Rugby wing

A rugby wing needs good handling, running and defensive skills together with being speedy and elusive. Know what to expect and how you play this position.

Two wings

2 of the 15 players in a team are wingers.

They are part of the 7 players called 'backs'.

The other 8 players are 'forwards'.

8 forwards are in the scrum.

It's the job of the forwards to get the ball.

When they do, it's sent via the half-backs, possibly out to the centres and sometimes even as far as the wing!

The wings tend to attack and defend up and down the edges of the field.

Sometimes you will receive the ball with plenty of room to move. This is when you can take advantage of your superior speed.

Photo of a rugby winger with room to move Rugby wing with room to move

Wingers are usually positioned on the left and right hand ends of any backline formation.

The side putting the ball into the scrum (or the lineout) tends to determine where the backs take up position.

It is usually the side "putting in" the ball which will get it back, so the other side prepares to defend by matching the opposing line-up.

As you can see, plenty has to go well before you get your hands on the ball if you are a winger. That`s why many wingers go looking for the ball.

Some make the mistake of doing it too much or at the wrong time and are caught out of position when it really matters.

Wings compared

Winger...physique... anything!

Thank you to Wikipedia (the links below) where I confirmed the vital statistics... and the award to Shane Williams.


Shane Williams Jonah Lomu
1.7m (5' 7") 1.96m (6' 5")
80kg (12st 8lb) 120kg (18st 13lb)

Shane - relatively small, fast, nimble, elusive. Shane was named IRB (now World Rugby) International Player of the Year in 2008 and is famous of course, especially for sidestepping.

Jonah - large, heavy, strong, fast - all used to advantage. Jonah is famous too, of course, especially for not sidestepping!

Left wing or right wing

Each winger in a team tends to stay on their own side of the field

  • left wing...nearer the left touch-line
  • right wing...nearer the right touch-line

Which wing you choose is mostly about feeling comfortable and where you function best.

If you feel best

  • receiving a pass when the ball is coming from your right
  • prefer to carry the ball in your left arm
  • like running round someone going left

  • doing a hand-off (also called a palm or a fend) with your right hand
  • prefer kicking left-footed

then you may be best on the left wing

If you feel best

  • receiving a pass when the ball is coming from your left
  • prefer to carry the ball in your right arm
  • like running round someone going right

  • doing a hand-off (also called a palm or a fend) with your left hand
  • prefer kicking right-footed

then you may be best on the right wing

Of course if you are good with both sides of your body you will be good on either wing.

Good to have are...

  • Speed to burn - essential
  • Acceleration is useful
  • Good hands for taking the ball while running at speed


  • Agility, the ability to swerve and/or sidestep
  • Or the bulk to make being elusive unnecessary

Playing wing

Wings and scrums

Scrums are frequent in rugby. You play no part. You stand and wait to see what happens!

When your forwards win the ball, the scrumhalf controls what happens to the ball.

If the ball goes to the flyhalf control passes to that player. What they do with the ball affect how you play as a winger.

They may kick

If it`s on your wing, you run after it to...

  • try and regain possession
  • or charge down any attempted clearing kick
  • or stop the player who gathers the ball from making ground

Remember, you must be behind your kicker when the ball is kicked ahead or you are "offside" and must stay out of play.

Sometimes the ball is passed

to your other 'backs'.

It's your chance to really shine as a rugby winger.

  • Either you get the ball and beat the defence using speed and elusive running and go in for a try!
  • or there may be no way through and they tackle you.

Or you may put in a clever kick

One of the halfs may run

and make ground, the centres will follow and support.

You position yourself in support of the centres with excellent rugby timing so you give them options in continuing the play.


When you defend as a winger you have to focus on the opposition winger coming towards you and stop them taking the ball past you.

You may find yourself in tricky situations. The opposition may be coming at you with the ball in hand and more players avilable than you have defenders to tackle them.

Believe the players 'inside' you will tackle their players. You have your own player to tackle so make sure you are in position to do it.

If possible, hold up and delay opposition play as much as possible. Cover more than one player by giving ground, staying between them, delaying committing to a tackle, always making certain you can take yours.

Fake a move to make a tackle but keep your distance. Aim to cover your player, slowing other players enough for them to be picked up by other players coming across to help.

Only when absolutely necessary tackle someone other than your opposite number.

It is sometimes necessary to drop back and position yourself to reduce open spaces which are tempting targets for long kicks by the opposition to improve field position.

