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What Is the Role of the Locks in Rugby?

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Unsure what the tall players in a rugby match are up to? Locks, often towering above their teammates, hold a key role on the field. This post will shed light on how these pivotal players shape the game with their unique skills and responsibilities.

Let’s unlock their world!

Key Takeaways

  • Locks in rugby are key players for set pieces like scrums and lineouts, using their height to win possession of the ball.
  • They need a mix of skills including strength, agility, and strategic understanding to impact various phases of play.
  • Historical figures such as Martin Johnson and Paul O’Connell have shaped the evolution of the lock position with their contributions.
  • Utility locks who can play both second row and back row add tactical versatility to their teams.
  • The positions within the lock role are Tighthead Lock (No.5) and Lock or Second Row (No.4), each with distinct responsibilities during gameplay.

Overview of the Lock Position

The lock position in rugby is a crucial role located in the second row of the forward pack. It requires essential skills such as physicality, strength, and strategic play to excel on the field.

Location and role in the game

Locks stand tall in the heart of the rugby action, towering over their teammates and opponents alike. Situated in the second row of the scrum, they bring essential stability and power to this critical set piece.

Their height makes them natural receivers for lineouts; they leap into the air as the hooker’s throw aims for their outstretched hands. In these moments, locks become pivotal players, securing possession or disrupting the opposing team’s chances.

On the field, locks fulfill a dual role – acting both as enforcers in close contact and strategic playmakers when space opens up. They contribute immense physical presence during rucks and mauls to maintain momentum after a tackle or drive an opponent back.

Beyond brute strength, however, these second row forwards must display agility to catch balls on the ground and acumen for jumping effectively during lineouts. Locks embody a unique blend of strategy and force that is vital for any rugby union team seeking to dominate its opposition.

Essential skills

Lock forwards need to possess a combination of physical and technical skills to excel in their role on the rugby field. These essential skills include:

  1. Superior height and jumping ability, enabling them to secure possession in lineouts and contest opposition throws.
  2. Exceptional strength and power, allowing them to contribute significantly in scrums by driving the front row forward and applying pressure on the opposing team.
  3. Proficient handling skills, enabling them to catch the ball cleanly on the ground and maintain possession under intense physical pressure.
  4. Excellent tackling technique, aiding in both defensive efforts and providing momentum in rucks and mauls following a tackle.
  5. Strategic understanding of play patterns and positioning, allowing for effective support of teammates during open play situations.
  6. Versatility to cover multiple aspects of the game, contributing both physically and strategically to various phases of play.

History of the Lock Position

The lock position has a rich history in rugby, with the role evolving over time to become an essential part of the game. Notable players have made significant contributions to the development and prominence of locks in rugby.

Evolution of the position

The lock position in rugby has evolved significantly over time. Initially, locks were primarily focused on providing the power needed for set pieces like scrums and lineouts. However, as the game has progressed, locks are now expected to contribute more in open play, showcasing their athleticism and skills beyond traditional forward duties.

This shift towards a more dynamic role has seen locks becoming increasingly involved in ball-carrying and defensive responsibilities, adding another dimension to their overall impact on the game.

As rugby continues to evolve, so too does the position of the lock. Modern-day locks are required to possess a wider range of skills compared to their predecessors. They are now integral parts of both attacking and defensive strategies and have become key players in various aspects of the game beyond just set pieces such as scrums and lineouts.

Notable players and contributions

Notable players and their contributions to the lock position in rugby:

  1. Martin Johnson: Captained England to a World Cup victory in 2003 and is known for his leadership and physical presence on the field.
  2. Paul O’Connell: A legendary Irish lock, renowned for his work rate, athleticism, and lineout expertise.
  3. Brodie Retallick: New Zealand’s standout lock known for his exceptional ball-handling skills and dynamism in open play.
  4. Victor Matfield: A South African stalwart with a remarkable ability in the lineout and an astute understanding of the game.
  5. Maro Itoje: An English player celebrated for his agility, athleticism, and disruptive play in both set pieces and open play.

Names and Roles of Locks in Rugby

Tighthead Lock (No.5) and Lock or Second Row (No.4) are the two primary positions within the lock role in rugby, each with specific responsibilities on the field. These players are crucial for providing stability in set pieces and contributing to attacking ball movement.

Tighthead Lock (No.5)

The Tighthead Lock, also known as No.5, is a vital asset in the scrum due to their positioning on the tight side. They play a crucial role in supporting the loosehead prop and binding with them against the opposition’s tighthead prop.

No.5 exerts immense strength and stability to hold up this side of the scrum, providing a strong platform for their team’s possession of the ball.

In open play, the Tighthead Lock uses their physicality and jumping ability to secure lineouts successfully. Their height advantage makes them a primary target for precise throws from the hooker, allowing them to claim possession effectively for their team’s attacking plays.

