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By Gavin Hickie, Navy Men's Head Coach
Rugby Positions: Full Back
The eyes of the team, the full back observes the action from the back of the field and relays to the team where the main threats from the opposition are coming from.
This versatile player is able to launch counter attacks with the wings or shepherd opponents into touch as the last line of defence. Fearless under the high ball in pressurised situations and an aggressive tackler, this dynamic Back has to be a good communicator and have upmost confidence in his abilities as he can be very isolated at times.
Skills required to play Full back
Effective full backs need to have vision, positional awareness at all times, and a full array of core skills. They have an influential role in the backfield where they launch counter attacks or maintain the team’s defensive shape with the wings. It is essential for fullbacks to be effective organisers and communicators.
Reading the Game
The full back’s position in the backfield gives them a comprehensive view of the action as it plays out. In attack they have to use that advantage to spot opportunities and position themselves to insert into the backline in multiple positions. In defence they are constantly organising the Back 3 in their defensive roles to shut down opposition attacks and cover any kicking threats.
Catching a High Ball
The full back has to be a sure pair of hands under the high ball. Constantly under pressure by the opposition who are looking to ‘find grass’ with their long kicks and gain ground, the No 15 has to relish the challenge of contesting the ball in the air.
The full back will often be the player to lead a team’s counter attack, after catching an opponent’s kick. They must quickly analyse what is in front of them, as well as being aware of their support, and decide if there is an opportunity to launch a successful counter attack. If they are isolated or face an intact defensive wall, the fullback will usually look to kick the ball downfield. This means they must be comfortable and confident in their ability to kick the ball into space. Initiating a well thought out counter attacking move can heavily influence the game so there is a responsibility on the No 15 to stay calm under pressure.
A strong and effective tackler, the full back is often the last line of defence and is under pressure to make every tackle count.
Full back in Attack
The full back’s role is to give the team momentum. They will insert into the backline in various positions, based on a team’s rehearsed moves, or where they see an opportunity in open play. Fullbacks also act as a team’s second out half, if the 10 is caught out of position, or if there is an attacking opportunity down the blindside.
The Back 3 can be a pivotal unit for the team through their ability to change a game with a significant counter attack. Understanding between these three players ensures attacking opportunities can be maximised.
Full back in Defence
Full backs have to read the opposition, anticipate if they are going to run or kick the ball and react accordingly. This means they must constantly keep an eye on the opposition outhalf and anticipate his next move. The fullback must constantly organise his wings and ensure everyone is in position to deal with any attacking threat. The Back 3 work as unit and the full back has to be vocal to lead this group to ensure integrity in defence.
Often the last line of defence, fullbacks must be very effective and confident tacklers if they are to prevent scoring opportunities for the opposition. Anticipating whether to aggressively tackle the ball carrier or to hold off and buy his team time to react is another vital component to the fullback’s skillset.
Five tips for playing Full Back
Chris Wyles USA Full Back; “Defensively you have to be more alert. Not only are you coming into the line as a defensive tackler but you’ve also got to be aware of all kicks so the more you communicate with your Wings the better a position you’ll be in. In terms of attack you are communicating where you are going to come into the attacking line because you have options and can enter at different places.”
Willie le Roux Springboks No 15; “Good communication is the most important thing – as a full back, life can get pretty lonely and tough at the back if you don’t have your wing partners around to assist with those long kicks or to talk you through what could be coming your way.”
Rob Kearney Ireland No 15; “You need to learn to read the play a couple of phases ahead. Learning the body language of the opposition 9 & 10 or some of the key figures on their team. I consider the Back 3 to have a good game if we win all our aerials for the ball, and if the ball ever doesn't find grass when the opposition is attack kicking against us.”
Coach Geordan Murphy; “If you are going to make the tackle it has to be aggressive, has to be through the thighs so the attacking player doesn’t have the ability to offload the ball. Shutting down the ball is key as that last man. If you can’t make that aggressive low body tackle then it has to be a higher tackle in order to shut the offload down.”
Andrea Masi Italy No 15; “Always look for space or a weakness in the defence to exploit. Look for a miss-match in the opposition defence, a Front Row or someone slower than you. If you don’t have time to spot the miss-match you have to have someone close to you communicate where you have to attack. When attacking it’s important to have very good timing on the ball because usually we get the ball from a long pass from 10-15m away and you can’t be too early in the ball.”