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Inside Centre (2nd 5/8th) - Position Guide

By Sam Smith
Ma'a Nonu's form with the Blues in the early rounds of Super Rugby is attracting attention. (Photos/Gettys Images)

During a game of rugby, the inside centre must find a way of dominating the gain line. Although they don’t necessarily need to run over and through defenders, inside centres must be able to carry the ball, win collisions and pick up vital yards.

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But, as well as bringing a great deal of physicality to the game, an inside centre must also make decisions that help their team find space in attacking situations, accelerate away from onrushing defenders and pass to players who are in more opportune positions than themselves.

Think you have what it takes to play at inside centre? Read the rest of our position guide below to see exactly what playing at inside centre in rugby involves.

What is an inside centre?

The inside centre plays an important role on any rugby team. This is because the inside centre plays in a similar way to the fly half. However, they’re often larger, which means they can take the ball into contact much more regularly than a number 10 can.

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The perfect mixture of brawn and brains, the way the inside centre plays is determined by the way the coach would like to play the game and the physical attributes the player possesses. For example, Andy Farrell was comparatively slow for an inside centre, so he would focus on distribution, tackling and taking the ball into contact rather than embarking on mazy runs.

However, generally speaking, the inside centre must be a tough defender who relishes contact. They must also work as a willing runner and provide support for the fly half. On top of all these responsibilities, the inside centre is often also expected to function as a backup kicker.

Due to the wide range of things an inside centre is responsible for, anyone who wants to play at the inside centre position must have an all-round skill set.

Other names for an inside centre

Around the world, certain rugby positions are known by different names. This is the case with the inside centre, who is commonly known as the second five-eighth in New Zealand. This term is used because the inside centre plays in a similar way to the fly half, who is known as the first five-eighth.

In this system, the outside centre also changes name. This is because, as the inside centre is known as the second five-eighth, there is now only one centre on the field. As a result, while the inside centre is known as the second five-eighth, the outside centre is known simply as the centre.

What number is an inside centre?

In a game of rugby union, each player wears the shirt number that their position corresponds to. This means that the inside centre in rugby always wears the number 12 shirt.

What is the average size of an inside centre?

In order to play as an inside centre, a player must be strong, muscular and powerful. Although an inside centre does not need to be as large or as heavy as one of the forwards, they do need to have a strong physical presence. Due to this, the inside centre is usually bigger than the scrum half, the fly half and the wingers.

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Although the size and weight of the inside centre will vary, the average height of an elite inside centre rugby player is around 1.85m (6ft 1in). Depending on the way they like to play their position and their strengths, an inside centre will weigh anywhere between 97kg (15st 4lbs) and 101kg (16st). While quicker and more agile inside centres will sit at the bottom end of this scale, more physical inside centres will be at the top end.

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What is the inside centre’s role?

When the backs line up, the inside centre stands closest to the fly half. Typically a strong and dynamic runner with a good eye for exposing gaps, they tend to attack in very direct lines.

In many games, the inside centre will directly take on their opposite number in a head-to-head battle. They will try to break through the defensive line, or draw enough defenders so that space is created elsewhere. Ultimately, this will lead to try-scoring opportunities for their teammates. Due to this, inside centres must be strong and powerful players who relish contact.

When attack turns to defence, the inside centre must be committed to putting in as many tackles as possible. As a result, they must be accomplished tacklers who do not leave gaps in defensive lines.

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During a game, the inside centre will work alongside the outside centre. Of the two, the inside centre is usually more creative. As a result, they also have more responsibilities for passing and kicking the ball. In some teams, the inside centre will be almost as good at passing and kicking as the fly half. Meanwhile, the outside centre will be the faster of the two centres. To be successful at this position, they will need to have the ability to offload the ball quickly to onrushing wingers and to accelerate into space.

What is the inside centre’s role in scrums?

