ANALYSIS: What makes the perfect scrumhalf?
OPINION: After concluding the forwards, Alex Shaw’s series looking at building the perfect rugby player moves to the backline – starting with an examination of what goes into making the prototype scrumhalf.
No.9 is arguably no position that dictates how a game is managed.
Scrumhalf requires the players there to not only have a rounded technical skill set but also to be exemplary in the decisions that they make.
We have identified the five key attributes for the No.9 below and picked out five examples from the rugby world that best illustrate these skills in action.
Any scrumhalf’s bread and butter is their passing game. The accuracy of their passing from hand, from the floor and the distance they can maintain that accuracy at, particularly when playing at tempo and potentially fatigued. The velocity they can get on a pass, too, is key, as well as an appreciation for when and when not to take some of that zip off the ball in order to help the recipient cleanly take the pass.
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There aren’t many with a better breadth of passing than Ireland’s Conor Murray, with his tempo and accuracy from the ruck one of the driving factors behind the success Munster and Ireland have had with one-out runners. His ability to beat the fringe defence of teams with a flat zipped pass from the floor is exemplary.
Seemingly almost as important as passing for a modern No.9, box-kicking is now critical to a team’s chances of success. Whether it’s to control territory, relieve pressure or give chasing players an opportunity to win back possession, a good box-kicking scrum-half can prove to be the difference in a tightly contested game.
Plenty of teams lean heavily on this tactic, maybe none as much as England with incumbent scrum-half Ben Youngs having excelled in this area for a number of years now. He generally has very good chemistry with his side’s chasers, to the point where it is now surprising if England don’t win back possession on multiple kicks per game through this tactic.
In order to make it from ruck to ruck, the acceleration and speed of a nine can be the difference between a win and a defeat for their side. It’s also important in terms of allowing a team to play with a higher tempo, as well as the nine’s ability to spot gaps in the defensive line and make headway as a ball-carrier, exploiting over-eager defences ready to blitz the attacking backline.
Although this side of his game was reined in at the World Cup in order to fit with Rassie Erasmus’ game plan, there are none better than South Africa’s Francois de Klerk in this area. He is the epitome of a ‘livewire’ scrum-half. In addition to his frightening turn of pace helping in all the areas highlighted previously, it also makes him a threat on defence with the Springbok having grabbed plenty of interceptions with his pace and evolved reading of the game.
Given the number of times a scrumhalf has their hands on the ball and their repeated ability to influence a game, there is a necessity that they make the right decisions at the right time. This can range from whether or not to run or to pass, or to be able to spot space on the pitch and make the decision to put in a well-weighted kick to that area. They cannot afford to miss the opportunities that are presented to them.
Despite still being just 23 years of age, the decision-making of France’s Antoine Dupont is already exceptional. He ticks all the boxes you need from a No.9 with his passing, kicking and speed, but it’s the unerring correct judgement calls that he makes which in turn allow all of those technical and physical skills to look so impressive.
Finally, we come to support play. There are few sights as rewarding in rugby as a physical back row or centre making a gallop through the defensive line before finding a pinpoint offload or pass for a supporting scrum-half to then speed away under the sticks. Given their roles tracking the ball, any nine who can read and support linebreaks can wreak havoc on an opposition defence, especially if they boast the pace we highlighted before.
Perhaps the most potent example of this skill right now is New Zealand’s Thomas Perenara, with the half-back having lit up Super Rugby and international rugby with these sorts of scores. It also leans heavily on the speed and decision-making attributes we talked about earlier, other skills that Perenara has in abundance and frequently shows how influential they can be when combined with the eagerness and work rate to support play.
Passing – Conor Murray
Box-kicking – Ben Youngs
Acceleration aspeed – Francois de Klerk
Decision-making – Antoine Dupont
Support play – Thomas Perenara
By Alex Shaw, RugbyPass