Second Row in Rugby

Having a world class Second Row in rugby can take a team from being very good to great. They are the engine room of a top side and you will see the most successful teams having outstanding locks in their second row. So lets take a look at the position.

The Role of the Second Row

The name of the position links to where the pair are in a scrum. They are in the second row of a scrum, behind the front row. In a scrum the locks are very much seen as the engine. As they are only binded to their teammates and not the opposition like the front row, their main focus is to drive with as much power as possible.

In a scrum the locks will put their heads in between the legs of the front row. As soon as the ball is put into the scrum, the second row have to drive forwards with as much power as possible. The more power these locks can put into the scrum, the more successful the scrum can be.

It makes the front rows job a lot easier in the scrum if they get a huge push from their second row. They also need to make sure that they can get their feet out of the way in a scrum to allow the ball to go back out of the scrum safely for their team. Not only are they important in the scrum, but they are crucial in the lineout.

The second row tend to be the tallest players in the pitch. Due to this they are usually the jumper in the lineout as they are able to get the highest. This role is really important as the lineout is a very difficult competition to win. Having a really tall second row player means you can outjump the opposition and secure the lineout.

As well as needing to be incredibly physical, they also need to be smart. The second row needs to know when to jump and time their jumps perfectly or else they will give the opposition a chance to steal the lineout. Modern locks also need to be excellent with their hands.

If the second row player drops the lineout it ruins the set piece for the team. So as well as being incredibly physical, they need to be switched on to know when to jump as well as having good hand eye coordination to catch the ball when they get into that position.

A bit of trickery is also helpful for a lineout as this can confuse the opposition. The second row need to make sure they don’t give away when they are going to jump in the lineout as this allows the opposition to try to steal the lineout.

Not only that but having a tall second row player allows a team to steal the lineout from their opposition. The second row are crucial to setting that lineout up and making it a very good attacking option. The second row is also crucial in the defence of a lineout and then subsequent driving maul.

The jumper is crucial to trying to disrupt an attacking maul. As soon as they land from the lineout the second row will need to try to work their way through the driving maul and get to the ball. As they land right in the centre of the maul, they are in the best position to get through the maul legally and disrupt.

The very best second row players use their height and stature to reach over or through the maul to get to the ball. A drive from the lineout is a massive attacking opportunity and so having an elite second row player means they can stop this and get to the ball.

Role in open play

As well as having a huge role in the set pieces, the locks will also have a massive role in open play. In attack they can be really important for big carries. The second rows are often the tallest players on the pitch and they are also one of the most powerful players on the pitch.

Due to this they are often used for ball carrying, particularly when you get close to the try line. There huge power is why second row players are given the ball near the try line, aiming to break the line with their immense power and get close to the line. It is certainly not easy to tackle a second row player anywhere on the field.

The second row players are crucial to what is known as “crash ball”. These are short powerful runs that are designed to crash at high speeds through the opposition defence. A successful crash ball forces the defence to become much more narrow and gives more opportunities for the attackers on the outside.

While they are important in attack, the second row players may be the most important players on the pitch when it comes to defence. Their massive stature means that the second row are often one of the best tacklers on the pitch, driving the opposition back in the tackle.

This means that they are just as important to defence at the try line as they are in attack. They need to get low and drive the opposition back and when they do this is a massive help for the defending team. While the role is important in tackling, the second row can have a massive impact at the ruck.

The second row players tend to be the ultimate disruptors and at the ruck they can be brilliant. When a second row player is able to get their massive frame over the ball they can produce turnovers. When in a low, powerful position it is incredibly difficult to shift a lock off of the ball.

They can be brilliant at turning the ball over as it is impossible to shift the best locks off the ball when they get over it. This long frame means they can reach for the ball better than any other player at the ruck. Having a second row who is good over the ball can be massive for any team.

Second row numbers and size

The second row is made up of two players. The starters will have 4 and 5 on their backs. There is usually one substitute for the second row and this player will usually wear number 19 because the substitute numbers are in order and there are usually three substitutes for the front row.

In terms of their physique, the second row are almost always the tallest players on the pitch. Some of the very best locks of all time are over 6ft 8in, with the second row needing to be tall to win the lineout. They are also one of the most powerful players on the pitch, needing to be powerful to push the scrum forwards as best they can.

There tends to be very little difference between the player who wears 4 and the player who wears 5. This does affect which side they are on in the scrum, but other than that it really does not make a huge amount of difference unlike in the front row or the backrow where there are differences between each position.

Best Second Row players of all time

Martin Johnson

If you talk to any Leicester Tigers fans, they will fondly remember the incredibly successful teams of the 1990s. The Tigers would not have been as successful if it were not for the impact of Martin Johnson and English Rugby would certainly not have been as successful.

Having made his Leicester debut in 1989, Johnson was one of the players who were part of a legendary Tigers team that featured rugby legends like Neil Back, Graham Rowntree and Ben Kay. That Leicester team was one of the most successful in the history of English Rugby.

