Left Winger in Rugby

Wingers might be the most exciting position on a rugby pitch. They have to be the fastest players on the field, able to finish off attacking plays. Very often the best try scorers on the team, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the importance of the left winger in Rugby, as well as some of the best to ever play the position.

Number and Physical Attributes of a Left Winger

The left winger will be the Rugby player on the pitch who wears the number 11. This does not mean that they set up inside of the centres who wear 12 or 13, it is simply just the number that they are given. If you have a left winger replacement on the bench, they are most likely to wear 22.

Left wingers are very often the fastest players on the pitch. The whole idea of a winger is that they are supposed to work extremely well in space, able to sprint as fast as they can to the corner to score as many tries as possible. But it is not just straight-line speed that is important for wingers.

They also need to have very fast feet, able to juke and deceive defenders to create line breaks. Whenever a winger is faced with a one on one, they are expected to have the skills to get past.

The physical attributes of a winger have changed in the modern game. For one thing, wingers now need to be a lot better with their boot. Wingers are often required to retreat back into space and help in the backfield alongside the fullback. This means they could be required to clear the ball, or even use a kick in an attacking opportunity.

The other thing that has changed about left wingers is that we are seeing a lot more wingers who are incredibly strong and difficult to tackle. There are more and more wingers who focus on physicality to win their matchups in wide spaces, while still having the ball skills and speed of a traditional winger.

Role of the Left Winger in set pieces

As you might expect, the left winger does not play a direct role in any of the set pieces. That is because the left winger is a back and does not have the power to really contribute to either the scrum or the lineout. But that does not mean that the left winger is useless in a set piece.

In fact, the winger is often the most dangerous attacking option off the back of a set piece. A scrum or a lineout usually means that the majority of the backs are in one small space, leaving a huge amount of open field to be covered by the backs. When there is that much open space, the winger becomes the most important part of the attack.

The rest of the backs jobs from a set piece will be to get the ball wide to see if there is an opportunity for the left winger to work in space. Teams will often go wide from a set piece to take advantage of the open space and that is where the left winger becomes very important.

If the set piece is happening on the left side, then the winger will either stay on that side to provide an extra attacking option, or they will go to the right side and see if they can create an overlap against the defence. So while the left winger might not be involved directly in the set piece, they are still very important.

Role of the Left Winger in attack

The most important part of the wingers game has to come in attack. While the position is important defensively, the left winger is mostly focused on attacking. When handed the ball in attack, wingers are expected to score as many tries as they can. Some of the top left wingers in the world average one try per game.

They do this by being faster than the opposition, being strong enough to run through tackles, or simply by having the feet fast enough to juke past the defender. Left Wingers do not get the ball very often, so they need to be as clinical as possible with the few touches that they receive.

Left wingers do not get very many touches because it can be risky to get the ball out to the wing. When the Left Winger gets tackled, they are often isolated with little support. This can lead to turnovers or penalties being given away, which is what makes the left winger position a risky one to hand the ball to.

Over the last few years especially, left wingers have had to become more versatile in attack. They are now required to do more than just stand by the touchline and wait to receive the ball. The more physical wingers sometimes move inside to the centre positions, so that they can be used as the first line of attack if the attacking teams spots some gaps close to the set piece.

It is also important in attack for wingers to be really good under the high ball. Cross field kicks have become a little bit more important over the last few years and it is a great attacking weapon. Having a winger who can bring the ball down with ease above defenders is a massive advantage in attack.

Wingers role in defence

While the wingers do not have as important of a job in defence, you still need your left winger to be useful in defence. Tackling is so important for left wingers because they are often having to defend one on one against attackers in a lot of space.

Left wingers need to be able to defend a lot of space, so have to be versatile and agile. Over everything else you want to make sure that wingers are active in defence and can hold their own against their opposing player.

Best Left wingers of all-time

Jonah Lomu

When you talk about left wingers there is one man who comes to mind straight away. That has to be Jonah Lomu, who is not only one of the best left wingers of all time, but one of the best and most famous rugby players of all time.

Having had to deal with local gang violence in his youth, Lomu began excelling in sport very early on. At just 19 years old he exploded onto the international scene at the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens. He was so promising that Lomu actually made his All Black 15s debut the same year he first played for the sevens.

At just 20 years old Lomu was putting in historic performances, scoring four tries in the 1995 Rugby World Cup semi-final against England. He was the superstar name in the New Zealand team for both the 1995 and 1999 Rugby World Cups, but never got his hands on a Rugby World Cup winners medal.

Lomu finished his incredible international career with 43 tries in 73 appearances, but it was his incredible reputation that made Lomu a superstar. Jonah Lomu was a player who revolutionised the winger position, being arguably the best athlete the sport has ever seen. He was the biggest draw in rugby just as the sport turned professional.

Sadly, Lomu’s career was cut short due to Nephrotic Syndrome, which had made affects on his kidneys and eventually led to Lomu passing away in 2015. The man who changed Rugby became bigger than the sport and he is one of the most important people in the history of professional rugby.

Bryan Habana

South Africa have often been known as the team who have produced countless incredible forwards. But they also produced one of the best try scoring wingers in international rugby history.

