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Number 8 - Position Guide

By Sam Smith
All Black Zinzan Brooke gets a kick away as he is tackled by Japie Mulder in the second All Black Springbok test at Athletic Park, Wellington.

In rugby, the number 8 is an important player who is responsible for putting in big tackles, carrying the ball through the defensive line and providing support to the backs. They are good readers of the game and their strength and power can make a big impact.

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Part of the spine of the team, the number 8 in rugby is the main link between the forwards and the backs. As a result, they must have a high level of fitness, be mentally alert, have very good communication skills, be mentally and physically tough and have good anticipation.

Being a rugby number 8 is physically demanding and requires a player to be supremely fit. However, the number 8 rugby position is also highly rewarding and good number 8s are loved by their teammates.

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To help you learn more about the roles and responsibilities of a number 8 in rugby, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to the position. This way, you can work out if it’s the right one for you.

What is a number 8?

The rugby number 8 plays a vital role supporting their teammates in the heat of battle. They excel in providing support play, tackling and carrying the ball. In this respect, the number 8 shares a number of responsibilities with the two flankers. This makes sense, because the number 8 and the flankers form the back row of the scrum and must work together as a unit.

Like the two flankers, the rugby number 8 binds at the back of the scrum. However, here they play a different role. This is because the number 8 is the only player from the forwards who is allowed to pick the ball up from the base of the scrum. In attacking situations where the team is close to the opposition’s try line, this move is used to gain vital yards. For it to truly be effective, the rugby number 8 must be an explosive and dynamic runner who is willing to take contact.

Good number 8s look to gain a psychological advantage over the opposing scrum half. They also need to release wingers, the fly half and the fullback. Due to this, the number 8 must have a good awareness of creating space and a near-psychic knowledge of exactly where their teammates are at all times.

To excel in the number 8 position in rugby, a player needs to be physically strong. They also need to tackle well, be tough, and be fit and mobile. As a result, the number 8 must be a real all-rounder who excels at a number of aspects of the game.

Other names for a number 8

Rugby fans around the world know some rugby positions by different names. This is the case with the number 8, who you will sometimes hear called the ‘eight man’ or ‘eighth man’.

What number is a number 8?

As you may have already guessed from the name, the player who plays as the number 8 will wear the number 8 shirt.

What is the average size of a number 8?

Number 8s are often used as an additional option at the lineout (we’ll discuss this in greater detail later). Due to this, coaches often favour a rugby number 8 who is tall. At the elite level, players in this position are around 1.92m (6ft 4in) tall. However, in club rugby, it’s common for number 8s to be much shorter than this.

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Due to the physicality of the position, number 8s usually have a certain body type. Rather than being too big or too lean, a good number 8 in a rugby game must have a balanced physique. This means that they must have strength, speed and endurance in equal measure. That said, number 8s at the elite level are large, and a top tier rugby number 8 usually weighs around 110kg (243lbs).

Overall, rugby number 8s are sporting superstars who are regarded as the epitome of athleticism. Due to this, how quickly a number 8 can run on the rugby field is just as important as how much weight they can squat or lift in the gym.

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What is the number 8’s role?

As you can see from the things we’ve already covered, a rugby number 8 has a lot of responsibilities during a game. In fact, how well the number 8 performs their duties usually goes a long way towards determining a team’s chances of success.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the role of the rugby number 8 in greater detail, including their responsibilities at set pieces.

What is the number 8’s role in scrums?

At the scrum, the number 8 is expected to use their weight to help the team push forward. To do this, they bind to the two locks and drive with their head between them.

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In defensive situations, the number 8 on a rugby team must watch the scrum closely. When the opposition take the ball out of the scrum, they need to work with the flankers to ensure that a tackle is made as quickly as possible.

However, the main responsibility of the number 8 comes when their team is in possession. In an attacking scrum, the hooker will kick the ball backwards in the direction of the number 8. When it arrives at their feet, the number 8 has three options:

  1. Keep the ball in the scrum and continue to drive
  2. Pick the ball up and run
  3. Protect the ball so that the scrum half can pick it up

The decision the number 8 makes must benefit the team and the in-game scenario. Due to this, every rugby number 8 must have a good rugby brain and must be able to read the game in front of them.

What is the number 8’s role in lineouts?

The number 8 in rugby must also help their team during the lineout. This is because most teams in the modern game use the number 8 as a jumping option at the back of the lineout.

However, as well as jumping at the lineout, a rugby number 8 must also be adept at assisting the jumper. Due to this, as well as having good jumping and handling skills, the number 8 in a rugby team must also be able to read lineout calls and move quickly into a position where they can support the lifter.

What is the number 8’s role in open play?

In open play, the responsibilities of a number 8 will depend on the role the coach wants them to play. For example, if the number 8 is asked to play a tight game, ball carrying and contesting breakdowns will form the bulk of their actions on the field.

However, if the number 8 is asked to play a more open field role, then they will be charged with making more clean-outs and protecting the ball once teammates have been tackled.

Number 8s are key defensive players. In every game, the rugby number 8 is expected to make 8-10 tackles. This is close to the highest tackle rate in the team.

However, due to the all-round nature of the role, a rugby number 8 must also be a solid offensive option. In the modern game, the number 8 is expected to threaten the defensive line and regularly cross the advantage line by running into gaps and weak shoulders.

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Notable number 8s

Sergio Parisse in action against Ireland (Getty Images)

As part of our recent Hall of Fame vote, we asked our readers who they thought was the greatest number 8 of all time.

In a tightly-contested vote, our readers told us that Georgia legend Mamuka Gorgodze was the greatest player to ever wear the shirt. He was followed closely in the voting by Zinzan Brooke.

In today’s game, a number of stars of world rugby wear the number 8 shirt with pride. They include Springbok star Duane Vermeulen, All Blacks legend Kieran Read and arguably the finest player to ever represent Italy, Sergio Parisse.

FAQs

We’ve already covered all the basics of the number 8 rugby position. But, to help you learn even more about how to excel at number 8, we’ve answered a number of popular reader questions. So, read on to learn even more about the number 8 rugby position and how you can tailor your game and workout routines to excel in the role.

Why is number 8 called number 8 in rugby?

There’s no definitive reason why the number 8 is known by the number of the shirt rather than the name of the position. However, there are a number of good reasons why rugby fans all over the world use the term ‘number 8’.

Firstly, the number 8 used to be known as the lock. However, over time, the second row players became known as locks, and the number 8 rugby position needed a different name.

In addition to this, most other positions get their names because there’s a two or three word phrase that describes the position. For example, the tighthead prop is used to prop up the hooker and has his head bound into the scrum. Similarly, a wing plays out on the wings of the pitch, near the touchline.

It’s much harder to think of a short and succinct way of summarising the number 8 rugby position, so everyone has simply settled on the phrase ‘number 8’.

What exercises should a number 8 focus on in the gym?

Rugby number 8s must have strength throughout their entire body. That said, they must be especially strong in their legs, triceps, chest and shoulders.

With this in mind, here are some exercises that a number 8 should include in their workout routine:

  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Bench press
  • Overhead press
  • Barbell rows
  • Lunges

At the elite level, number 8s spend a long time in the gym. This ensures that they can perform at their best on the pitch. At the top end of the game, an international rugby number 8 can:

  • Squat 1.6x their body weight
  • Bench press 1.3x their bodyweight
  • Run 3km in 11 minutes 45 seconds
  • Sprint 40m in under 5.3 seconds

This kind of power and speed isn’t necessarily required for club rugby, but it gives you an idea of how athletic elite number 8s are and provides you with some goals to work towards.

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