Number 8 in Rugby

Arguably the most physical position on the pitch, playing number 8 is an incredibly difficult job for any rugby player. They have a huge responsibility for their teams and a world class number 8 can cut through attacks with ease.

Physical attributes of a Number 8

Number 8s certainly stand out on the rugby pitch. There is not really any specific height or weight needed to play number 8 as they are not really that important in the scrum and are not a common option at the lineout. But there is certainly a patter of the size and shape of Number 8s.

They tend to be incredibly powerful players, with both upper body and lower body strength. We will talk about their role a bit later on but because of how important they are to ball carrying, they need to have a great combination of speed and size.

They tend to be slightly taller than the flankers, particularly larger than the openside flanker. But the Number 8 is rarely taller than the second row because they need to be mobile as well as strong.

You need your Number 8 to be incredibly hard working and so some Number 8s will look slightly more like openside flankers with a slight frame. But that is usually because their power comes from speed and not strength quite as much.

Due to the workload that Number 8s go through in a game they usually have a direct replacement on the bench. This player will wear either number 20 or 21, depending on how many forwards the team has on the bench.

Role of the Number 8 in the scrum

The Number 8 may be the least important part of the scrum in terms of power. As they are right at the back of the scrum, it is rare that they are the driving force in a scrum. But that doesn’t mean that the Number 8 can fall asleep in the scrum, in that they have a crucial role in both attack and defence.

If you have a dominant scrum which is able to push the opposition back, then the Number 8s ability with their feet is crucial. They need to be able to dribble the ball forwards with their feet to keep the ball in the scrum. The longer that the ball stays in a dominant scrum that is moving forward, the more likely the referee Is to award a penalty.

When the Number 8 decides to pull the ball from the back of the scrum they then have a very important job. You may think that the scrum half is the player that passes the ball out of the scrum but this is not always the case.

That is because the Number 8 can choose to distribute the ball, or pick it up and run with it themselves. A Number 8 that can distribute the ball means the scrum half can join the attacking line and become another threat to the defence. But the Number 8 picking up from the scrum is an incredibly useful attacking option.

If the attacking teams Number 8 is faster than the defending teams, then it could mean that the fly-half is required to tackle the Number 8. If you have ever seen what a Fly-half usually looks like, you can see why that is a good matchup for the attacking team.

But it is the Number 8 who has to make this decision, because they don’t want to waste an overlap on the outside.

Number 8 role in the Lineout

A Number 8s role in the lineout tends to be a lot more limited. This is because they are not always seen as a lineout option as they can be heavy and not as tall as the second row players who are the usual jumpers.

However you do still see Number 8s getting involved at the lineout, with some guys like Alex Dombrandt being a jumping option for their team. But it is much more likely that the Number 8 will be with the backs for a lineout, ready to spring an attack or make big thumping tackles in defence.

Number 8 role in open play

In open play is really where the Number 8 has the most important role. That would be ball carrying in attack. A teams Number 8 is usually their number 1 option in attack. The combination of size, speed and strength should make the Number 8 the perfect player to charge at defences.

They need to be able to break the line in attack and make metres after contact. The Number 8 is supposed to be the most difficult player to bring down in any team. Number 8s tend to be difficult to bring down in different ways. The more traditional Number 8 was bulky and slow.

But they were still able to break through the defensive line because of their size and strength. With more focus on open play, Number 8s have tended to become slightly more power and speed focused. Sam Simmonds is a great example of that. He has excelled at Number 8 despite a lean body type that is not common for Number 8s.

The modern day Number 8s is also brilliant at offloads. When you make a line break, nailing the offload is the perfect way to continue the attack. Number 8s like Zach Mercer and Gregory Aldritt can pull off offloads like wingers would.

While their most important role is in attack, the Number 8 can also be helpful in defence. Defensively, the Number 8 will have a similar role to the rest of the back row. They need to make a lot of tackles, especially when the opposition is getting close to their own try line.

Modern Number 8s being more mobile means they can also be crucial in the ruck. With such a strong frame, Number 8s need to be able to get over the ball and produce turnover whenever there is an opportunity.

Best Number 8s of all time

Kieran Read

Former New Zealand captain Kieran read is one of the best rugby players in the history of the sport. Having played rugby from a young age, Read excelled in a lot of different sports and could have pursued a career in cricket.

Instead he stuck with rugby and began his professional career just a year after leaving school. Having started playing for Canterbury at 21, he made his Super Rugby debut in 2007 with the Crusaders. Although Read began as a blindside flanker, he moved to Number 8 from 2008 onwards.

He started in the 2008 Super Rugby Final and was rewarded with his first All Blacks cap later that year. Becoming a crucial part of the New Zealand side, Read started in both the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup Finals, playing all 80 minutes in both games.

2013 was an exceptional year for Read as he really shined in a brilliant New Zealand team. Due to that he got international recognition and was voted World Rugby Men’s Player of the Year. Read is still the only Number 8 to win that award in it’s history.

Part of him winning the award was Read becoming All Blacks captain due to Richie McCaw taking some time away from international rugby. But Read would become the teams permanent captain in 2016 after McCaw retired.

Injuries meant Read’s captaincy career was not as long as he wanted, but he still won The Rugby Championship three years in a row, eventually deciding to retire from rugby at the end of the 2020-21 season.

Sergio Parisse

At age 39, Sergio Parisse is not yet retired from rugby. He is still playing at an incredibly high level with Toulon. But he has already established himself as one of the best Number 8s of all time.