Scrums are a vital part of the game of rugby. However, they’re battles that are contested between the forwards. As a result, the inside centre doesn’t play a part in them.

At scrum time, the inside centre will stand close to the fly half, away from the scrum. At this point, they need to be ready. If their team emerges from the scrum with the ball, then their fly half may pass the ball to them.

If this is the case, the inside centre may decide to spread the play out wide if the outside centre and the winger are in space. Alternatively, if there’s space in front of them, then they may also carry the ball and attempt to break through the opposition line or execute a delayed pass that opens up even more space. On top of this, the inside centre may also be asked to chase kicks to regain possession or to contain the opposition player who gathers the ball.

If the other team emerges from the scrum with the ball, then the job of the inside centre is simple: defend, defend, defend. In this scenario, the inside centre must tackle their opposite number. They must also stay in position and believe in the abilities of their teammates. If not, they’ll leave a gap that the opposition can exploit.

What is the inside centre’s role in lineouts?

Much like at the scrum, the inside centre does not play a role at the lineout. Instead, they must wait to see how the lineout develops and then either attack or defend as appropriate.

Before games, an inside centre rugby player will discuss game strategy with the coach and the fly half. This way, when the fly half gets the ball following the lineout, they’ll have a good idea of what’s expected of them.

After receiving a ball from the fly half following a successful lineout, an inside centre will usually either be asked to run or make a pass out wide.

What is the inside centre’s role in open play?

In attacking situations, the inside centre acts as the team’s second receiver. Due to this, many teams deploy their inside centre as either a second playmaker or as a powerful midfield runner.

Like the fly half, the inside centre must possess a good kicking game. On top of this, if they can function as a direct runner who is able to punch a hole in a defence, then they can draw covering defenders and create space for the players outside them. Due to this, all inside centres must be strong runners, but they must also have good hands and footwork, so they can create space in congested parts of the field.

Notable inside centres

Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu with the All Blacks in 2015. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

As part of our recent RugbyPass Hall of Fame fan vote, we asked our readers who they thought was the greatest inside centre of all time. Almost unanimously, they told us that All Blacks legend Ma’a Nonu was the best player to ever don the number 12 shirt. He received almost three times as many votes as Springboks star Jean de Villiers.

Other inside centre rugby players who received a large number of votes included Sonny Bill Williams, Tim Horan and Philippe Sella.

Today, a number of the world’s best players operate at inside centre. They include All Blacks star Ngani Laumape, Australia’s Kurtley Beale and South Africa’s Damian de Allende.

FAQs

Now you know the basics of playing as an inside centre in a game of rugby union. However, if you’re interested in learning even more about the position and how you can improve your game, then read our FAQs below.

What’s the difference between an inside centre and an outside centre?

The partnership between the inside centre and the outside centre is vital. This is because this midfield pair are integral to a side’s defence. However, there are some differences between the two positions.

As we’ve mentioned, the inside centre in rugby is similar to the fly half. They’re great distributors and kickers. However, the outside centre tends to be a harder and faster runner who can make the most of the space they have available.

That said, the differences between the two positions aren’t huge, and how each centre operates will depend on the coach’s game plan.

What do inside centres work on at the gym?

Inside centres must build muscle while maintaining speed. After all, in this position, making a mazy run can be just as important as putting in a huge tackle.

If you’re looking to improve your play at inside centre, then you should start by building a strength base. This will allow you to create more force in any situation (including stepping, throwing, sprinting and tackling). To do this, you should combine forms of resistance training (such as cleans, jerks and snatches) with throwing exercises, sprints and box jumps.

However, as well as working on these exercises, you should also perform:

  • Squats
  • Bench-presses
  • Pull ups
  • Deadlifts
  • Shoulder presses
  • Wood choppers
  • Overhead presses

On top of all this, you also need to work on your tackling technique and your agility. So, after each gym session, you should get on the training pitch. Here, you can work on improving your tackling technique, your running lines and your kicking.

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