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Fly half (1st 5/8th) - Position Guide

By Sam Smith
Dan Carter and Jonny Wilkinson. (Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

The fly half is the heartbeat of any good rugby union side.

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They’re usually also the most influential player on the pitch. After all, almost every attacking phase of play will go through the fly half, who is responsible for deciding whether they should run, pass the ball to the centres or kick for position. The fly half must get this decision right every time and execute their skill perfectly.

Anyone who operates as a rugby fly half must have an excellent rugby brain. However, they must also be cool under pressure and able to put in big tackles. If not, they’ll be targeted by opposition players.

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Think you have what it takes to excel as a fly half in rugby? Read our position guide below to see exactly what it takes.

What is a fly half?

The fly half in rugby is responsible for orchestrating a team’s attack and defence. Due to this, the fly half plays like a general on the field.

They run the game, boss the forwards and keep the depth of the backs. Overall, they control the tempo of the game and decide the way a team plays.

However, don’t think that the fly half is all talk and no action. On defence, they’re responsible for making as many tackles as the rest of the back rowers. In possession, they must look for gaps in the opposition’s defensive line, pinpoint mismatches and look for spaces they could kick into and gain territory.

Other names for a fly half

In rugby, the fly half is known by a number of different names. Depending on what part of the world you’re in, you may hear the fly half referred to as the outside-half, stand-off or first five-eighth.

What number is a fly half?

In a game of rugby union, each player on the pitch wears the number that corresponds to their position. For the fly half, this is the number 10.

What is the average size of a fly half?

The fly half is usually one of the smallest players on the pitch. However, the rugby fly half is usually taller than the scrum half, as their physical size has some impact on how effective they are on the field. This is because taller fly halves can free their arms more easily in tackle situations. This means they can provide offloads that may lead to line breaks.

That said, shorter fly halves can still be effective. This is because these players tend to have exemplary distribution and ball handling skills.
The average top-tier fly half is 1.86m or 6ft 1in tall. These players weigh around 90kg (198lbs).

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However, although size and weight can have an impact on how a fly half plays the game, it’s important to point out that fly half is a skills-based position. Although an immense physical presence is helpful in this role, executing core skills perfectly is even more important.

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What is the fly half’s role?

The primary role of the fly half is to act as the team’s main decision maker. When they receive the ball, they must decide whether to kick, run or pass. The decision the rugby fly half makes will depend on how they read the game in front of them, how they receive the ball from the forwards, where they are on the pitch and the game situation.

Playing as a fly half in rugby is incredibly tricky. This is because the entire team is reliant on the fly half not only making the right decision, but also executing their skill with precision and consistency. How well a fly half makes decisions will ultimately decide the team’s style of play and their chances of winning.

On top of this, the fly half is also responsible for kicking penalties, conversions and drop goals. This means they must be an accurate kicker of the rugby ball who is also ice cold under pressure.

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With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the role of the fly half in greater detail.

What is the fly half’s role in scrums?

Scrums are a vital part of a rugby game. Although the fly half doesn’t line up in the scrum itself (this is a role reserved for the forwards), they do still play a role at scrum time.

When the fly half’s team wins the scrum, the ball will come through to the back of the scrum, where the scrum half will receive it. From here, the scrum half usually passes the ball to the fly half, who can then dictate play and launch an attack.

Before the fly half even receives the ball, they have a decision to make. This is because where they stand at the scrum is absolutely crucial. After all, in order to receive the ball, they must stand deep enough and wide enough so that it’s difficult for opposition tacklers to reach them. But, they must be close enough to their own scrum half that they can receive a fast, flat and accurate pass.

Once the fly half receives the ball, they must then decide whether to run across the advantage line, pass to the centres or kick for field position or into space. While doing all this, the rugby fly half must also be constantly on the lookout for opposition defenders who are trying to put them on the floor.

What is the fly half’s role in lineouts?

When the ball goes into touch, play is restarted with a lineout. Generally speaking, a player in the fly half position does not take part in the lineout. Again, this is a role that’s usually reserved for the forwards.

However, like with the scrum, the fly half must be ready to receive the ball in case their team emerges from the lineout with possession. They must then think quickly, make a good decision about what to do with the ball and execute the skill before the onrushing forwards reach them.

What is the fly half’s role in open play?

Fly halves are elusive, skilful, quick thinking and tactically aware players. When their team is in possession, the rugby fly half is responsible for driving the team forwards. To do this, they must direct play, pass well and kick accurately. They must also identify the weakest area of the opposition’s defensive line and execute their team’s game plan.

The best fly halves on the planet distinguish themselves by consistently making the right decisions and executing the skills perfectly. On top of this, elite fly halves effectively mix their options and alternate between passing, kicking and running to keep the defence guessing.

The final responsibility of the fly half when their team has possession is to kick for goal. Penalties and conversions are both usually taken by the fly half, who is normally under immense pressure. Due to this, the player in the fly half position is almost always the best kicker on the team.

When their team does not have possession, fly halves must help organise the backs and defensive lines. They must also commit to tackles and prove that they have strong shoulders. If not, they will get targeted by larger opposition centres who will identify them as a weak point.

Notable fly halves

Dan Carter and Jonny. Wilkinson are both Rugby World Cup winners and all time greats of the game. (Photos by Getty Images).

As part of our recent RugbyPass Hall of Fame fan vote, we asked rugby fans from around the world to tell us who they thought was the greatest rugby fly half of all time. Their response was near unanimous.

Overall, All Blacks legend Dan Carter received almost five times as many votes as the next-best player, who was England’s Jonny Wilkinson. A supreme master of the fly half position, Dan Carter has a claim to be the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of rugby boots in any position. His trophy cabinet can attest to this. During a glittering career, he captured two Rugby World Cups and The Rugby Championship nine times.

Today, many of the fly halves operating on the international stage are world-class players. If you want to watch a game with a world-class fly half, look out for England’s Owen Farrell, New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett and Ireland’s Johnny Sexton.

FAQs

Now, you know all the basics about playing at the fly half position. But, are you interested in learning even more about the position and how elite fly halves train? Well, to help you, we’ve answered a number of popular reader questions.

Why is a fly half called a fly half?

The origin of the term ‘fly half’ dates back to the late 1800s in Wales. At the time, Cardiff developed a style of play that involved short passes to one of the half backs, who would then charge at the opposition defence with the ball.

Due to this style of play, they referred to this player as the ‘flying half back’. Over time, this was then shortened to fly half.

What workouts do fly halves complete?

To excel at the fly half position, you must have strong shoulders and a strong core. On top of this, you will also need to have strong and stable legs. This way, you can dig the ball out of rucks with ease. Plus, leg strength will also help with your kicking and will ensure you can cover as much ground as required during a game.

To work on these muscles and get your body into the best possible shape, focus on these exercises:

  • Overhead presses
  • Wood choppers
  • Squats
  • Bench-press
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts

However, although it’s vital that you put in work at the gym, you also need to spend hour after hour on the training pitch working on your kicking and your passing drills.

What fitness standards must a fly half meet?

As you’ve probably gathered from the rest of our guide, to excel at the fly half position, you must be supremely fit. After all, you must be able to stand up to opposition centres who will test your tackling ability. You must also be able to accelerate away from the opposition defence.

Due to this, elite fly halves are asked to meet incredibly high standards. Of course, you don’t have to meet these standards to play club rugby, but these figures should give you something to aim for.

  • Every elite fly half must have the ability to:
  • Squat 1.3x their bodyweight
  • Bench-press 1.3x their bodyweight
  • Run 3km in less than 11 minutes and 15 seconds
  • Sprint 40 metres in under 5.25 seconds

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