Scrum Half in Rugby

When you look at a rugby team, it is quite easy to miss the scrum half. While they may be the smallest player on the pitch most of the time, this does not mean they are not crucial to the success of any team. So let’s take a look at the scrum half position, the role of the scrum half, as well as some of the best to every play the position.

Physical attributes of a Scrum Half

The very first thing that you will notice when you look at a scrum half is that they are rarely the tallest player on the pitch. In fact quite often, the Scrum Half will be the smallest player on the pitch. So if you are growing up and quite short, it is likely that you will be a scrum half.

There is nothing within their role which makes the scrum half need to be tall, so it is hardly surprising that they are one of, it not the smallest person on the pitch. This does not mean that a scrum half is weak however.

In fact, more and more we are seeing modern scrum halves being incredibly strong and powerful. They are starting to be deceptively strong, able to push through tacklers with ease and becoming a ball carrying option in attack. This is something we have not really seen before, but shows the progression of the position.

Scrum Half might be the position on the pitch where the mental attributes are more important than the physical. Scrum halves need to have great game awareness. They need to be able to manage a teams attack and know how to set the tempo of the game. The scrum half decides when the ball comes out of the ruck and so decides how fast the game is played.

Scrum halves are quite often important leaders for their team, needing to be able to tell the forwards and the backs what to do. You need to be brave to play scrum half. Despite their size, they are still expected to make tackles on any player who comes near them. Teams can’t afford to have one player on the team who won’t make a tackle when needed.

So as you can see, there are a lot of important physical attributes needed to play scrum half. Being the small size, you need to make up for it with agility and speed, able to breeze past defenders when necessary. All of the top scrum halves in the world have these attributes and much more.

Role of the Scrum Half at the scrum

The name Scrum Half comes from the position of the number 9 at the scrum. The Scrum Half will feed the ball into the scrum, by rolling it along the ground towards their side from the middle of the scrum. The Scrum Half needs to roll the ball towards their side, without making it too obvious to the referee that they are doing so.

But their job is not finished once the ball has been put into the scrum. The Scrum Half then has to pick the ball up from the back of the scrum and distribute it to the backs. They have to do this while their opposition scrum half is trying to tackle them the split second they take the ball out of the scrum.

In the first hundred years of rugby being a sport, the job for the scrum half was simply to pass the ball out of the back of the scrum. But now, teams will often design set plays that require the scrum half to do some pretty complicated stuff. This can include offloads or running with the ball themselves.

It has become an increasingly difficult job for scrum halves, but it is not the only set piece where they are important.

Role of the Scrum Half at the lineout

Seeing as they are the shortest player on the team in most cases, it can’t be surprising to hear that the Scrum Half is not involved in the jumping or lifting at the lineout. But they are still crucial to the moves success.

The Scrum Half will stand as the receiver of the lineout, often being passed the ball as soon as the jumper catches the ball. In this scenario, the scrum half has to get the ball to the backs as quickly as possible to spring an attack.

Sometimes, the lineout will form into a maul. The scrum half will be at the back of the maul, required to pass the ball out once the maul has stopped moving forwards. Scrum halves are the link between the forwards and backs, with this being a crucial role at the lineout.

Role of the Scrum Half in attack

The scrum half has one of the most important roles in attack, despite not being a primary ball carrier. In attack, the scrum half will be the player who passes out from every ruck. This means that the scrum half decides the tempo of the attack, as well as how a team attacks.

Scrum halves can take advantage of broken defences with quick ball, or coordinate powerful groups of forwards when you get close to the try line. A scrum half is the orchestrator of a team’s attack, making them crucial to the success of the team. More in modern day, the scrum half has become more of just a facilitator in attack.

They are becoming incredibly important ball carriers. While Scrum halves are still rarely used in attack as a ball carrier, their carries are more purposeful than ever. Whenever there is space available, you want your scrum half darting in between defenders and taking advantage of the tiniest bits of space.

Scrum halves can be incredibly helpful in attack, even if they are usually at the bottom of the carry charts. But it is not just with the ball in hand that a scrum halves are important in attack. Kicking is a crucial skill for scrum halves, needing to put the opposition under threat by finding gaps in the defence.

Role of the Scrum Half in defence

Kicking is also a very impotant skill for scrum halves in defence. When a team with the ball is backed up in their own 22, the scrum half will usually be the man who has to get them out of trouble. They do this by box kicking straight from the ruck, needing to get as much distance and height on the kick as possible.

The scrum half is probably the least important player in defence. They rarely make big tackles, but do still need to cover a lot of space with their speed, as well as be a reliable tackler. Your scrum half is never going to be your top tackler, but contributions in defence are still required from the position.

Best Scrum Halves of all-time

George Gregan

At 5ft 8in, it is surprising that George Gregan is seen as one of the best Wallabies of all time, as well as a crucial player in the history of the Brumbies.

Born in Zambia, Gregan’s family moved to Australia when he was two years old and he grew up in Canberra. Gregan attended the same college as fellow Wallabies Matt Giteau and Saia Fainga’a. Gregan was one of the most talented players to come through St Edmund’s College.

Having been a star of his college team, Gregan was involved with the international set up from a very early age. He represented Australia at under-19 and under-21 level, making his full Wallabies debut at age 21 against Italy.

At 21, Gregan made a try saving tackle to help Australia secure the Bledisloe cup and secured his place in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The youngster will have been disappointed to be part of the Wallabies team that lost in the quarter-finals to South Africa, he got revenge four years later.

