What’s The Difference Between a Flanker and Number 8?

In the heart of every rugby team lies the crucial dynamic between its flankers and number 8. These positions, though seemingly similar to the untrained eye, possess unique attributes, responsibilities, and play styles that define the essence of the game. From their physical stature to their strategic roles on the field, flankers and number 8s contribute distinctively to the team’s success. Let’s delve into the nuances that set these positions apart and explore what it takes to excel in each role.

Physical Attributes and Ideal Physique

The physical demands of rugby mandate that both flankers and number 8s possess exceptional strength, endurance, and agility. However, subtle differences in physique and playing style distinguish the two positions.


Flankers typically exhibit a more compact build compared to number 8s. They are the epitome of agility and aggression, requiring a lower center of gravity to engage in rapid bursts of speed and ferocious tackles. While size isn’t as critical for flankers as it is for other positions, they often boast muscular frames to withstand the physicality of the game.

Number 8s:

In contrast, number 8s embody a balance of power and finesse. These players are the linchpins of the forward pack, serving as the engine that drives both the scrum and open play. Number 8s tend to be larger in stature, with robust physiques capable of dominating the set-piece while possessing the agility to contribute to backline maneuvers.

Role on the Field

The distinct roles of flankers and number 8s are intertwined yet delineated, with each position contributing uniquely to the team’s tactics and strategies.


Flankers are the enforcers of the defensive line, tasked with disrupting opposition possession, securing turnovers, and providing crucial support in the breakdown. Their agility allows them to roam across the field, snuffing out attacks and nullifying the opposition’s momentum. Offensively, flankers act as dynamic ball carriers, piercing through defensive lines and offloading to support players in prime scoring positions.

Number 8s:

Number 8s serve as the fulcrum of both set-piece and open play, offering versatility in their skill set. Primarily stationed at the base of the scrum, they possess the strength and technique to provide stable ball retention and initiate attacking movements. Beyond their scrummaging duties, number 8s excel as primary lineout jumpers, ensuring clean ball possession and strategic execution of set plays. In open play, their ability to link forwards and backs seamlessly adds an additional dimension to the team’s attacking arsenal.

Skills and Attributes

The mastery of fundamental skills and specialized techniques distinguishes exceptional flankers and number 8s from their peers. From bone-crunching tackles to precision ball-handling, these players showcase a diverse array of abilities on the field.


Exceptional flankers exhibit relentless aggression in defense, possessing the tenacity to disrupt opposition rucks and win turnovers at crucial moments. Their proficiency in tackling and jackaling—the art of contesting possession at the breakdown—can turn the tide of a match in favor of their team. Moreover, adept flankers showcase exceptional ball-handling skills, enabling them to execute intricate offloads and support attacking phases with precision.

Number 8s:

Number 8s epitomize versatility, seamlessly transitioning between offensive and defensive duties throughout the match. Their prowess in scrummaging is matched only by their ability to provide strategic support to their backline counterparts. Whether executing intricate lineout plays or initiating powerful driving mauls, number 8s serve as linchpins in the team’s set-piece strategy. Additionally, their astute decision-making and game management skills underpin the team’s overall tactical approach.

Exemplary Players

Numerous rugby legends have left an indelible mark on the sport, embodying the essence of excellence in their respective positions.


Richie McCaw, the legendary All Black captain, stands as a paragon of excellence in the flanker position. Renowned for his ferocious tackling, exceptional work rate, and astute game intelligence, McCaw redefined the role of the modern flanker, leading his team to numerous accolades and World Cup triumphs.

David Pocock, the Australian dynamo, exemplifies the relentless pursuit of excellence in defense. His ability to dominate the breakdown and secure turnovers under immense pressure has solidified his reputation as one of the premier flankers in the history of the game.

Number 8s:

Zinzan Brooke, the iconic All Black number 8, revolutionized the role with his unparalleled skill set and flair for the dramatic. Renowned for his deft offloading, powerful running lines, and prodigious kicking ability, Brooke remains a touchstone for aspiring number 8s worldwide.

Sergio Parisse, the indomitable Italian stalwart, personifies the essence of leadership and versatility in the number 8 position. His commanding presence on the field, coupled with his exceptional ball-handling skills and astute game management, has cemented his status as one of rugby’s most respected figures.

Keys to Success

Success as a flanker or number 8 hinges on a combination of physical prowess, technical proficiency, and unwavering determination.

For Flankers:

  • Master the art of the breakdown: Develop proficiency in tackling, jackaling, and disrupting opposition possession.
  • Enhance ball-handling skills: Practice offloading under pressure and supporting attacking phases with precision.
  • Cultivate a relentless work ethic: Embrace the physicality of the position and demonstrate unwavering commitment to defensive excellence.

For Number 8s:

  • Prioritize set-piece proficiency: Hone scrummaging technique, lineout jumping, and maul management skills to provide stability and dominance in the forward pack.
  • Foster strategic decision-making: Develop a nuanced understanding of the game’s tactical nuances and contribute decisively to the team’s overall game plan.
  • Lead by example: Exemplify leadership on and off the field, inspiring teammates with your work ethic, determination, and passion for the game.

In conclusion, the distinctions between flankers and number 8s extend far beyond their positions on the field. These players embody the essence of rugby’s physicality, skill, and strategic acumen, serving as linchpins in their team’s pursuit of glory. As the sport continues to evolve, the timeless allure of these positions remains undiminished, perpetuating the legacy of excellence for generations to come.

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