With Leicester, Johnson won the Premiership five times including winning four years in a row around the turn of the century. Johnson was the captain of these title winning teams, as well as captaining the 2001 and 2002 Heineken Cup winning teams, putting Leicester on the map around Europe.

One of the best captains of all time, Johnson actually had his best success internationally as a captain. He was a British and Irish Lions captain twice, leading the successful 1997 tour of South Africa where he played 80 minutes in all three test matches as the Lions claimed a historic victory.

Not only that, but Johnson was the England captain when the team won the Rugby World Cup in 2003. He was the vocal heart of that team and one of the best leaders in the history of rugby. One of England’s most successful players, Johnson is one of the best captains in Rugby history as well as always being reliable at set pieces.

John Eales

Australian lock John Eales came through the Queensland side at a young age and due to that, managed to break into the Australian team in 1991 when he was just 21 years old. Despite having only been playing for Queensland for two years, he was a starter in the 1991 Rugby World Cup Final.

Eales played the entire game and benefitted from the fact that England wanted to run the ball and not use their powerful forward pack. He was therefore part of the solid Australian defence that held England to just a pair of penalties as Australia won their very first World Cup.

Over the next few years he became a crucial part of the Australian team and eventually took over as captain. His time as captain was just as successful, with Eales hoisting the World Cup trophy in 1999 as the Wallabies captain. He had an incredible international career.

But what his achievements don’t show is that Eales was one of the most skilful locks the game has ever seen. He was actually a very good goal kicker, scoring 173 points for Australia mainly thanks to his goal kicking which is incredibly rare for a lock.

Having your second row being your best goal kicker is incredible and Eales is one of the best players in Australian rugby history.

Victor Matfield

There may have been better second row players all time, but Victor Matfield was the perfect modern day second row player.

Growing up in Pietersburg, Matfield almost pursued cricket before deciding on continuing with rugby. Quite quickly it turned out to be an excellent decision as he made his Blue Bulls debut at 21 in 1998. After a good season in the Currie Cup with Griquas, he became a Super Rugby starter in 2001.

This helped him make his Springboks debut that same season, making his debut against Italy in June. He would quite quickly become a starter for the team and helped South Africa to turn around and become incredibly successful. He played all 80 minutes as South Africa beat England in the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final, being named man of the match.

His second row partnership with Bakkies Botha is one of the best second row partnerships of all time. Matfield was man of the match in the final due to being the ultimate disruptor which is what brought him success in domestic rugby as well.

Matfield won Super Rugby three times with the Bulls as he is one of the best lineout players of all time. Not only is he able to secure his own lineout, but Matfield was often getting in the way of the oppositions lineout.

In open play Matfield had quick hands to produce turnovers and get the ball into space. A wonderful player who was crucial in a World Cup winning team.

Best Second Row players right now

Eben Etzebeth

When he decides to retire, Eben Etzebeth may go down as the best lock of all time and one of the best players in Springboks history. The 6ft 8in monster was a highly touted prospect, so much so that he made his Springboks debut at 20 years old.

There were concerns that injuries would prevent Etzebeth from becoming a great player, but he has been able to play at a very high level. Etzebeth has now made over 100 caps for the Springboks despite being just 31 years old. He has done this because he is always one of the teams best players.

Etzebeth is the best disruptor in the world, just being more powerful than his opposition. He is the key part of the Springboks lineout that won the World Cup in 2019. He outduelled Maro Itoje in that game, establishing himself as the best lock in the world.

He may be the best player in the world right now when he is completely healthy.

Sam Whitelock

It is incredibly surprising that Sam Whitelock does not get more recognition as one of the worlds best players due to his incredible achievements and high level play.

Since the start of his rugby career, Whitelock has been successful, winning the 2008 IRB Junio World Championship. Just three years later he was starting in the Rugby World Cup Final, winning his first title with New Zealand. He would again be a starter in 2015 when the All Blacks won their second title in a row.

That second title came in thanks to the legendary second row partnership with Brodie Retallick. The pair have played over 50 tests together and are incredibly difficult to play against each other.

Whitelock has all the skills you would want from a world class lock. He is incredibly tall, being one of the most reliable jumpers in the lineout and incredibly powerful in the scrum. He does a lot of the grunt work, often being a top tackler as well as being able to produce turnovers when needed.

The four time Super Rugby Champion is one of the humblest rugby players in the world, planning on continuing his farming career after rugby.

Tadhg Beirne

Ireland’s incredible tour of New Zealand in 2022 had a lot of star players, but none played at a higher level than Tadhg Beirne.

The 31 year old lock was certainly a late bloomer having failed to break into the Leinster team before establishing himself with the Scarlets. His move back to Munster started his Irish career and Beirne is now one of the teams most important players.

Beirne started all three games of Ireland’s test series victory in New Zealand in 2022 and proved to be the perfect starter. Beirne was a monster over the ball in that series, a menace at the breakdown. In the final moments of the second test he stole the ball twice to help rap up an incredible series victory.

He is more than physical enough to play in the second row at the highest level, being reliable at set pieces. He is the perfect example of a modern day lock and certainly one of the best in his position around the world.

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