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by Gavin Hickie, Head Coach, Dartmouth Men

Following  from the first rugby positions blog which looked at the skills and responsibilities of the fly half, this month we look at a close ally on the field, the scrum half or number 9.

The Role of Scrum Half

The General on the pitch, a scrum half is the boss of the Forwards and is clear and confident in demands for the type and speed of ball wanted to pass on to the Backs.

Self-assured, vocal, excellent communicator, proficient in personal rugby skills – passing and kicking - the scrum half has to possess a clear vision for the team, be self-assured, and often harshly firm to work effectively as the link between the Backs and Forwards.

The player has a close relationship and understanding with the fly half which offers the responsibility of ensuring the Forwards are following the game plan in attack and defence.

Skills required to play scrum half

Technically proficient and tactically astute, the scrum half is constantly reading the game, making decisions under pressure and providing service for others. The scrum half is responsible for directing the Forwards. The 9 supplies the 10 with the ball. 

Pass and Kick

The 9 has the most touches in a game and has to provide service for the team. Needed are core skill levels that will influence the outcome of the match. The player needs to be able to select the right pass or kick and be able to deliver the ball accurately time and again if a team is to build momentum.

Decision making under pressure

Confident in the analysis of the game, a scrum half has to read quickly the options, and instantly react to take full advantage. Constantly under pressure from the opposition, the scrum half has to remain assured, composed and to keep communicating with Backs and Forwards, especially the latter, in rucks and mauls.

Organization

Charged with marshalling the Forwards, the scrum half has to ensure that the players are strategically placed to allow the team to advance in attack or remain solid in defence. The scrum half has a busy game organizing the Forwards to build momentum for the team but also has to be ready to run with the ball, or deliver an accurate pass to the 10.

Scrum half’s role in attack

As a playmaker for the team, the 9 needs to make decisions under pressure. The scrum half works in tandem with the 10 to decide on what best tactical choices are available based on what they see and also from communication with players on the outside. The 9 and 10 drive the attack so the understanding between these two players is critical if a team is to maintain momentum in a game.

The scrum half evaluates the options by scanning the field and organizing teammates by placing them in the best position. The 9 needs to think fast and react quickly to take advantage of any opportunities. Passes and kicks need to be accurate.

When the scrum half decides if the best option is to run, it calls for self-confidence in ball carrying skills and to commit fully. A scrum half should be a running threat so the defence has to pay attention.

Scrum half’s role in defence

Scrum halves have a huge role in defence to organise the Pack and to provide cover when required. Their organization skills are called on to ensure the line remains strong against sustained attacks and to be used to fill the gaps or provide cover.

Communication is a core skill in rugby and especially for a scrum half, and in defence, must clearly communicate to the Forwards, providing direction as to where thee Forwards should be placed.

Five well-known professionals' tips for playing scrum half

  1. Aaron Smith, All Blacks: “Passing has got me to where I am. If you can’t pass as a 9 then don’t even worry about it. There are a lot of 9s who can run and kick but who can’t pass and that’s the key thing to our game. Passing is everything, anything else is a bonus.”
  2. Ben Youngs, England: “You have to be a good decision maker as you have more decisions than anyone else in the team. You develop this skill by reviewing your games. Use training to see what things work and what doesn’t.”
  3. Mike Blair, Scotland: “Being able to scan in attack to see where the space is and passing quickly and accurately are key points for youngsters growing up.”
  4. Ruan Pienaar, South Africa: “Sometimes you get into a groove with a player and without him even saying something, you know what he wants. It can take a while but once you get that relationship with your 10, it is just brilliant. It’s about building that understanding in practice and making sure you communicate during games so you stay on the same page. Repetition in training and putting in the hard yards with your 10 is key.”
  5. Rory Kockott, France: “Playing scrum half is about communication, and a lot of it.”

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