Rugby Numbers

A rugby union team consists of 15 players on field and 8 replacements ready to step in for tactical or what is termed as blood injury or the new regulation for concussion inspection which has been introduced as obligatory. The replacements can be temporary or permanent according to the regulations which allow temporary replacement players as long as the injured player returns to the field within 15 minutes of leaving it. The temporary replacement player then becomes a permanent replacement until the game finishes unless ne too is replaced for further tactical or injury reasons. No replacements allowed for players that are sin binned signalled by a yellow card from referee for foul play which causes the player to exit the field of play for 10 minutes before he can return. A 2nd yellow card or straight red card offence sees the player sent off and the team continues without a replacement allowed. If a team has more than 4 players sent off then the match is abandoned and the opposing team is awarded the win.

Shirt Numbers

The earliest recorded use of numbers to identify players was recorded in 1897 for a match between N. Zealand v Queensland, AUS, however, the Kiwis were numbered 1 to 15 and the Wallabies 16 to 30. Since then the number system was used sporadically as no rules in the game for numbering existed. When numbering became a permanent feature to emphasise positions on the field the N.1 shirt was for the fullback following on for the backs and to finish with the forwards on the higher numbers. The RFU then regulated the shirt numbering in the 1950s starting with the fullback as N.1 and so on to the forwards. In 1967 that all changed, the numbering was reversed, so, the 8 forwards who formed the scrum were given the lower numbers, the backs started with N.9 to N.14 and the fullback became N.15. This is the modern system now standardised worldwide and still in effect today. Before numbers were officially adopted some teams used letters to denote player positions and Leicester Tigers of the UK’s Premiership League still feature the ‘letter’ identifier above their club badge on the team shirt. Some traditions will never die out in rugby even if the modern laws change. Everybody knows the number 13 is regarded an unlucky omen in folklore tales and many teams played without the 13 shirt preferring to jump from 12 to 14 onwards before the ruling bodies standardised it. Although the 13 is considered unlucky one England team player, Will Greenwood, insisted on wearing the 13 shirt even though his position dictated he should wear the 12 shirt. Ironically, England went on to win the RWC 2003 with the superstitious Will Greenwood wearing N.13 instead of N.12.

Curious Numbers 


 The oldest and famous Calcutta Cup disputed between England and Scotland every year in the Guinness 6 Nations Tournament began in 1872 on Christmas Day in Calcutta, India. The teams played with 20 men on each side, it was such a success that they played again a week later. This highly sought after cup win has now been played for 150 years. In fact, the official rugby union body celebrates one and a half centuries of competition this year and 199 years since William Webb Ellis instigated the development of rugby in Rugby School in the city of Rugby.

Rugby Union as a professional sport has a short history compared to other well-known international pro-sports, a sum of only 26 years in effect for professional men and incredibly 1 year for women. Rugby went pro in 1995.

The highest amount of points total from a single match is 162. N. Zealand beat Japan 145-17 in 1995. However, in 2019 Japan were hosts of the RWC and attracted almost a billion people worldwide for TV match transmissions and a quarter of a million fans went to Japan for the world cup.

The All Blacks (NZ) are deemed the most dominant and successful nation in the rugby world, the entire population of N. Zealand is 5 million with 141,000 registered players this is an incredible achievement on the international stage. 3 RWC wins, 1 runner up place, three 3rd place finishes and one 4th place finish in all 9 RWC competitions.  

Modern Numbers & Positions


Below depicts the playing positions associated with their official identifying numbers as used today in the modern game but for a bit of fun a witty and humorous appraisal defining the type of player in that numbered position as proffered by people in the game. A scrum is made up of 8 forwards with a 3-2-1 formation plus 2 flankers making up the back row with the N.8 being the last man, the forwards when not in a scrum are blockers or chargers. The scrum-half activates the scrum and is the connection between the forwards and the running backs with the fullback covering in defence or joining an attack.
  1. Loosehead Prop (front row) - A big bloke usually weighing in at 120kg and 1.90m tall powerhouse, like the N.3 they prop up the hooker, however, often described as an aggressive savage on the pitch but a gentle giant off it.
  2. Hooker (front row) - This man is shorter than the props but stocky backheels the ball in the scrum while driving forward. He thinks he can hold his beer and is seen trying to impress women way out of his league by describing himself as an athlete of some sort.
  3. Tighthead Prop (front row) – Another man mountain ready to plough through the opposition. Like his counter-part they annoyingly block other players from accessing the bar and buffet in the clubhouse with their bulky man frames.
  4. Lock (2nd row) – Psycho, pure hard and does not own shoes.
  5. Lock (2nd row) - As above, but rumoured to still live with his Mum.
  6. Blindside Flanker (back row) - Everyone buys this big lad a drink to stay on his good side.
  7. Openside Flanker (back row) – Enthusiastic and loves the limelight, carries the team spirit but remains unpopular for it even if the team wins.
  8. N.8(last man in scrum) (back row) – Huge hard hitter even when not on the field as his drinking tolerance is low and therefore not invited to dinner by team mates.
  9. Scrum-half – Referees nightmare they can’t stand this cocky half-pint always jabbering prima donna who causes a lot of aggro then leaves it to the mountain men but an excellent drinker.
  10. Fly-half – Likes to call himself a Playmaker and offered hair product commercials procured by his agent. Usually a great kicker of the ball.
  11. Left Wing – A whizz kid with fluorescent boots so other players can remember he is on the pitch. Only player who may not need to wash his kit after a game.
  12. Inside Centre – Fit and super healthy, swanky on the pitch with his moves and attitude but tongue tied when it comes to women unless he’s had a skinful.
  13. Outside centre – Fit but has the social skills N.12 needs drink for and has plenty of women in his entourage.
  14. Right Wing – No fingers is his nickname as he can’t catch, a knock on specialist. Doesn’t drink to try and lessen his in-built knock on talent.
  15. Fullback – Last line of defence and more often than not humiliated by marauding opposition forwards. Always buying players drinks especially the captain and coach.
  16. – 23 Replacements or a new term used is Impact Player.
This satirical take on players and their numbered positions is commonly mocked within the dressing room and clubhouse bar. The rivalry between the forwards and the backs has and will be an eternal source of cajolery to downright brutal slagging off quotes and remarks. The humour is as tough as the rugby played and your days are numbered in the team if they do a number on you and you count yourself out or like passing the ball in rugby you must throw it back with impact and come to the Krakow Rugby Festival