In Rugby, the Second five-eighths, or inside centre, is a pivotal position that demands a unique blend of physical prowess, tactical acumen, and on-field leadership. Renowned for their ability to both crash through defensive lines and deftly set up plays, these players are the linchpins of a team's backline. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the attributes of successful Second five-eighths, highlight some of the greats who have graced the position, and provide a targeted exercise routine to help aspiring players elevate their game.

The Role of a Second Five-Eighths

The Second five-eighths is often seen as the team's backline general. Positioned between the fly-half and the outside centre, they must possess a broad skill set:

  • Defensive solidity: They are the first line of defense against opposition breaks, requiring excellent tackling skills and the ability to read the game.
  • Offensive creativity: They must provide a link between the forwards and the backs, often acting as a secondary playmaker to the fly-half.
  • Physicality: The ability to break tackles and gain ground with ball in hand is crucial.
  • Communication: As a central figure in the backline, they must communicate effectively with teammates to organize both attack and defense.

Legends of the Game

Before we delve into the specifics of training, let's draw inspiration from some of the legendary Second five-eighths who have exemplified what it means to excel in this role:

  • Ma'a Nonu (New Zealand): Known for his powerful running and solid defense, Nonu has been a key figure in the All Blacks' success.
  • Tim Horan (Australia): A player with exceptional skills, Horan was known for his ability to create opportunities out of nothing.
  • Jean de Villiers (South Africa): De Villiers combined a sharp tactical mind with a robust physical presence on the field.
  • Jamie Roberts (Wales): Roberts is known for his direct running lines and defensive strength.

Training for Excellence

To become an effective Second five-eighths, you must commit to a rigorous and well-rounded training regimen. Here's a comprehensive routine designed to develop the necessary skills and physical attributes:

Strength and Power

A strong inside centre can break tackles and dominate collisions. Focus on compound lifts that build functional strength:

  • Squats: 3 sets of 8 reps (progressive overload)
  • Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8 reps (progressive overload)
  • Bench Press: 3 sets of 8 reps (progressive overload)
  • Rows: 3 sets of 8 reps (progressive overload)

Speed and Agility

The ability to change direction quickly and accelerate into gaps is vital:

  • Interval Sprints: Sprint for 20 seconds, followed by a 40-second recovery jog. Repeat for 10 sets.
  • Shuttle Runs: Set up cones at 5, 10, and 15 meters. Perform 6 sets, resting 60 seconds between each.

Ball Handling and Distribution

As a secondary playmaker, passing accuracy and decision-making are key:

  • Passing Drills: Practice both short and long passes, focusing on accuracy and speed of delivery.
  • Decision-Making Exercises: Simulate game situations with variable defensive setups to improve your on-field choices.

Tactical Awareness

Understanding the game plan and adapting to the opposition's strategy is crucial:

  • Video Analysis: Study footage of successful Second five-eighths to understand their decision-making processes.
  • On-Field Scenarios: Regularly participate in tactical drills to enhance your understanding of various game situations.


Matches are long, and you need to maintain a high level of performance throughout:

  • Fartlek Training: Incorporate varied intensities into a continuous run to build stamina.
  • Steady-State Cardio: Maintain a comfortable pace for 30-60 minutes to build a solid aerobic base.

Defensive Skills

A reliable inside centre can shut down opposition attacks:

  • Tackling Drills: Practice proper technique to ensure safe and effective tackles.
  • Positional Play: Work on your alignment and spacing to cover defensive channels effectively.


Allow your body to heal and prevent injuries:

  • Stretching: Focus on static stretches post-workout to maintain flexibility.
  • Foam Rolling: Aid muscle recovery and reduce soreness with regular foam rolling sessions.

Putting It All Together

An effective training week for a Second five-eighths might look like this:

  • Monday: Strength training (focus on upper body) + Ball handling drills
  • Tuesday: Speed and agility work + Tactical awareness drills
  • Wednesday: Rest and recovery (stretching and foam rolling)
  • Thursday: Strength training (focus on lower body) + Defensive skills practice
  • Friday: Endurance training (Fartlek or steady-state cardio)
  • Saturday: Game simulation (focus on decision-making under fatigue)
  • Sunday: Active recovery (light jog or swim)

Incorporate these elements into your training routine, and you'll be on your way to becoming an effective Second five-eighths. Remember, consistency is key, and always seek feedback from coaches to refine your technique and tactical understanding. With dedication and hard work, you can become a central figure in your team's success and perhaps one day join the ranks of the legends mentioned above.

Peter Breen