Role Of The Center In Sevens Rugby (Explained)

This article looks at the position and role of the center in sevens rugby.

I’ve got some great video clips to illustrate the diverse attacking and defensive skills of centers in sevens rugby.

What Is A Center In Rugby Sevens?

The center in sevens rugby is a strong ball carrier who can bring the ball into contact to take out opposition defenders. Centers must link with their fly-half and send long accurate passes to the wings in attacking play.

Centers are often the best defenders in a squad and lead the defensive line.

Let’s look first at attack (the fun part), and then at defense (which can also be exciting).

Attacking At Center In Sevens Rugby

Centers have several roles in attack in sevens rugby.

Centers are expected to be strong ball carriers. They can run the ball into contact in a central position on the field and drag two or three opposition defenders into a ruck. This leaves space on either side for the next phase of play.

As the link between the fly-half and the outside wingers, they should also be able to make long accurate passes off both hands to send wingers haring up the touchline.

Centers will also interchange with fly-halves to direct set plays. Let’s take a look at a great example.

Directing the attack

In this clip, the attacking team has been awarded a free-kick. It’s interesting to see how the center and fly-half organize themselves in the attacking play.

The center, Cecil Afrika, taps the ball and makes a little run forward to hold the defense. He gives the ball to his fly-half, Selwyn Davids, who throws a long skip pass out to a prop on the wing.

You may be thinking that the center started the play so that the fly-half could direct all attacking play. But watch how it pans out. The fly-half acts as scrum-half at the ruck and it’s the center who makes the lovely long pass off his left hand.

The center’s perfect technique gives the winger space to pick a line, swerve to the right, and step in off his left to scorch over the line.

Defending At Center In Sevens Rugby

The center is usually one of the best defenders in the squad.

This is because defending from center is considered to be the hardest position during set phases. The center is positioned…umm…you guessed it…centrally in open field without a touchline acting as another defender.

Centers must be able to make effective tackles to their left and right.

Most rugby players will admit to having a “better” shoulder. In other words, they are a little more confident about making a dominant hit in one direction over the other.

Centers can’t get away with having a preferred side! Tackle drills will help with this.

Defending set-pieces

Here’s an example with Springbok Cecil Afrika, one of the best sevens centers in the world. Observe the positions of the center and fly-half when defending a lineout. If South Africa had the attacking lineout, the flyhalf would usually be closer to the lineout, but they are reversed in this clip.

Note how both the offensive and defensive lines are running laterally across the pitch. The Fijian player steps in to attack Afrika’s soft shoulder. This is a classic attacking move. If the defender doesn’t reset (change direction) fast enough, there’ll be a line break!

But Afrika anticipates the move and makes a dominant tackle just below the shoulder line. He stops the attacker in his tracks, and crucially, the Bok stays on his feet.

Pretorius, the tighthead prop, runs from defending the lineout to join his center in a double tackle. But look at how this turns out.  Fiji sends two men to ruck over their teammate on the ground.

South Africa has only committed two players against three. They have an extra defender out wide due to excellent tackle technique from their center.

Can Centers Move From Fifteens Rugby To Sevens?

Fifteen-a-side rugby has two centers on the field. Traditionally, a silky playmaking center pairs up with a hard-running bosher who can truck up the ball into contact.

Sevens rugby combines these two types into one position!

However, not all fifteens centers will transition successfully to sevens. The key is pace. A big but less pacy player can be very effective in fifteens, but will probably struggle at center in the sevens game.

Otherwise, if a fifteens center can break tackles, has a good pass, a decent side-step, and a bit of pace – they’ll do well in the position in sevens.

What Number Does A Center Wear In Sevens?

You may know that the two starting centers in fifteen-a-side matches wear the numbers twelve and thirteen.

In sevens rugby, the numbers aren’t fixed to field position. World Rugby requires a squad to restrict jersey numbers to one through twelve. You’ll see a center in any of these numbers.

Other Positions

Check out our overview on all the positions and roles in rugby sevens.

If you’re curious about how the role of centers compare with other backs in the game, here are some in-depth articles: