Number and Physical Attributes of an Inside Centre
The Inside Centre is the player who wears Number 12. There is not always a player coming off the bench to directly replace the Inside Centre. But if they do, they will likely wear either number 21 or 22.
Inside Centres are usually the biggest and most physical of the backs. They need to be able to break tackles and fend off players strongly. This does not always mean they are tall, but the best Inside Centres are incredibly strong and difficult to bring down.
They also need to have very good hand eye coordination to be able to offload the ball and find the other backs. Some Inside Centres also need to be good with their boot, although it really depends on the role which the team are putting the Inside Centre in.
Role of the Inside centre in set pieces
The role of the Inside Centre at set piece is often limited. They are one of the backs and so are not directly involved in the scrum or the lineout. There have actually been a few times where the Inside Centre has gone into the lineout, able to use their excellent athleticism to jump high and bring down the ball.
But this is still very much a rarity in the sport. What is much more common is the Inside Centre being the number one attacking option off the back of a set piece. The inside centre is the battering ram of the backs group, working in a similar sense to the Number Eight in the forwards.
They tend to be a lot faster than any of the forwards, but are likely always the most physical players in the backs. So they will be running straight into the defence, trying to aim for the weakest defender and run straight through them. Creating line breaks and getting over the gain line is the main goal of the Inside Centres.
They do also need to make a decision after the set piece. The Inside Centre should also be able to identify when the defence is too narrow and there might be space on the outside. This is when the Inside Centre should pass the ball to give it to the wingers in space.
As will be covered slightly more in this article, some Inside Centres also use their boots off the back of a set piece. They can kick into space off the back of a lineout or a scrum in attack. In defence from a lineout, the Inside Centre needs to mark the opposing player’s best attacker.
As they are the most physical position in the backs, then they need to tackle the most physical opposing player. This is a crucial defensive job, as set pieces are a great attacking option. Inside Centres need to rush off the line in defence to shut down an opposing attack.
Role of the Inside Centre in Attack
The Inside Centre is the most physical player in the backs and so they are the battering ram in attack. An Inside Centre will usually be a wider option, but usually needing to run straight through the opposition, instead of run around them like some of the other backs.
The Inside Centre is the player next to the Fly-Half because they are the primary attacking option. The very best Inside Centres will run attacking lines hard at the defence even if they are not getting the ball. They can still be a brilliant decoy that gives more space for the other backs on the wings.
Their passing needs to be very good, to find the other backs in space on the wings. Offloads have become much more important to Inside Centres as well. Whenever an Inside Centre can make a line break, an incredibly profitable attack can be created if they can nail the offload.
This is how you turn a line break into a try scoring opportunity.
Role of the Inside Centre In Defence
An Inside Centre is crucial to the defence of their team. They are usually tasked with man marking the oppositions most physical attacker. They need to bring the opposition down as quickly and as strongly as possible. The Inside Centre is likely the most active of any position in defence.
Their blend of physicality and speed makes them the best defender in the backs and so they are required to make a lot of tackles. They need to cover the space and shut down attacks as best as possible. Winning collisions is important for the Inside Centre in both attack and defence.
Fly-Half role as an Inside Centre
Sometimes, rugby teams will put player’s who are normally at Fly-Half at Inside Centre as they are able to orchestrate a similar attacking role as if they were playing Fly-Half. Owen Farrell played Inside Centre for England in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, despite being one of the best Fly-Halves in the world.
It is a common move for teams who have two talented Fly-Halves that they want to fit into a single team. This means the Fly-Half has to play a slightly different role, although their creativity and kicking is still very important even in a different role.
Best Inside Centre’s of all time
I think if you ask any dedicated rugby fan they will happily tell you that Ma’a Nonu is the best Inside Centre of all-time and one of the most feared players in rugby history.
The Wellington born player came up through the legendary Wellington academy that has produced All Blacks like Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara. Nonu quickly got the attention of Super Rugby, just one year after making his provincial debut.
At 21, he made his Super Rugby and his All Blacks debut. He big stature was seen as a brilliant attacking weapon and so was given some big opportunities early in his career. But Nonu would not be on this list had he not taken advantage of those opportunities. He was in and out of the All Blacks team for much of the early 2000s.
A move to Rugby League was on the cards, but Nonu stuck with Rugby Union and it worked out brilliantly for both Nonu and the All Blacks. He became a crucial part of the New Zealand team after the 2007 Rugby World Cup. He was part of the reason why the All Blacks succeeded so much in the 2010s.
He became arguably the most destructive force in World Rugby and developed an incredibly successful centre partnership with Conrad Smith. He played 76 minutes in the World Cup Final in 2011 and played the entire 80 minutes in the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final, scoring New Zealand’s second try.
He has established a brilliant post international career since retiring from the All Blacks in 2015. Nonu has since played for Toulon as well as being one of the stars of Major League Rugby. An All-Black centurion, Nonu’s explosiveness and powerful attacking runs helped to create one of the best New Zealand teams of all time.
Ma’a Nonu is the perfect Inside centre, exactly the mould to follow if you want to be a World Class Inside Centre.
Partly because they have not won a Rugby World Cup in the 21st century, a lot of people forget just how good Australia were in the 1990s. They won two Rugby World Cup titles and a big reason for that was Tim Horan.
