An 8th man these days is a player with multiple skills which enables them to cover all of the forward duties, except for packing down as a prop. Some of the best examples of number 8s in the world game are Duane Vermeulen, Kieran Read and Sergio Parisse.
The number 8 takes on multiple roles on the field and is responsible for a far more diverse set of duties than the other forwards.
Although an 8th man would be crucial to the success of a team they often don’t get huge numbers in any specific area. They do however get numbers in many different areas where they help out the team.
Attributes of an 8th man
In the modern game you will find that 8th man are sometimes tall players, but it is not a prerequisite. It is good to have them as an extra lineout option, but the rest of the work that they need to perform is more important.
The 8th man should:
- be the forward with the most diverse talent base
- have the ability to tackle relentlessly
- carry the ball into contact comfortably
- have the ability to read the ball to know when to fall back and field kicks
- have the ability to play well over the ball
- not back away from hitting rucks when needed
How a number 8 will get used at different age levels
The 8th man at primary school level will regularly be the player who shows the most natural ability among the forwards from an early age. They will lead by example and be able to do just about everything.
When the natural talent comes to the fore, coaches usually try to get the ball in their hands as often as possible as they usually dominate the contact situation. This however takes away from the broader skills development that a number 8 should get.
Areas that also need attention at this age include relentless tackling (often cover tackling), contesting for the ball on the ground, hitting rucks when needed. If the player can become comfortable with all of these, it will form a good base for their development.
Moving into their teens an 8th man would need to improve their reading of the game and be able to also fall back to help cover the kicks of the opposition.
At all age group levels an 8th man should lead by example and see where they are able to help out the other forwards. The result would be that they will run themselves into the ground with every game, but rarely have the top numbers in any single category.