Outside centre – the magician in the backline

Brian O'Driscoll forcing another defender into a desperate tackle.

There is a huge difference between an outside centre that can take opportunities presented to him and those that can create them as well. One of the most impressive from history was Danie Gerber who could create something out of nothing. The template for the perfect number 13 is Brian O’Driscoll. Very few outside centres have been able to torture defenses like him and he was part of the catalyst that turned Ireland into one of the most feared teams in world rugby.

The creativity for an outside centre purely comes on attack. They can take their cue on defense from their inside centre or flyhalf and just need to make sure that they make their tackles, get up and get back into position quickly.

On attack, they add different dimensions to a backline that is often the difference between them and the wings scoring regularly or not.

Attributes of an outside centre

The number 13 will put in a fair number of tackles in a game, but they add real excitement when they get to carry the ball.

A good outside centre should have the ability to:

  • run hard at gaps
  • identify running lines for themselves
  • identify running lines for players outside them
  • set defenders by committing to the tackle… so they can put away players outside them

How an outside centre can be effective at different age levels

When they are younger they have started out as an inside centre, but they are often one of the two strongest and most dominant backline players. They possess a decent amount of speed, but more importantly, they have vision.

Cultivating this at a younger age is a bit more difficult, but there are two skills that young players should focus on:

  • running hard at gaps – not trying to run over players
  • moving the ball to those outside them when there aren’t gaps to run into

Those two simple fundamentals lay the foundation for a good outside centre. The player will learn to make decisions based on what the opposition defense presents to him. From there he would learn to identify the respective opportunities faster and make the right decision quicker.

As the player develops athletically in their teens and after school, they would be able to add more depth to their approach. Most casual observers won’t notice the changes, but a well-trained eye will.

Areas to focus on from the teen years and onwards is:

  • running different lines – run at an angle OR run straight and then change the angle OR run at an angle and then straight. Trying different running lines will show you how defenders react and give you ideas of how to exploit it yourself or through those next to you
  • identify running lines for those outside them – see the opportunities and put those players into space
  • constantly communicating with players outside them on weaknesses spotted in the defense that can be exploited