You may also find you are needed to catch "up and unders", designed to to make ground and unnerve players trying to catch them.

Wingers and lineouts

The ball often goes over the sideline, play stops and is restarted by means of a lineout.

If you are on the wing away from the lineout you will attack or defend, depending on which team gets the ball.

You will often have wide open spaces to use your speed against your opposing wing. When they have the ball you will be expected to stop their flying winger!

If you are on the wing near the lineout there are several possibilities.

When the other team get the ball you drop back so you can deal with a box kick or a longer clearing kick/

When your team gets the ball you have to chase box kicks, long clearing kicks or kicks meant to keep them deep in their own territory.

Another possibility if your team gets the ball is go go in off the wing to take an inside pass from the fly-half, putting you through the defence.

This is how winger David Campese came to make his long run.

General wing play

You're a winger so you're speedy. You also position yourself well to receive the ball, defend and strategically occupy ground.

Added it that're very elusive.

When you are on the wing, the play of the half-backs and centres has a great bearing on what you do.

Depending on circumstances you must be ready to...

Use your raw speed

You`re on the wing because you are one of the fastest players in your team - maybe it`s because they have noone else, but it`s all the same!

The back line is like a whip cracking and you`re at the end of it! Sometimes the ball is passed to the wing as quickly as possible.

This usually gives space and the opportunity to use your raw speed to carry the ball past the outside edge of the opposition using raw speed

You may also use your speed to chase long kicks which have been made to gain ground. You must make sure you are "on side" before chasing.

Watch for three types of kick. The long kick may be an up-and-under or a spiral punt.

The third possibility is a line breaking bouncing grubber kick

In all these situations you would attempt to get to the ball first and take possession, charge down any attempted clearance kick or tackle the ball carrier.

Show how elusive you can be

By supporting players and using your skills in sidestepping, swerving and change of pace you prevent the opposition from stopping you, once you get the ball.

Chase a chip kick

Your speed will come in handy for chasing after a chip kick that has been put over the opposition backline and needs to be regathered.

Score a try

Watch carefully and you may benefit from a rolling grubber kick. Be ready to swoop in behind the defence and score a try by simply pressing the ball to the ground.

Use an overlap situation

You have to be on your toes to benefit from the skills of others. You may find yourself unmarked if you catch a cutout pass, sieze the opportunity!

Be tackled without the ball

If you are in line for a pass but the ball carrier successfully sells a dummy you may find yourself being tackled withou the ball. It`s all for the good of the team!

As you can see your role involves a lot of waiting around!

Use waiting time well

Rugby wingers have to

  • study what is going on
  • try and predict what will happen next
  • learn to read the game

Then, when suddenly involved and there is little time for you to think or get your bearings, you know all about what`s happening.

You know as much as possible about the game so you don`t need to think, you act swiftly and decisively.

Put another way, thinking about other things when you are playing rugby is not a great idea so do it now!

Imagine for a moment

  • your sidesteps puzzle loads of players
  • create space for yourself and others
  • your team scores loads of tries and wins

Lots of players imagine it`s a wonderful feeling for those who do it.

It`s not hard, you know, to believe.

Here`s a good example. Rugby wing Jason Robinson (British and Irish Lions) beats Chris Latham (Australia) with a great but subtle sidestep.

The commentator says "in and out". Carefully watch Robinson`s leg action from the side at around 18 seconds (and again at around 46 seconds).

Robinson makes it look so easy but I believe Latham would have picked off most other wingers given the same situation because they just don`t have the sidestepping skill demonstrated here.

Get your own sidestep - go to our EvtecHs page

Good wingers practice

When you are a good winger.. are a good winger because you practice.

You know when you learn you still have to practice enough but you enjoy it so much because you know you will be good.

If you want to be a great wing like Gerald Davies or Jason Robinson follow in their footsteps (and sidesteps!)...

  • find out what you do
  • enjoy what you`re doing
  • practice enough over time so you are superb

Find out about wing player sizes.

Some good wingers...ramdon order!

Gerald Davies
David Duckham ( also centre)
David Campese
Jonah Lomu
John Kirwan
Shane Williams
Bryan Habana
Bryan Williams
Ron Jarden
Jason Robinson
Rory Underwood

One skill common to many famous wingers is the the most elusive skill of all. Want to be one - make rugby sidesteps part of your game.