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Second Row / Lock - Position Guide

By Sam Smith
Sam Whitelock of the All Blacks and Victor Matfield of the Springboks are two of the great second rows to play the game. (Photo / Getty Images)

In rugby, second row players are responsible for winning the ball at lineouts and locking the scrum into position.

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They’re strong and aggressive players who need to be faster than the front row players and cover a great amount of ground. But, they still need to be strong and aggressive players who relish contact.

To be a good second row rugby player, you need to be fit, aggressive, quick and powerful. After all, if the second row of a team starts to move backwards, the whole team goes backwards with them.

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To understand whether the second row rugby position is right for you, we’ve put together this second row rugby position guide. Read on to discover everything there is to know about the position, including a number of our second row rugby tips.

What is a second row?

The second row refers to the second row of the scrum, between the props at the front and the flankers behind.

The second row forwards are incredibly important players on a rugby union team. They’re the engine room of the scrum and the target at the lineout. Due to this, second row rugby players need to be tall, powerful players with excellent scrummaging technique and pinpoint timing.

Technique is a huge part of playing in the second row. If the two second row rugby players bind too loosely in the scrum, their pack will lose power. Similarly, if they’re not accurate and dynamic with their lineout jumping, it offers the opposition forwards a chance to steal possession.

Historically, second row rugby players did the vast majority of their work at set pieces. However, the role of these players has evolved massively.

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In the modern game, they’re more than just supporting players. Instead, they now also need to be aggressive tacklers, enforcers, ball carriers and offensive players.

Other names for a second row

In a game of rugby union, the team’s second row forwards are also known as locks. Both names for the position relate to the location and the role of the players at scrum time.

In the scrum, the second rowers pack down directly behind the front row. As a result, they create the second row of the scrum.

In addition to this, the term ‘lock’ comes from the role of the second row players. This is because, when both locks are in the correct position, they ‘lock’ the scrum into a stable position.

What number is a second row rugby player?

Each team has two second row forwards. Due to their position in the scrum just behind the front row (who wear 1, 2 and 3), they wear numbers 4 and 5.

Is there a difference between the number 4 and the number 5?

Generally speaking, there isn’t much of a difference between the loosehead lock (4) and the tighthead lock (5). But, the two locks do take different positions in the scrum.

The tighthead lock binds to the tighthead prop and needs to absorb more pressure from the opposition. As a result, the larger of the two locks generally wears 5. Meanwhile, the lighter or smaller of the two locks wears 4. They then bind to the loosehead prop in the scrum.

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The exact differences between the role of the loosehead lock and the tighthead lock vary on a team-by-team basis. This is because it depends on the comparative strengths of each player, as well as the skills of the other forwards. Generally though, one will excel at lineouts and will aim to disrupt the opposition, while the other will be a better scrummager, tackler and enforcer.

What is the average size of a second row rugby player?

The best rugby second row players look like tall and imposing towers of strength. Generally speaking, the locks are the tallest players on a rugby pitch. On average, a lock is around 1.98m (6ft 6in) tall. In addition to this, a lock must have a large frame and long limbs.

But, although a rugby second row player needs to be tall, they also need to have lots of muscle and weight to help them in the scrum. In particular, neck strength is required so they can withstand pressure. They also need leg power for pushing and leaping.

At the elite level, the average weight for an elite lock is usually 110-125kg. Locks that excel at scrummaging are usually at the heaviest end of this weight scale, while lineout specialists are closer to the bottom.

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What is the second row’s role?

Of the eight forwards in a rugby union team, three of them (the two props and the hooker) make up the front row of the scrum. Right behind these three players, you’ll find the two second row rugby players.

The second row forwards play a vital role in scrums and at lineouts. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the responsibilities of a second row rugby player in greater detail.

What is the second row’s role in scrums?

In the scrum, the job of the two players in the second row is to bind to each other and the props. Then, when the ball has been put into the scrum, the locks must provide power and balance in order to keep the scrum stable. If they’re successful in this task, they can then try to move the scrum forwards.

On top of this, the locks are also responsible for guiding the ball smoothly through to the rear of the scrum. Once they’ve done this, their team can take possession and launch an attack.

What is the second row’s role in lineouts?

