Outside Centre in Rugby

Centre Is often an underrated part of rugby. In fact having a world class outside centre can be a huge game changer for teams. They can use the space created by the Inside Centre to make breaks and often help to set up most of the try scoring. So let’s take a look at the role as well as some of the best players to play the position.

Number and Physical Attributes of an Outside Centre

The Outside Centre is the player who will wear Number 13 on their back. It is rare for a team to have a direct replacement for an outside centre on the bench, so the number that they have on their back is not always the same. Usually, if there is a replacement Outside Centre, they will often wear either 22 or 23 on their back.

Physically, there are a lot of similarities between the Inside and the Outside centre. The main difference between the two is that the Outside Centre tends to be slightly faster and less physical.

Often, the Outside Centre is required to work in a bit more space than the Inside Centre. Therefore they need to be fast, with good hands and still enough physicality to break through tackles. Quite often, the best Outside Centres in the world will be somewhere physically between a winger and the Inside Centre.

It is not just pure speed which is important for the position. They also need to be able to turn incredibly quickly. Agility leads to line breaks which is exactly what the position is supposed to do. The outside centre should also have the awareness to know when to pass out to the wingers in space.

Role of the Outside Centre in set pieces

The role of the Outside Centre at the set piece is often incredibly limited. They are not involved in scrums or lineouts directly, but their job becomes incredibly important when the ball gets out of the set piece.

When the ball does come out of the scrum, their job is particularly crucial in defence. The outside centre is usually the one who is required to cut off the chance of the opposition going wide and attacking with width. They need to make the crucial tackle and stop the opposition from exploiting the space that is available.

Their position is similarly important in attack. The Inside Centre is very often the one used off the front ball, supposed to use their physicality to draw in defenders. This gives the Outside centre more space to work in and find gaps for either themselves or the wingers outside of them.

So as the outside centre, you need to take advantage of the space available from the set piece and set up tries. The outside centre cannot be wasteful with those opportunities, especially if the wingers have space on the outside to score tries.

Role of the Outside Centre in attack

While the inside centre is the battering ram of the backs, the outside centre is the player who should be able to break through the defence with their agility. Quite often the player who gets the ball after the Inside centre has made a break, they need to advance the ball even further forward.

They also need to get the wingers involved in the game as they are the player next to the wingers. Outside centres need to know when to hold onto the ball and make a break themselves, or just pass the ball further out wide to the wingers and let them take advantage of the space available.

Sometimes teams will use a player who is usually an inside centre as the outside centre. In this sort of attack, the outside centre will act as another direct attacking option who can break the defensive line with their physicality. However, there is usually just one inside centre in the team and the outside centre will be faster and more agile.

As the outside centre has the wingers on the outside of them, offloads are a very important part of their game. The very best outside centres in the world can pull of ridiculous offloads to give the wingers the opportunity to attack.

There are a few rare instances in history where the outside centre is also brilliant with the boot. In this position, the outside centre could be needed to kick for goal as well as use their boot to take advantage of space in attack. Having an outside centre who can kick well is a great attacking option for any team.

Role of the Outside Centre in Defence

The outside centre is arguably the most important player in the backs in defence. Teams will usually have some incredibly exciting options on the wings and in the centres. Due to this, the outside centre has to be able to cover a lot of space and tackle these exceptional attackers.

While they don’t usually have to get involved too close to the ruck, outside centres need to match up well against their opposing number as well as help defend the wings. When we take a look at some of the best outside centres in the world, you can see that they are crucial to the success of their teams.

Best Outside Centres of all time

Brian O’Driscoll

Not only is Brian O’Driscoll the best outside centre of all time, but he is arguably the best centre of all time. Born in Dublin, O’Driscoll grew up in a rugby filled household, with his father Frank having played twice for Ireland.

Due to that, he began playing rugby at a high level very early on. O’Driscoll worked his way up through the Irish ranks and was eventually signed for Leinster academy. He made his Leinster debut in 1999 and made his Irish debut the same year. He actually played for Ireland before making his Leinster debut.

You might think that a player brought into the international set up at such a young age is going to take some time to bed into the team. But O’Driscoll became a starter very early on and even scored a hattrick of tries in the 2000 Six Nations against France in Paris.

Just three years into his international career, O’Driscoll captained Ireland to their famous win over Australia. It was the first time that Ireland had beaten the Wallabies in over 20 years. He was awarded the permanent captaincy just a year later and he developed into one of the best players in the world.

In 2005, O’Driscoll was the captain of the British and Irish Lions. A year later, he won the first of three Six Nations Player of the Year trophies. In 2009, O’Driscoll was the Six Nations top try scorer as Ireland won the Grand Slam for the first time in more than 60 years. It was by far the crowning moment of O’Driscoll’s career.

He was part of the Irish team that won the Six Nations in 2014. O’Driscoll was similarly brilliant with his regional side Leinster. O’Driscoll was the leader of the Leinster team that won the Heineken Cup three times in four years.

When he chose to retire from rugby in 2014, there was no doubt that O’Driscoll would go down as one of the best players in the sports history. He is Ireland’s record appearance maker, as well as the team’s record try scorer. Both of these records don’t look like they will be beaten anytime soon.

A World Rugby Hall of Famer, O’Driscoll is undoubtedly the best player in his position of all time and one of the best players to ever play the sport.

Conrad Smith

There have been some exceptional backs in the history of New Zealand rugby, which might be why Conrad Smith does not quite get as much recognition as he probably deserves.

