Fullback – the captain of the back three

Damian McKenzie - a multi-dimensional fullback

A fullback often doesn’t get involved in that many facets of the game, yet their duties are crucial in making sure that the back three are effective. The number 15 jersey has been worn by some impressive players over the years and there is no doubting the pedigree of players like Ben Smith and Leigh Halfpenny. The fullback that I feel brings the most to the table is Damian McKenzie.

Fullbacks do a lot of work at the back that isn’t seen by the fans and casual observer. The work done at the back however plays a huge part in the success of the last line of defense as well as effective counterattacking.

Attributes of a fullback

In years gone by the role of the fullback often revolved around fielding kicks and kicking it back down the field. The mindset used to be a lot more defensive-minded, but this has changed dramatically over the past couple of years.

A good fullback should be able to:

  • field kicks
  • be able to kick the ball back accurately
  • communicate really clearly with his wings
  • know how to organize the back three
  • identify counterattacking opportunities

How to use a fullback at different age levels

When a player first starts to play fullback at primary school level they only need to be able to focus on two main areas:

  • staying back in defense to field kicks
  • once they have fielded a kick to take it up or kick it back depending on what the best option is

These two might sound extremely simple, but if the player can do this effectively, it lays the foundation for them to expand their fullback skills.

When players get into their teens they will start to add the organization of the back three into their repertoire. Great emphasis should be placed on this as it is an important skill to learn to negate the effectiveness of the opposition kickers.

Counterattacking options also become very important. There are a number of situations that might play out in front of the player and they need to decide which of them are the best to go for.

The main situations that a fullback will face after they have fielded a kick at the back are:

  • seeing no option for a counterattack and kicking the ball back over the opposition with the goal of gaining field position
  • seeing an option for a counterattack and linking up with a wing to take advantage of a fragmented defensive line
  • having no option but to take the ball up into contact. It is important then that the play takes it up into the line as close as possible to supporting players so the ball can be recycled