Spend a few minutes in the company of Freddie Roddick and it is clear that scrum-half is the coolest, most important and most physically demanding role in sevens.
The Great Britain and England man might be a little biased but his enthusiasm is certainly infectious and there is no doubt the position he has dedicated his sporting life to is, as he puts it, “so much fun”.
Here, in the first of a new series delving into exactly what each player on a sevens pitch does, we take you inside the role of a player Roddick likes to call, “the General”.
The first thing to note is that a sevens scrum-half is involved everywhere, all the time and that begins with the kick-off. In fact, for most teams whenever a game starts or restarts it is the scrum-half who gets things going. As Roddick points out with a laugh, this includes some unexpected sights.
“Different to 15s, the scrum-half throws the ball into the lineout in sevens,” said Roddick, who has spent the past three years playing for England and Great Britain, all over the world.
“Then the scrum-half most of the time takes kicks-offs and goes for the posts and, of course, it’s the scrum-half who puts the ball into the scrum.”
Another key difference to 15s is that it is the scrum-half who dictates the attack, constantly probing for and seeking out space. While in the 15-a-side game a scrum-half needs to be at every ruck, that is not the case in sevens. Instead, he or she controls the middle of the field, and drives the team forward.
This constant involvement means Roddick’s next explanation makes total sense.
“In really basic terms a scrum-half is a centre midfielder, a core part of the team, a general dictating where the team wants to attack,” he said. “One of the beauties of sevens is the amount of opportunity you get with the ball in hand.”
So far, so good.
In order to really get into the nitty gritty of Roddick’s role, it may be helpful to start at the end and understand just what it looks like when a scrum-half has had a good game.
“It’s always good if you are busy and getting through work. Whether that is tackles or rucks hit or passes made,” Roddick explained.
“When we see the stats after the tournament, generally the scrum-halves are up really high in terms of passes, rucks completed, tackles made. If you are getting through a fair few of those, your lineout percentage is good, your kicking has been good, then that’s important.
“Often it’s better that you are almost not in the limelight as much. Maybe it’s that your winger has scored a hat-trick because you have given them the ball in space three times, rather than running yourself and having to try and score yourself.
“You’ve played better if you have created stuff for the other people in the team.”
The most physically demanding position
If that all sounds utterly exhausting, then Roddick reckons you are beginning to understand just what he does. Especially when you consider that while running the attack is one thing, you also have a key role in defence.
“Most teams will play their scrum-half as a sweeper. So, in the defence when the opposition has the ball, you have six in a line and then one sweeper who roams the backfield,” Roddick said. “The sweeper’s role is to deter the opposition from kicking the ball – because they would get it first.
“And also, if there are dents in that front line of six, they can either come and fill those dents. Or if there is a clean linebreak then they are the last line of defence.
“A scrum-half is constantly moving,” the 25-year-old added with the grin of someone who enjoys pain. “You cover lots and lots of ground, roughly about 1.5-2km in a 14-minute game.”
That is up to 142m per minute, all game.
It is no wonder, therefore, that all the best scrum-halves have learnt how to operate under the most intense physical pressure.
“It’s not being able to throw a 30-metre pass 10 seconds into the game when you’ve got no fatigue, it’s when the ball has been in play for 90 seconds and your heartrate is at nearly 200 beats per minute and you’ve got that fog but you’ve still got that ability to make decisions and execute skills,” Roddick agreed.
“For a scrum-half that is one of the biggest things because you are so involved and you are a key decision-maker. It’s probably the hardest thing to do, to consistently make those right decisions.”
‘Hyper competitive, yapping all the time and a bit of a nuisance’
Given the specific, unique demands of the role, perhaps it is not surprising that sevens scrum-halves appear to have evolved into their own characters.
“My team-mates always joke that we are all the same,” Roddick said, that smile back in place. “It is probably that really hyper-competitive nature, being a bit of a nuisance, liking to play on the edge. And yapping in each other’s ears and winding each other up the whole time.
“My team-mates go, ‘Oh that’s Freddie but just an Argentinean version’ or ‘that’s the Samoan version’ or ‘the Kenyan version’.”
This is the crazy, thrilling world that rugby’s most famous scrum-half of all is entering and Roddick is delighted to see that Antoine Dupont is taking the transition seriously.
“He’s clearly dedicated and realises there are lots of aspects to it. He probably would never have thrown a lineout before and then just understanding how you read and see the game. It’s so different,” Roddick said. “That said, Dupont is made for it.”