keep their head up and constantly scan the field, assess the options, process the information and communicate their decisions.

There has to be a deep understanding between the 9 &10 if a team is to operate effectively on the field. These two playmakers need to know the other’s preferences in key scenarios and be on the same page when it comes to delivering the coach’s tactics.

Fly half’s role in defence

The 10’s is usually one of the team’s main organisers in defence. Their tactical skills are called on to organise the team to optimise their defensive set-up after turnovers.

When a turnover occurs the fly half has to be ready to get his team back into position, ensuring the team immediately get width and ensure they are covered at the back in case of the opposition kicking deep. Turnovers are usually pretty chaotic and a fly half should focus on getting everyone organised because turnover ball is the best ball to attack with.

The 10’s channel is targeted as a weak point so fly halves need to focus on their defensive skills to ensure the defensive line stays intact. Teams send their big forward runners down the 10 channel more and more so a fly half needs to enjoy tackling as well.

5 tips for playing fly half

Beauden Barrett, All Blacks No 10: Sometimes what you think is going to happen in a game doesn’t happen so it’s about adapting. As a 10 it’s a big job to manage that.”

Gregor Townsend, Glasgow Warriors Head Coach: A 10’s ideal temperament is being confident to make a lot of decisions during a game, and keeping that confidence if mistakes happen. The best 10s are fierce competitors, driven to improve themselves, committed to high standards, and doing all they can to help the team win.”

Johnny Sexton, Ireland No 10: “You’ve got to experience making a wrong decision, often to get better. A 10 probably makes more decisions that anyone on the pitch and he might make 200 decisions in the game and make one wrong decision which can lose the game.”

Ruaridh Jackson, Scotland No 10: “Growing up make sure you work off both hands as a 10 needs to be able to get a long pass off both. Practice with your weaker hand and make sure you are getting your hands in the right position and pushing through to the target which should help with the power.”

Andy Goode, Saxons No 10: 10s are the players who “pull the strings” for the whole team so understanding the game, looking for cues in the opposition, and studying a lot of game film all goes hand in hand with being a good 10.”

For more on playing fly half and developing as a rugby player read the book Rugby Revealed by Gavin Hickie and Eilidh Donaldson.