Gregan played 79 minutes as Australia destroyed France in the World Cup final to become two time champions. He was not only one of the team’s best players, but was also the vice-captain. He became the team’s captain in 2001 after the retirement of John Eales. Gregan was huge in Australia’s win over New Zealand.

He had been one of the key players for the Brumbies team since the team’s formation in 1996, but the former Australia captain ended his international career when he signed a contract to play for Toulon after the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

A valiant leader, Gregan is one of the most decorated captains in international rugby.

Gareth Edwards

Welsh Rugby has produced some incredible scrum halves, but none better than Sir Gareth Edwards. Born in Swansea, Edwards was educated at one of the most prestigious sports schools in the world, Millfield.

He moved back to Wales after finishing school and eventually made his Cardiff debut when he was 18. Edwards won his first international cap at just 19 years old. He was the team’s youngest ever captain when he was just 20 years old.

In total, Edwards played 53 games in a row for Wales, 13 of those as captain. He would also play 10 times for the British and Irish Lions, which included being the starter for all three games of the New Zealand series. Being part of such an iconic team was not a coincidence for Edwards.

He is by many considered the best Welsh rugby player of all time and for good reason. Gareth Edwards could do it all. He was ahead of his time, and would still be one of the best players in the world if he was playing today. A phenomenal athlete at a time where he was not even paid a full time wage.

Many see Edwards as the greatest rugby player of all time and he was voted as one of the first 15 players to be inducted in the World Rugby Hall of Fame. He is also remembered to have scored one of the best tries of all time against the All Blacks for the Barbarians in 1973.

Greg Laidlaw

Scotland rugby legend Greg Laidlaw was a unique scrum half for one main reason. It is incredibly rare that a scrum half would be one of the highest scorers in rugby history.

Having been born in Edinburgh, Laidlaw was always focused on rugby and joined Edinburgh in the summer of 2006, making his debut a year later. For the first couple of years of his career, Laidlaw had limited playing opportunities behind Mike Blair. However, 2010 was a huge year for his career as he became the Edinburgh starter.

He was really thrown in at the deep end internationally, making his debut against the All Blacks in 2010 and was part of the Scotland squad for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Laidlaw was one of the most reliable players on the field for Scotland for almost eight years. He often had to shift to Fly-Half and was the team’s goal kicker for many years. Laidlaw racked up 714 points with Scotland, mainly through his prowess with the boot.

Not only that, but Laidlaw is also the most capped Scotland captain, having led his side out 39 times, more than any other captain in the team’s history. A Challenge Cup title winner, Laidlaw is a phenomenal creator and kicker.

Best Scrum Halves right now

Antoine Dupont

Frenchman Antoine Dupont is redefining the role of the scrum half pretty much single handedly. He is one of the best players in the world and always a difference maker for Toulouse and France.

Growing up in South-West France, Dupont joined Auch when he was just 15 years old. The talented scrum-half moved to Castres after Auch were relegated, before getting his big time move to Toulouse in 2017. It has turned into a brilliant move for Toulouse, as he has helped the French side win two Top 14 titles and a Champions Cup.

Dupont always shines on the biggest stage and was capped for the first time by France in 2017. He became an integral part of the French side quickly and has been named Six Nations player of the tournament three times already in his young career. Dupont captained France to the Grand Slam in 2022, the nations first since 2010.

At just 26 years old, Dupont already has created a world class legacy. The scrum half is incredibly strong and powerful for his size, as well as being a master distributor and kicker. It is scary to think that Antoine Dupont could continue at this level for another decade.

Jamison Gibson-Park

One of the men over the last few years who has taken Ireland from a very good team, to a true World Cup contender is Jamison Gibson-Park. Gibson-Park had a unique road to the Irish team, having been born in New Zealand and come through the Taranaki Academy which also produced All Blacks like Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett and Angus Ta’avao.

Despite solid performances for the Blues and the Hurricanes, he could not quite break into the All Blacks team and so joined Leinster for the 2016-17 season. He became eligible for Ireland in 2019, eventually making his debut against Italy a year later.

Jamison Gibson-Park has helped to revolutionise how both Leinster and Ireland play. Thanks to his expert passing and game management, both teams can play an incredibly fast paced game which often catches out the opposition defence. This new style of play has brought success.

He missed the first three games of the 2023 Six Nations with injury, but returned in time to help lead Ireland past England, securing the Grand Slam. Gibson-Park was also the starter for Leinster in their successful 2020 Pro 14 final victory, coming off the bench a year later.

Aaron Smith

The All Blacks are one of the best and most decorated team’s of all time, so Aaron Smith being one of their best player’s shows his quality.

Born in Palmerston North, Smith made his provincial debut in 2008 when he was just 19 years old, becoming the sides first choice scrum-half a year later. His performances in the 2010 ITM Cup earned Smith a Super Rugby contract as he joined the Highlanders.

Strong performances with the Highlanders got the attention of New Zealand selectors and Smith eventually made his All Blacks debut in 2012. By the end of the 2013 he was the team’s starter and was a crucial part in the 2015 Rugby World Cup winning squad, starting every knockout game.

Smith has been a mainstay in the New Zealand team ever since his debut, becoming the most capped All Backs scrum-half in 2018. He has also been a mainstay for the Hurricanes, ignoring lucrative offers to play abroad to become the Highlanders most capped player.

A Super Rugby and World Cup winner, Aaron Smith will end his international career after the 2023 Rugby World Cup, having signed a contract with Japanese club Toyota Club. Smith will soon retire as one of the best All Blacks of all time, and certainly one of the best scrum halves of all time.

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