Fly-Half in Rugby

The Fly-Half is widely considered as possibly the most important and technical position on the pitch. There is good reason for the Fly-Half being the highest paid position on the pitch. Let’s take a look at the position as well as some of the best players to play Fly-Half in the history of Rugby.

Physical Attributes of Fly-Half

It is difficult to accurately put down the general physical attributes of fly-halves because they can come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. Historically, Fly Halves have some in all shapes and sizes, but will usually be one of the taller backs due to needing to have a big boot.

One of the key physical attributes of a Fly-Half is having the ability to kick the ball far and accurately. Fly-Halves need to have a big boot on them as it is a crucial skill for the position. In terms of their size, it really varies throughout the game, with different Fly-Halves having different physical attributes.

Other than that, there is not necessarily any physical attributes which you would attribute to Fly-Halves. They likely also need to be fast and agile as they are one of the backs and need to contribute in defence. You do also want your Fly-Half to contribute in defence, being strong enough to make tackles.

It is the mental side of the game that tends to be much more important for Fly-Halves. One of the crucial skills for a Fly-Half is vision. They need to be able to see the entirety of the field and find the space, whether that be with a pass or a kick. Fly Half is very much the Quarterback of the rugby team.

They coordinate the attack and so decision making is crucial to a successful Fly Half. While making the right decision is important, being able to execute that decision is even more important. Fly-Halves need to be incredibly creative, with perfect passing to get their runners into the right position.

You need to be able to read what a defence is doing as quickly as possible if you are a Fly Half and make the right read. Mental attributes are just as important as Physical Attributes when it comes to the Fly-Half.

Fly Half Numbers

The starting Fly Half for every team will wear number 10, the second lowest number for any of the backs. There is almost always a replacement on the bench for the Fly Half because of how important the position is. The substitute Number 10 will usually wear 22 or 23 on their shirt.

Role of the Fly Half In Set Pieces

As they are not involved in the scrum or the lineout, you might think that a Fly Half does not have much of a role in the set pieces, but that is not actually the case. In fact, a Fly Half is crucial to the set piece.

When the ball comes through the back of the scrum or lineout, the Fly Half will usually be the first receiver, getting the ball directly from the Scrum Half. This is when the Fly Half has to make a crucial decision on what to do next. There are a huge amount of options at this point for the Fly Half.

The main thing that they need to do at this point is figure out a way of getting the backs into space, whether that be through passing out wide or with a kick into space. The pass or kick needs to be perfect, otherwise the dominance at the set piece will have been completely wasted.

A Fly Half needs to get the wingers and centres involved to be the perfect player from the lineout. Even if the Fly Half is not the first receiver, they are still required to co-ordinate the attack and find space for the faster backs.

Kicking Role of Fly-Halves

The most important role for the majority of Fly-Halves is kicking. In almost every team, the Fly-Half will be the kicker for that team. This means they are usually the one who kicks any penalties, drop goals or conversions for their team.

This is a crucial role for the position, because point scoring opportunities don’t come up a massive amount in rugby and so the kicker needs to take advantage of those. If they miss kicks, it could easily cost their team the game. On the other side, Fly-Halves have often been the match winners in the most important time.

Just look at the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final. England relied on their Fly-Half to nail the crucial drop goal just before the end of the game to win the World Cup. But it is not just kicks for points that are important to a Fly Half.

It is also crucial for the Fly Half to be able to get their team out of trouble, especially in their own 22. They need to be able to kick accurately, especially when there is not much of an angle to kick to the side-lines. In recent years, attacking kicks have become much more common.

With the 50-22 rule being introduced, the Fly Half has a more important role than every before. Attacking kicks into space get more reward now than ever before, so it is a crucial skill to have for Fly-Halves.

Role of the Fly Half in open play

We have covered the role of the Fly Half in quite a bit of detail already. In attack, they are the key decision maker. Fly-Halves need to be able to read the defence quickly and then make the right decision about whether to pass, kick or even run with it at the defence themselves.

In defence, Fly-Halves still need to be active as there cannot really be a weak point in the defence of any team. But their job is definitely more about attack than defence.

Best Fly-Halves of all-time

It is incredibly difficult to pick just three Fly Halves to take a look at, considering the incredible talent the position has seen over the last 30 years. But these three are definitely some of the best Fly-Halves of all-time.

Dan Carter

International Rugby has produced some incredible points scorers, so to be top of that list is incredibly impressive. Former All-Black Dan Carter sits atop the list of leading rugby test point scorers with a whopping 1598, a record that looks unlikely to be broken anytime soon.

From the age of 5 Dan Carter was playing rugby, although initially starting out as a small scrum half. Having made the position change to Fly Half, he moved to Christchurch Boys’ High School to give himself a better chance of playing professional rugby. It was a smart move as his new school went on to produce All Blacks like Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks and Will Jordan.

Carter is best known for his exceptional performances internationally. He won the Rugby World Cup with New Zealand in 2011 and 2015, as well as being part of the All Blacks team that defeated the Lions in 2005. The All Time leading points scorer was the perfect Fly Half for New Zealand in the countries most dominant era.

In Super Rugby, Carter had an exceptionally successful career in his 13 years with the Crusaders, winning Super Rugby three times. He is also the leading scorer in the history of Super Rugby. Carter was also successful when he left New Zealand for lucrative offers from France.

Carter won the Top 14 with Perpignan in 2009 and again with Racing 92 in 2016, as well as a Top League title in Japan with the Kobelco Steelers.

Johnny Wilkinson

The first two players mentioned here are very often spoken about together and for good reason. Wilkinson is considered by many to be one of the best fly-halves in the world, having played at a very similar time to Carter.

