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Do rugby teams ever use different formations the way football teams do? e.g. instead of left and right wingers, using narrow and wide specialists, replacing a back with a loose forward, etc.

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The standard positions refer to where the players, particularly the forwards, line up at scrum time. In the loose, players line up in "pods", and how they line up in attack and defence, and who's in what pod, is down to each team and their coaches.

In the lineout, it's standard for the hooker to throw the ball in, the locks to jump and the props to lift, but it's not compulsory. When I was young, France used to have their scrum-half, Pierre Berbizier, throw the ball in, and then run in to receive the ball.

As for the backs, one common variation is at inside centre. Do you play a big, strong ball-carrying and tackling 12, or a second playmaker? I'm an Ulster fan, and Ulster's game is very different if Stuart McCloskey, the Bangor Bulldozer, plays 12, than if Stewart Moore, who's less physical and more of a playmaker, does. This year, I've seen Munster play Ben Healy at 10 and Jack Crowley at 12 - they're both out-halves, and both basically played as out-halves, both acting as distributors and tactical kickers. The opposite thing happened when Ulster played La Rochelle - Nathan Doak lined up at scrum-half and Ian Madigan at out-half. In practice, Doak played a hybrid scrum/out-half role, doing almost all the distribution and tactical kicking, and Madigan played as a third centre, making tackles and running the ball into traffic.

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No. The positions are fixed and each player will have to fill those positions. As far as position formations there are no variations like there are in football.

However, during a match, depending on strategy players may either swap position or location on the field during a phase or 2, but only really skilled teams can do this since it is important to fill your roll and have the knowledge that the guy next to you is where you expect so you can pass to them.

In other cases utility players (typically backs) can be skilled enough to fill a different positions. (i.e. a player may be able to play full-back, or wing). Nowadays teams like the All Blacks pick players that can fill different positions off the bench. Forwards tend to be rather specialized so don't mix so much. Really only the flankers (6/7/8) could have players interchange but the tight 5 are so specialized they tend to stay in that position.

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  • Flankers won't play as the 8th man often. The skill of controlling the ball at the end of the scrum is specialised enough that you need players familiar with the position to play it.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 27, 2016 at 17:22
  • Ideally people will specialize, however my point in that better teams they get their players to train in other positions to give options in strategy and if they get injured. Blind side flanker (#6) can swap with #8 if required as they are not too dissimilar (as quoted to me from an actual rugby player). Australia and NZ recently they have had 2 openside flankers play 6 and 7 with some success.
    – aqwert
    Sep 27, 2016 at 22:44
  • Specialised in what way? Is it a mental issue or a physical issue?
    – cja
    Jan 15, 2017 at 13:23
  • I would say more physical, skill and tactical. Each postion serves a different role. Apart from the front row which need to specialise in scrums. Like the loose forwards learning how to blow away the man over the ball at the ruck, locks being skilled at lineouts, or the centers being tough and phyical rather than pure runners like the outside backs. I would say alot comes to body types but a skilled tallented player can adjust. Each position have different responsibilties and each position needs that player to learn those.
    – aqwert
    Jan 15, 2017 at 19:57
  • Also the front row in particluar (1,2,3) need to be very specialised since scrums are very dangerous and only those that have specifically trained can participate in a full scrum. There have been times when no props were available (due to injury during the game) and someone else had to fill in. In this case the referee will call a no-contest scrum where both sides are not allowed to push.. for safety reasons.
    – aqwert
    Jan 15, 2017 at 20:01
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...replacing a back with a loose forward, etc.

The closest thing I ever saw to this was Pierre Spies. He played schoolboy rugby on the wing and became a forward relatively late in his playing days.

This meant that he was a forward that had the speed of a wing, The bulls would often use him as a huge backline player in that famous team of 2009.

That was the exception to the rule, though. For the most part, rugby's positions are highly specialised and when it comes to top tier rugby you need players that know the position well.

Do rugby teams ever use different formations

In the backline yes, often. Coordinated backline moves are for me the best part of rugby. It is to me the tell-tale sign of a well-coached team. Deception in backline play is a hugely interesting part of rugby coaching.

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  • I don't think this interpretation of the question is reasonable. In the context of changing formations by replacing one position with another, "replacing a loose forward with a back" doesn't suggest taking someone who normally plays loose forward and putting them e.g. at #9 or 2nd-5. It implies removing the loose forward position entirely and having 8 backs instead of 7 backs.
    – Nij
    May 23, 2018 at 3:45
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In rugby,the different formations are generally concentrated on the forwards.In other words,the forwards are set around the field in a certain formation while the backs position themselves according to the forwards'formation. For example, coaches sometimes use the formation called the 1-3-3-1 formation. In this case you have four pods of forwards. One pod on the one end of the field containing one forward(preferably a more agile,mobile player). Two pods in the midfield each containing three players. And the last one again on the opposite end of the field as the first pod, containing also just one player. This is why they call it the 1-3-3-1 system.

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