Lock or Second Row (No.4)

Lock or Second Row (No.4) in rugby is a crucial position on the field, known for immense physicality and strategic play. The No. 4 lock works tandemly with the No. 5 lock to secure set-piece play and provide solidity in scrums and lineouts, contributing significantly to the team’s forward dominance.

Players in this position are highly involved in tackling opposition forwards while also adding power and momentum to rucks and mauls following tackles. Their ability to jump effectively during lineouts makes them an essential target for accurate throws from the hooker due to their height advantage, emphasising their role as key figures in set piece-plays.

Key Responsibilities of a Lock in Different Aspects of the Game

The lock forwards play a crucial role in the scrum, providing stability and power to drive the opposition back. In lineouts, their height and strength make them important targets for receiving throws from the hooker.


Locks play a pivotal role in the scrum, using their size and strength to provide the forward push needed to win possession of the ball. Positioned behind the front row, locks engage with their teammates to drive against the opposition’s pack, aiming to overpower them and gain a significant advantage.

Their substantial physical presence is essential for maintaining a solid foundation in the scrum, allowing other players to effectively engage and compete for possession.

Their ability to apply pressure in the scrum creates opportunities for their team while working as an influential force that can disrupt opponents’ strategies. As integral members of each scrum, locks showcase their power and coordination through precision timing and immense strength required during this critical phase of play.


Locks play a pivotal role in lineouts due to their height advantage, making them the primary targets for the hooker’s throw-ins. They use their jumping ability and physical presence to secure possession by outreaching the opposition.

The left lock position requires tall, well-built players who can effectively contest aerial balls, contributing significantly to winning vital ball possession during lineouts.

Locks’ proficiency in lineouts directly impacts their team’s ability to gain crucial possession, providing an opportunity for strategic advancements or scoring opportunities on the field.

Kick off

Kick off is a crucial aspect of the game for locks in rugby. They play an integral role in securing possession for their team by contesting the ball when it is kicked deep into opposition territory.

With their height advantage, locks are instrumental in winning aerial battles and gaining territorial advantage for their team. This pivotal phase sets the tone for attacking opportunities or defensive strategies, making it essential for locks to be agile and skilled in competing for possession during kick off scenarios.

In addition to claiming the ball at kick offs, locks also provide valuable support to teammates through strategic positioning and distributing possession effectively once they secure the ball.

Open play

Locks play a crucial role in open play, providing power and support to their teammates. Their tall stature enables them to make impactful tackles and gain possession of the ball during loose play, adding strength and stability to their team’s performance.

Additionally, locks are key players in creating momentum and driving forward plays, strategically positioning themselves to exploit gaps in the opposition’s defense. With their ability to catch cleanly on the ground, jump effectively in the air, deliver the ball with precision, and maintain possession in physical encounters, locks contribute significantly to their team’s success during open play situations.

Importance of Utility Players in the Lock Position

Utility players in the lock position can seamlessly transition between second row and back row positions, making them a valuable asset for team versatility. Read on to discover more about the key responsibilities of locks in different aspects of the game.

Ability to excel in both second row and back row positions

Locks who can excel in both the second row and back row positions bring a dynamic edge to their team. Their versatility allows for strategic adaptability, adding depth to the team’s gameplay in various scenarios.

Players with this ability can seamlessly transition from providing power and physicality in the second row to showcasing speed and agility in the back row, making them valuable assets on the field.

These utility players possess a unique skill set that enables them to contribute significantly across different aspects of play. Whether it’s dominating in lineouts or being effective ball carriers and strong defenders during open play, their ability to seamlessly switch between roles provides teams with an added tactical advantage.

Valuable asset for team versatility

With the ability to excel in both second row and back row positions, locks are a valuable asset for team versatility. Their physical presence and agility enable them to seamlessly transition between different roles on the field, providing flexibility and adaptability to the team’s strategy.

Their expertise in set pieces such as lineouts and scrums, combined with their mobility during open play, make them an essential component of a well-rounded rugby team.

Contributing significantly to both defensive and offensive aspects of the game, locks bring a unique blend of strength, athleticism, and tactical awareness that enriches the overall performance of the team.


In conclusion, the locks in rugby play a vital role in various aspects of the game such as scrums, lineouts, and open play. Their physical presence and key skills make them indispensable on the field.

As versatile players capable of excelling in different positions, they bring valuable flexibility to their teams. With their strategic contributions and athletic abilities, locks are integral to the success of any rugby team.


1. What does a lock do in rugby?

In rugby, a player in the lock position provides power in scrums and lineouts, supports the team during mauls and rucks, and helps win possession of the ball.

2. Are locks part of the backs or forwards in rugby?

Locks are one of the key positions in a rugby team’s forwards, not to be confused with backs who typically handle more running plays and scoring.

3. How important is height for a rugby lock?

Height is quite important for a lock because it helps them gain an advantage when reaching for the ball during lineouts and securing possession over their opponents.

4. Can locks carry the ball just like other players on the field?

Yes! Even though locks have specific roles within scrums and lineouts, they can also run with the ball and tackle players just like any other role on their rugby team.

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