Parisse was born in Argentina and played his junior rugby there, before moving to Italy to pursue his rugby career. He would joined Benetton in 2003, one year after being capped by the Italian rugby team at just 18 years old.

Over the next few years he would become a mainstay in the Italian team and his performances earned Parisse a move to Stade Francais. With Stade Francais Parisse won two Top 14 titles, coming off the bench in the 2007 final against Clermont and starting in the 2015 final, also against Clermont.

Parisse also won a Challenge Cup trophy. While he was incredibly successful in club rugby, Parisse was never part of a massively successful Italy team. He was consistently the shining light of the Italian team, which led to him playing in five Rugby World Cups and becoming the most capped player in Six Nations history.

Parisse was a brilliant ball carrier, who was incredibly mobile and powerful. He was also a tremendous leader and considered one of the best all round players in rugby history. A legend of the game, Parisse is a hero of Italian rugby.

Lawrence Dallaglio

Lawrence Dallaglio is one of the best players in English rugby history as well as a brutal leader. Born in London, rugby was not seen as a career choice for Dallaglio because he grew up in an era where professional rugby was not a thing. In fact Dallaglio had been playing for Wasps for six years when rugby became professional.

His faith in Wasps during the amateur era was rewarded when rugby became professional because Wasps were incredibly successful around the turn of the century. With Wasps Dallaglio won five Premiership titles as well as two Heineken Cup titles.

He is undoubtedly the best player in Wasps history. But most of that success came at the back of his career. Instead of being the physical leader, Dallaglio became the vocal leader of a young and talented Wasps team and helped to develop players like James Haskell and retired after the 2008 Premiership final.

One of the best players in England history, Dallaglio was a crucial part of the England team that won the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Having made his international debut in 1995, Dallaglio would play 85 times for his country. Not only was Dallaglio a key component on the field for England, but he was also crucial in the dressing room.

A brilliant leader, Dallaglio knew what to say to get the players going and was England captain for some of his career because of it. A World Rugby Hall of Famer, Dallaglio is a classic example of an old fashioned Number 8.

Best Number 8s right now

Jack Conan

Jack Conan might be the most in form Number 8 in the world right now. There are few Number 8s in the world that are playing at as high a level as Jack Conan right now.

Growing up in Ireland as a talented young rugby player, he was snapped up to become part of the Leinster academy quite quickly, partly thanks to him playing for the Irish Under 20s team.

Conan did not get his chance with the first team right away, with him getting his opportunity for the first team in 2014 when he was 21 years old. It did not take long for Conan to establish himself in the Leinster team, coming into the Leinster team just as captain Jamie Heaslip was starting to age out.

He was the perfect replacement for Heaslip and stepped into the Leinster team pretty quickly. His performances with Leinster meant he was in the Ireland team quite quickly. But just as with Leinster, Conan did not get an opportunity straight away because CJ Stander was the established Number 8 with the national team.

He got some minutes in the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam winning campaign and became the teams starter once Stander retired. Over the past 18 months he has really improved his game. Conan was man of the match in the 2021 Pro14 Grand Final and is a key part of the Leinster juggernaut.

Conan is Ireland’s Number 8 at the moment and he can break the line with pretty much every carry. A truly exceptional player.

Gregory Alldritt

While Antoine Dupont gets all of the shine for being Frances best player in a young team, Gregory Aldritt deserves a lot more credit as a crucial part of that team.

The 26 year old has actually only been in international rugby for the last four years. He came through the Auch team, the same side which has produced his international teammates Antoine Dupoint, Anthony Jelonch and Pierre Bougarit.

Aldritt moved to La Rochelle in 2017 and he has already made 100 apperances for the French side. He has been the driving force in the most successful period in the teams history. In 2021 they reached the Top 14 and Champions Cup Finals for the first time, but the team lost both of these.

They got their title in 2022, with Aldritt playing all 80 minutes of the final as La Rochelle out physicaled Leinster, scoring the winning try in the final few seconds that’s to Arthur Retiere. Aldritt has also taken France back to success.

He started all of the games in the 2022 Six Nations which ended with France winning the Grand Slam for the first time since 2010. At 6ft 3in and 18 stone, Alldritt is a beast physically. He has the strength to shrug off any defender, as well as the hands to find a teammate once he has made a line break.

Just 26 years old, Alldritt will be key to France’s World Cup campaign later in the year.

Ardie Savea

While Ardie Savea began his career as a flanker, he has become one of the world’s best Number 8s in the last couple of years. When he was coming into the Hurricanes teams in 2013, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen saw his potential and Ardie went on the tour of New Zealand with his older brother Julian as an apprentice.

It wasn’t until 2016 that Ardie made his All Blacks debut, mainly because it is incredibly difficult to break into the All Blacks back row against players like Sam Cane, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read. But he was still able to show his talent quickly, in part thanks to injury to Cane.

For quite a few years, Ardie Savea was the best international rugby player who was coming off the bench. He is an incredibly frantic Number 8 who has incredible power. All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen wanted to use his power coming off the bench against tiring defences.

But over the last few years with a new coach and those names retiring, Savea has made the legendary All Blacks Number 8 shirt his own. While New Zealand may not be the dominant team they were in the 2010s, Savea is still one of the best players in the world.

He is able to make metres against any defence, as well as being one of the hardest working players on the pitch. He already has 18 tries for his country and is an incredibly exciting player to watch.

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