However, Wilkinson had a much more unique road to becoming one of England’s best Fly-Halves. In fact he didn’t even start his international career as a Fly-Half, making his debut on the wing. It wasn’t until his third year of international rugby that Wilkinson got the opportunity to be England’s starting Fly Half.

By 2003 he was England’s Number One and it turned out to be a brilliant move for both. Wilkinson was crucial in England winning the Grand Slam in 2003, as well as helping England reach the World Cup Final later that year. With the scores tied after 99 minutes of rugby, Wilkinson nailed the most iconic drop goal in rugby history with 26 seconds remaining.

The boot of Johnny Wilkinson gave England their first and only Rugby World Cup title, making him a hero to all England fans. He was voted IRB International Player of the Year for this. Wilkinson could not emulate the success he had with England later in his career, struggling with injuries.

Domestically, he took a big time offer to play for Toulon in 2009 and it worked out perfectly. Wilkinson won the Heineken Cup twice, kicking 15 points in his final game to lead Toulon past Castres in the Top 14 final. Wilkinson had a storied career and will always be remembered as the man who won England the Rugby World Cup.

Ronan O’Gara

It is rare that you find a rugby legend who was born in the USA, but that is the case with San Diego born Ronan O’Gara. Thankfully for Irish Rugby, O’Gara moved to Cork as a youngster, eventually attending Presentation Brothers College, the same school that produced British and Irish Lions Jerry Walsh and Tom Kiernan.

He was quickly spotted by province Munster and made his debut for the side in 1997 aged 20 years old, scoring 19 points in his debut. He quickly became the starter, wearing number 10 when Munster lost in the 2000 and 2002 Heineken Cup Final.

Thankfully for O’Gara there was some success during his time with Munster, winning two Heineken Cups and three URC titles. He was also pretty successful as the maestro of the Irish team as well, winning A Grand Slam in 2009. It was his magic drop goal to beat Wales which secured that Grand Slam.

O’Gara has always been one of the best minds in rugby and that has been shown by his success as a coach. He was part of the Racing 92 coaching staff that won the Top 14 in 2016, as well as winning two Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders as an assistant coach.

Since being promoted to head coach of La Rochelle, he has led the side to back to back Champions Cup titles, beating Leinster both times. I’m sure he would have loved to beat his old province rival.

Best Fly-Halves Right now

There are so many great Fly-Halves in the world at the moment. It was very difficult to just pick out three for this part. We have not been able to include guys like Marcus Smith, Beauden Barrett, Romain Ntamack and Finn Russell from this list. It might be the most difficult position in the world to pick the very best from.

Owen Farrell

The Farrell name is one of the most famous last names in rugby and for good reason. There was a lot of pressure put on Owen Farrell when he was seen as the best prospect in England, the son of an England international. I think he has more than lived up to that hype.

Making his first team Saracen’s debut just 11 days after turning 17, Farrell is the most important and best player in the team’s history. Since his debut, Sarries have become the best team in England and at times, the best team in Europe.

Farrell has led his side to five Premiership titles as well as two Champions Cup titles. All of this success has also meant that Farrell has been the main man for England for pretty much the last decade.

He has won the Six Nations three times with England, including being part of the Grand Slam winning team of 2016. An England centurion, Farrell is already the third highest point scorer in international rugby history and will likely overtake Johnny Wilkinson for second before his career is over.

A brilliant leader, Farrell has been the main man for so many successful teams. He has been European Player of the Year twice as well as being Nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year three times.

Johnny Sexton

Much like a fine wine, Johnny Sexton just seems to be getting better with age. At 37 years old, he is still playing at an incredibly high level and we have seen his affect on the Leinster team with their performances in his absence.

A Leinster man through and through, Sexton made his debut for the province in 2006, having scored the drop goal in the 2002 Leinster Schools Cup. He was originally Leinster’s deputy behind Felipe Contempomi, before becoming the starter in 2009 due to an injury for the Italian international.

Sexton has become a Leinster legend since then, starting in four successful European Champions Cup finals as well as leading his province to six Pro14 titles, most recently in 2021. He is probably the best player to have every played for Leinster, with a short stint with Racing 92 was his only time away.

Sexton could also be argued to be Ireland’s greatest ever player. He was the man who unseated Ronan O’Gara for the Number 10 jersey around 2010, a very impressive achievement in itself. With Ireland, Sexton has won four Six Nations championships as well as two Grand Slam titles.

He is looking to end his international career by bringing Ireland their first Rugby World Cup title later in 2023. It will be an incredible test, but Ireland need to make sure that Sexton is healthy going into the Rugby World Cup if they want their hands on the title.

Handre Pollard

Handre Pollard is the most recent Fly-Half to have won a Rugby World Cup, getting the better of George Ford and Owen Farrell in the 2019 Final to bring South Africa their third title.

Incredibly, Handre Pollard actually earnt a provincial call up when he was still in primary school. So it was hardly surprising at age 18, he made the move to the Blue Bulls and made his Super Rugby debut two years later. As a IRB Junior World Championship winner, Pollard was destined to play for the Springboks.

At the time of writing he has made 63 appearances for South Africa, including starting in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final. He played all 80 minutes as well as hitting eight kicks to help South Africa cruise past England. He would have had even more international caps already if it were not for injuries.

Pollard is world class, which is why he has played for Leicester Tigers and Montpellier. Likely to be the Springboks Fly-Half once again in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, he is one of the most underrated rugby players in the world. On his day, Pollard is unplayable and can unlock any defence.

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