Locks are usually the tallest players on a rugby union team. As a result, due to their height advantage, they are the main target for the hooker when the ball is thrown back into play at the lineout.

From here, the job of the second row rugby player that catches the ball is to gain possession. At this stage, the player can either immediately throw the ball down to ground level for the scrum half to launch a quick attack, or bring the ball down to ground level and combine with the other forwards to drive the ball towards the opposition’s try line.

A team always looks to win their own throw at the lineout. For the locks to do this consistently, they need good handling skills, good strategy, good throws from the hooker and good lifts from the props. For this reason, winning a lineout is as much about cooperation and understanding as it is about skill and catching ability.

On top of this though, a good deal of fakery and trickery is also required. Locks can change position at the lineout and hide their true intentions. To win possession, it’s sometimes best for the lock to make the opposition think they’re going to do one thing, and then do another. To excel at this skill, a second row rugby player needs to think quickly and be light on their feet.

When the opposition has control of the lineout, the locks need to defend resolutely. They need to calculate where the ball will be thrown and then time their jump to either intercept and win possession or disrupt the opposition so they make a mistake. Due to this, they also need to listen closely to the opposition’s lineout calls and try to decipher their tactics.

If a second row rugby player believes they cannot win the ball, they can simply remain on the ground. In doing this, they can put themselves into a position to prevent breaks through the line. This tactic is commonly employed when the opposition forwards are close to the try line.

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What is the second row’s role in open play?

As we mentioned earlier, the role of rugby second row players has changed over time. Although the role was historically limited to set pieces, today locks have a number of defensive responsibilities and are expected to be powerful ball carriers.

Even though they’re not the biggest tacklers in a team, second row rugby players are expected to make 12-14 tackles every game. When they don’t actually make the tackle, they provide much of the power in the rucks and mauls that follow. They also provide the required physical presence.

They’re responsible for clearing tacklers and other opposition players away from the ball, or for standing over the ball and protecting possession.

On top of this, when the lock’s team are in possession in open play, they may also be asked to run and handle the ball in an attempt to wear down the opposition’s defence. They’re expected to generate forward momentum with the ball and use their weight and size to dominate the opposition.

Notable rugby second rows

Springboks World Rugby dream team Etzebeth
Eben Etzebeth is a powerhouse for the Springboks. (Photo by Paul Devlin/SNS Group via Getty Images)

In our recent Hall of Fame vote, we asked our readers who they thought the best loosehead and tighthead locks in the history of rugby were.

They resoundingly told us that they thought Eben Etzebeth was the finest number 4 to ever play the game. But, although he dominated the vote, Brodie Retallick, Martin Johnson and Bakkies Botha were also popular responses.

Our readers also resoundingly told us that Victor Matfield was the greatest number 5 to ever play the game. He garnered more than twice the votes of Sam Whitelock, and three times as many votes as the legendary John Eales.

Other notable second row rugby players in the game today include England’s Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones of Wales and Fiji’s Leone Nakarawa.

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FAQs

To help you learn even more about the position of a second row rugby player, we’ve answered a number of popular reader questions. Read on to find out even more about the position, including our second row rugby tips.

What makes a good second row rugby player?

Second row rugby players play an important role in helping their team dominate the opposition. To be good in the second row, a player must have:

  • The ability to own the ball at their own lineout
  • The ability to win the opposition’s ball at the lineout
  • The technical skills required to achieve the maximum push in the scrums
  • Effective individual tackling techniques
  • The ability to understand when to go to a ruck and when to be a runner
  • Power and creativity when in possession of the ball
  • The skill to carry the ball in either hand
  • Physical presence at the contact area
  • World-class fitness standards
  • A ruthless edge and a competitive mindset

What gym exercises are good for rugby second rows?

Explosive strength and power are key for second row rugby players. Although squats remain a key strength-building exercise, the long levers of a lock make it hard for them to pile massive amounts of weight on the bar. That said, at the elite level, second row rugby players can still squat around 180kg.

Other than this, the key exercises for a lock focus on the posterior chain. This means your glutes, your hamstrings and your lower back. This is because these muscles provide the driving force at scrum time. As well as focusing on these muscles, you should also work on your quads, shoulders and neck.

The best exercises for locks at the gym include:

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

On top of this, to help you at the lineout, you should also do agility exercises, including box jumps and speed squats.

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