5 lock – the tallest timber

Alun Wyn Jones - an epic modern day 5 lock

Over the past few years we have seen a number of impressive 5 locks. There was Victor Matfield, Brodie Retalick and Alun Wyn Jones to name a few. They are an athlete of amazing capabilities with the stature of a giraffe.

Unlike their 4 lock counterpart, the 5 lock is usually not as heavy set. They are often the taller of the two locks and their key focus is ruling the lineouts both on attack and defense.

Key attributes of a 5 lock

The 5 lock is (almost) always the tallest player in any rugby team. Where their partner in crime, the 4 lock focuses on brute strength and intimidation, the 5 lock adds more finesse.

There are a number of things that will set the 5 lock apart from other players and makes them easier to identify:

  • tallest player in your team
  • good skills with ball in hand
  • good jumper in the lineout
  • can read opposition lineouts

Even though their frame is slightly less intimidating than a 4 lock, they are still someone not to take lightly on a field. Their presence demands respect and if they are not marked properly they can make you pay with a 40m gallop to the try line.

How you use 5 locks at different ages

When these players are in primary school they are often some of the tallest players in their age group. More often than not these players would not have grown to their full height yet, which makes it a little difficult to identify them.

As a taller player in primary school, they are an ideal option as a lineout lifter of lightweight players. Most kids would not be able to lift them yet.

In loose play, they can be used very effectively as an alternating runner off the scrumhalf and flyhalf. Their sheer size often intimidates opponents and they are able to gain valuable meters while drawing in defenders.

As these players move on to high school they will start to jump in the middle of the lineout or towards the back. There will be a lot more variation to their jumping and they would need to base their decisions on what the opposition is doing.

An added skill they need to work on is in identifying what the opposition lineout is doing. If they are able to unravel the opposition’s lineouts, it would help their team to either win the ball or give the opposition ball under pressure.

When a 5 lock starts getting to the later stages of high school and after school, you will often find them in the midfield. This is not because they are lazy or don’t want to get into the rucks, it is because they have a specific job to do in midfield.

On defence, they are an extra tackler who looks after opposing forwards in the backline. You will often find that a good 5 lock would have one of the highest tackle counts, without ever putting in an earthshattering hit. This is because their main goal is to stop that midfield attack, buying their ball poachers time to get over the ball and their defensive line to reset.

On attack, a good 5 lock would often pop up next to the flyhalf or inside centre. In this position, they become a 3rd playmaker (along with the flyhalf and inside centre). When oppositions see a player of this size carrying the ball, they have to pay attention to him. This opens up a number of opportunities:

  • the player can take the ball into contact with the goal of getting over the contact line or drawing in players
  • the player can take the ball up close to the advantage line and let players play of him
  • the player can distribute earlier if there is an overlap for the faster players outside

The key to success here is how the player interprets what the opposition is doing. If you can sum up the situation, see who you are up against and vary your approach, it becomes exceptionally difficult for an opposing team to defend against you.