Scrum-half – the key to a team’s continuity

Aaron Smith with another pin-point pass

A good scrumhalf is loved by his own team and supported and often hated by the opposition. Apart from the technical abilities they need, they are often able to disrupt opponents by getting under their skin and being annoying as *@$&. There have been a number of spectacular scrum-halves in the professional era with Joost van der Westhuizen definitely being a standout who brought totally new dimensions to the game. Faf de Klerk and TJ Perenara are both exciting in their own right, but the king of the 9s is definitely Aaron Smith.

Having slightly less flair than the other names mentioned is actually not a bad thing in Aaron Smith’s case. He is just focused so much more on his main tasks as a scrum-half and as a result, makes teams better.

Attributes of a scrum-half

The scrum-half has a very specific set of skills that they need to master and anything short of mastery leaves their team vulnerable.

A good scrum-half will be able to:

  • pass accurately, with speed and over long distances to both the left and the right
  • do box kicks accurately – for field position or as an offensive weapon for players to chase
  • be extremely fit and get to every breakdown to quickly distribute the ball again
  • read the game well to ensure the right decisions are made by either passing (most often), box-kicking (from time to time) or running with the ball (rarely)

Using a scrum-half effectively at different age group levels

From a very young age, the scrum-halves are usually the smallest players in their respective teams. They have the heart of lions, but more often than not, the size is lacking.

As rugby is inclusive of players of all shapes and sizes, smaller players can come into their own playing at number 9 even though there are a couple of other options for them.

When players start out playing scrum-half there are basically two things they should focus on:

  • being able to pass to the left and the right and improving it with lots of practice
  • resisting the temptation to run with the ball

This might sound like it will limit their development, but it is rather an exercise in discipline. If you can teach a young scrum-half to rather distribute the ball from scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls, you are setting them up for success.

At a senior level scrum-halves often have to pass in excess of 50 passes per game. This number can go much higher depending on the number of phases in that game.

If they are able to perform that core function effectively, they are setting themselves and their team up for success.

Only when the number 9 starts getting into their teen years should they start to focus on being able to do a box kick effectively. The ability to do an accurate box kick gives their team another potent way to attack as well as enabling their team to get away from their goal line effectively.