Having grown up playing rugby, Smith made his regional debut with Wellington in 2003. As an interesting young prospect, he was promoted to Super Rugby at age 23 and then started putting in some brilliant performances straight away.

So much so that he was called into the All-Blacks squad the same season that he made his professional debut with the Hurricanes. A leg break in early 2006 slowed down his international career and Smith struggled with other injuries over the next couple of years.

But by 2008 he was back in the New Zealand squad and the first choice outside centre. Smith played all 80 minutes in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final as New Zealand became two-time champions.

He was again crucial in 2015 when New Zealand made it back to the final. Smith started all of the knockout games as he had formed a phenomenal centre partnership with Ma’a Nonu. Despite the incredible rise of Sonny Bill Williams, Smith still started in the final and won his second Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks.

With the Hurricanes, Smith became the teams captain and is the most capped Hurricanes player alongside his centre partner Nonu. Playing alongside the elite force that was Ma’a Nonu means that Smith did not always get the recognition that he deserved.

Tana Umaga

New Zealand have had some brilliant centres in the history of the game and Tana Umaga is certainly one of the best centres in the teams history. Umaga actually began his career on the wing, starting out his rugby career with the Hurricanes.

It took a few years of Umaga playing at the Provincial level for him to make it to international rugby. But when Umaga broke the record for the most tries in a Super Rugby season by a New Zealander, he had to make the international squad.

Due to the immense competition on the wing, it wasn’t until 2000 that Umaga became a permanent starter for the team. But he soon made the move to outside centre and it was a much more successful position for Umaga.

It was so successful that Umaga won the New Zealand player of the year trophy the same season that he made the move to centre. In 2004, Umaga was named captain of the All Blacks for the very first time and New Zealand won the first six tests that Umaga was captain for.

Umaga got some criticism for a tackle on Brian O’Driscoll in the 2005 Lions series which ended his tour. An incredibly powerful centre, Umaga was an unstoppable force in attack. He might not be the most decorated centre, but Umaga certainly left his impact on international rugby.

Best Outside Centres in the world right now

Gael Fickou

One of the main reasons for the success that French rugby has seen over the last few years is Gael Fickou.

Having risen up through the ranks with Toulouse, Fickou made his debut for the side in the Heineken Cup when he was just 18 years old, scoring a try on debut. He was a French international at just 18 years old as well, making his debut against Scotland.

Over the last decade, Fickou has consistently been a mainstay in the French team. His two tries in the 2022 Six Nations helped France to win their first Grand Slam in more than a decade. He was very much seen as one of the leaders of that team and the expectations are big on Fickou.

The thing that makes Fickou really special is that he is the best defensive centre in the world. At six foot three, Fickou is a long, rangey athlete who can cover a huge amount of the field. He is strong enough to tackle any player on the pitch, while still being fast enough to catch up to the best centres and wingers in the world.

He uses his length and hand off ability to be a problem in attack as well. Fickou can find the players outside him with offloads very easily and it makes him one of the best centres in the world at the moment.

If France are to have some success at their home Rugby World Cup, then you would imagine that Gael Fickou will be crucial to their chances.

Rieko Ioane

When you make your All Blacks debut at 19, you must be one of the most talented players in the world.

Well that is exactly how Rieko Ioane’s career began. He played for his country the same year that he made his debut in Super Rugby with the Blues. New Zealand had just seen legendary outside centre Conrad Smith retire after the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but Rieko Ioane was able to step up and become the perfect replacement straight away.

In the seven years since his debut, Ioane has been named in almost every All-Blacks squad. He might have missed a few games due to injury, but Ioane has already made 65 appearances for his country and it not even 27 yet.

Ioane was part of the All-Blacks team that won the Rugby Championship seven times already. The thing that is most impressive about Ioane’s play is that he is a brilliant try scorer. Ioane has scored 36 tries in his New Zealand career to date and as long as he stays healthy, he will be the All-Blacks record try scorer when he chooses to retire.

A phenomenal attacking player, Ioane just seems to be almost impossible to tackle. He has the physicality of an inside centre, with the agility of a winger. A truly brilliant player, Ioane still has many years left as one of the best centres in the world.

Garry Ringrose

When Brian O’Driscoll retired from international rugby, it left a big whole in this Irish team. Thankfully for Ireland fans, Garry Ringrose has done a brilliant job at filling that void.

A Leinster academy graduate, Ringrose made his Ireland debut in 2016 and scored his first try for his country the same year against Australia. Ringrose was not one of those players who became a starter immediately and took the world by storm.

Instead, as Ireland have gotten better as a team, we have also seen Ringrose develop into one of the best centres in the world. He started in the final two rounds of Ireland’s Grand Slam winning 2018 Six Nations campaign, scoring the first try of the decisive game against England.

Injury meant he played a limited role in Ireland’s famous series win over New Zealand in 2022. But he played the full 80 minutes three times in the 2023 Six Nations as Ireland won their second Grand Slam in five years. He has had similar success with provincial side Leinster.

Part of the Leinster side that won the 2018 Champions Cup, Ringrose has been an ever present in that team. While he has not quite been able to reach the heights of his predecessor Brian O’Driscoll, Ringrose as developed a brilliant career.

He is an incredible attacker, able to cut through defences and take advantage of the space afforded to him. A wonderful all-round player, Ringrose will be important to Ireland if they want to win the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

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