Bryan Habana was born in Johannesburg and educated at the University of Johannesburg. Much like a lot of other superstar backs, Habana got international attention from his exceptional play on the World Sevens Series. He was brought into the Springboks team just after the 2003 Rugby World Cup, scoring with his first touch of the ball against the reigning champions England.

That try was really a preview as what was to come as Haban would become South Africa’s all time leading try scorer. He was an influential part of the 2007 Rugby World Cup winning Springboks team, being named IRB Player of the Year for 2007. It was the same year that Habana had scored the final minute winning try in the Super 14 final.

Habana would become one of the most famous names in rugby, having been signed to the superstar Toulon team in 2013. He would win the Heineken Cup twice with Toulon, to go along with two Super Rugby titles and a Top 14 title as well.

Habana is second all time for international tries with 67, with no South African anywhere close to his exceptional try scoring record. A world class winger who was impossible to stop when you gave him space on the outside.

Shane Williams

If you took a look at Shane Williams, you might not expect him to be one of the best rugby players of all time. Born in Swansea, Williams started off his career as a scrum half and was not expected to be an exceptional player because he was just five foot seven.

His club career began with Neath and was given his first international cap in the 2000 Six Nations. At the time Williams weighed just a little bit over 11 stone and there was not much of an expectation that he would not be in the Welsh team for long.

Despite early injuries, Shane Williams became one of the most important player for the Welsh side, scoring crucial tries against England and Scotland to help his country win the Grand Slam. He was part of the Lions squad that toured New Zealand in 2005 as well.

Over the next few years Williams would turn into one of the best try scorers in the world, becoming the all-time Wales try scoring leader in the 2008 Grand Slam winning campaign. Later that same year he became the first Welshman to be named IRB Player of the Year.

He scored his final try for his country with his las touch of the ball against Australia in 2011. Shane Williams was not expected to be an exceptional player, so to finish his career with a whopping 58 tries for his country is exceptional. He is the fourth all-time leading international try scorer and an incredible left winger.

Best Left Wingers right now

Cheslin Kolbe

You want your wingers to be exceptionally fast with fast feet and good hands. Cheslin Kolbe has all of that and so much more. Kolbe was not seen as this incredible prospect in international rugby, as it took Kolbe quite a few years to get into the Springbok team.

He played for the Stormers for four years before a big money move to Toulouse. Having joined the French side and excelled with South African Sevens team, it was not a big surprise that Kolbe was eventually brought into the Springbok team in 2018.

Just one year later he was starting in the Rugby World Cup final, scoring the Springboks second try to but the game out of the reach of England and give his country their third Rugby World Cup title.

Kolbe would have more success domestically after this, winning the Top 14 twice and being part of the Toulouse side which won the Champions Cup in 2021. But in 2023 Kolbe was back in the Rugby World Cup. He scored a crucial try in the quarter-final against France to get past the host side.

He started on the left wing in the 2023 final and was once again on the winning side. Kolbe might have missed the final ten minutes of the game after a yellow card for a deliberate knock on, but it did not cost his side as the Springboks won their fourth title.

Now playing in Japan, Cheslin Kolbe is one of the most electric wingers in the world and can beat anyone one on one.

James Lowe

New Zealand fans will not have been too pleased to see the rise of James Lowe over the last few years. Lowe was born in Nelson and attended Nelson College, the same school that produced All Blacks Ethan Blackadder, Leicester Fainga’anuku and David Havili.

After three years with the Chiefs in Super Rugby, Lowe was not getting international attention and so decided to make a risky move to play for Leinster. He quickly established himself as a fan favourite, helping Leinster to win both the Pro14 and the European Champions Cup in his first season.

Having played for Leinster for three years, he was eligible to play international rugby for Ireland and was brought into the squad straight away. Lowe scored a try in the final minute of his debut and became a crucial starter for Ireland over the next few years.

Lowe would play every minute in Ireland’s famous series win against the All Blacks in New Zealand in 2022. A few months later he would be Ireland’s joint top try scorer as Ireland won the Grand Slam. While Lowe and Ireland disappointed at the Rugby World Cup later that year, he is still one of the best wingers in the world.

Likely to start on the left win for the British and Irish Lions in 2025, Lowe is a brilliant all-around player and certainly one of the best wingers in the world.

Mark Telea

One of the newest faces onto the international rugby scene, Mark Telea has been electric in the past 12 months, rising to become one of the best wingers in the world.

Telea was certainly not considered a young superstar. He struggled to find consistent form in the NPC with North Harbour, with it taking four years before Telea got his call up to Super Rugby. Having made his Super Rugby debut with the Blues in 2020, Telea has been electric every game.

Already with 26 tries in 52 games, Telea has incredibly fast feet and is so difficult to bring down in close situations. That promise eventually led to Telea being brought into the New Zealand team in 2022. The left win is an incredibly difficult position to get into in the All-Black squad, so Telea was not a day one starter.

But at the 2023 Rugby World Cup he beat out Leicester Fainga’anuku to become the All-Blacks starter. With Will Jordan on the right wing, Telea did not get the attention he deserved. But the Blues winger was still a massive factor in New Zealand getting to the Rugby World Cup Final.

At 27, Telea has taken his time in getting into the international team. But he seems to have secured that left wing position down and could be there for a very long time.

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