In terms of all-round centres, there might not have been a better player than Tim Horan. There were very few weaknesses in his game and this meant that Horan was a terror for opposition defences.
Having grown up in a time where Rugby was not professional, Horan made his debut for Australia in 1989 when he was just 19 years old. Horan had a brilliant youth career and was an incredibly impressive prospect.
Horan started in the Rugby World Cup final when he was just 21 years old, being able to get the better of his opposite number Jeremy Guscott. Horan had scored a crucial try in the semi-final and was instrumental in Australia winning their first Rugby World Cup title.
A horrific knee injury in 1994 meant his chances of being in the Wallabies team to defend their title was small. He was however part of the Australian squad to beat South Africa in the Rugby World Cup Final in 1999.
The 1999 tournament was his crowning achievement, with Horan being voted player of the tournament after a masterful display in both attack and defence. An all-time great of the sport, Horan would have had an even better international career was it not for injuries.
Jean de Villiers
Jean de Villiers is very much one of the most underrated Springboks of all-time, partly because he was never the flashiest player. De Villiers came from one of the best rugby schools in South Africa as it also produced Schalk Burger, Handre Pollard and Pieter Rossouw.
De Villiers was one of the many talented players to have played for the international Sevens team. In fact he made his Springboks debut the same year that he had played for the South Africa Sevens team. His debut could not have gone worse, suffering a major knee injury just five minutes into the game.
De Villiers was able to regain fitness and put in some excellent performances which brought him back to the international team. Injuries once again got in the way in his first Rugby World Cup, tearing his bicep in the first game of the 2007 tournament which the Springboks won.
Despite consistent injuries, De Villiers would retire with over 100 appearances for the Springboks, claiming 33 tries in that time. He was part of the Springboks team that defeated the British and Irish Lions in 2009. He also bravely took the move to Munster in 2009, before returning to South Africa a year later.
Injuries caused him to initially retire from rugby in 2015, although he did play one final season for Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership. With 37 caps as South African captain, he is one of the best players in Springboks history.
Best Inside Centres Right Now
Ireland are the best test team in the world at the moment, and a key piece of their backline is Robbie Henshaw. Ireland are not the same team when Henshaw is not playing and he is exactly the type of player opposing attackers don’t want to get anywhere near.
Henshaw is one of the few current Irish players to have not come from the Leinster academy, instead making his provincial debut with Connacht. He made his Irish debut a year later. It was not easy for Henshaw to get into the Irish team initially because of all of the talent of the Irish backline.
He has become a more crucial part of the Irish team in the last few years. He was at outside centre for Ireland’s 2018 Grand Slam winning campaign and was just as important five years later when Ireland repeated that feat. He also played 80 minutes in all three tests in New Zealand in the victorious series against the All Blacks.
Henshaw has switched between inside and outside centre quite a bit in the last few years. But his physicality and ball skills mean he is perfect for Inside Centre. At 6ft 3 in, Henshaw is certainly a physical presence in both defence and attack. A European Champions Cup winner as well as a four times URC champion.
A World class player who does exactly what you would want from an Inside Centre.
Jonathan Danty is one of the players that you or me would hate to come up against. He might be four inches shorter than the previous player, but he is one of the most explosive players in rugby history.
Born in Paris, Danty made his Stade Francais debut in 2011, having joined the side three years prior. He actually made 13 appearances in his debut season. Four years later, Danty was a crucial part of the Stade Francais team that won the Top 14. He was actually named Centre of the season for his contributions.
He finally got his French debut in 2016, having to beat out Mathieu Bastareaud for the position in the squad. Surprisingly, after just four years Danty did not play for France for another four years. He was brought back into the test side in November 2020 and has been world class since.
Danty is an incredibly physical centre who can dominate anyone. France have become one of the best test match teams in the world over the past few years and part of that is down to Danty. He is a matchup nightmare for pretty much anyone. He was a crucial part of the French team that won the Grand Slam in 2022.
If you wanted to see how important Danty is to France, you can see how much France struggled without him a year later. He moved to La Rochelle in 2021 and started in the 2022 and 2023 European Rugby Champions Cup Final, which La Rochelle won both times. He scored the opening try in the 2023 final.
A world class player who will be crucial to France’s world cup bid later in 2023.
Damian de Allende
The Springboks backline that won the 2019 Rugby World Cup was built on some incredibly fast and athletic athletes on the outside, but Damian De Allende often get’s forgotten about in that team.
The Western Province product broke through with the Stormers in 2013. From very early on, De Allende was very much seen as the perfect physical component of the backline. He made his Springboks debut in 2014 and slowly became an integral part of the South African line-up. His physicality sometimes got him in trouble, but was also made him excellent.
De Allende might not be known for his try scoring, but he scored in the crucial time. His 57th minute try in the World Cup semi-final turned out to be the winner which sent the Springboks to the Rugby World Cup Final.
He played 80 minutes in the final and was able to shut down any England attack. De Allende got the better of his English counterpart Owen Farrell and helped keep the game close before South Africa ran away with the result in the final 15 minutes.
Currently playing in Japan with Saitama Wild Knights, De Allende is certainly going to remind everyone of his world class talent at the Rugby World Cup in 2023.