Inside centre – the real playmaker in the backline

Ma'a Nonu - an epic inside centre

An inside centre is the brains trust of a backline. It doesn’t matter how good the players outside them are, if they can’t create opportunities, then everything falls flat. The inside centres that have really stood out over the past few years all hail from New Zeeland. Sonny Bill Willams immediately comes to mind, Ngani Laumape is a beast, but the best of the lot has been Ma’a Nonu.

A lot of the work that an inside centre should be good at is game management. This is a huge task on top of the physical demands placed on them during a game.

The good inside centres have a great physical presence and high skill levels. The great inside centres can manage the players around them effectively (most importantly on defense)

The key attributes of an inside centre

An inside centre is an extremely versatile athlete and along with their partner in the number 13 jersey, the strongest in the backline.

A modern-day inside centre has the ability to:

  • carry the ball into contact aggressively with the goal of getting over the advantage line
  • defend their channel with a near 100% tackling record
  • distribute accurately and with speed both to the left and the right
  • kick strategically when needed
  • identify attacking opportunities to put players both on their outside and inside into gaps
  • read an attacking team
  • organize the defensive line around them with consistency

Using inside centres effectively at different age levels

From a very young age, an inside centre would be his team’s strongest and most dominant backline player. As a result, they often get the ball and take it into contact as most opponents are scared to tackle them.

The only problem with that is in how it limits their overall skills development.

An inside centre should be able to carry the ball effectively into contact, but it should definitely not be the only aspect to their game.

The goal at a young age should be for this player to also focus on:

  • moving the ball away from the contact situation by passing to the players outside them more often
  • organize the defensive line

If they focus only on these two skills apart from running with the ball, they will develop their rugby IQ greatly and become more well-rounded players.

When players have this foundation to work from, they will be able to evolve much easier as they get into their teens and beyond.

They can then more easily work on things like:

  • getting their defensive line to rush opponents (or other defensive patterns)
  • identifying gaps to put their support runners into