Rugby has always had versatile players capable of playing in a number of positions on the field as the skills required tend to be highly transferable.
This is more prevalent in the backs, with many players able to play both centre and wing, for instance while some don’t even have a fixed position and are just known as ‘utility backs’, such as James O’Connor and James Hook.
In the forwards you tend to find players that can play more than one backrow position or second row and blindside. Being versatile like this can be both a blessing and a curse. It increases general game awareness and understanding of other players’ roles and obviously increases the chance of being selected, particularly for touring squads, however being versatile could also relegate a player to the bench as useful multiple positions cover.
It is incredibly rare though for players to be able to play in both the forwards and the backs at the highest level, with a notable exception being Levani Botia who usually plays in the centres for Fiji but has been deployed as a backrow lately by La Rochelle.
Just for the sake of entertainment, here is a XV of backs and forwards reversed, in positions that each player could excel in due to their style of play and body shape.
1. Andy Goode
While an extremely successful fly-half and the second highest all-time Aviva Premiership points scorer, Goode has become a cult hero for looking more like a prop than a 10 with jokes often made about the recently-retired Englishman loving pies and pints – a favourite combination of any front-rower.
2. Ma’a Nonu
Hooker is a difficult position to be transferable to given their set-piece speciality, however given his style of play and size Nonu could be a good modern day ball-carrying hooker.
3. Mathieu Bastareaud
Currently listed by Toulon at 111kg (certainly not the heaviest point in his career), the behemoth centre looks very out of place in the backline and anyone could easily be forgiven for thinking that there should only be a 3 on his back not accompanied by a 1.
4. Isreal Folau
At 6’4” the shortlister for the 2017 World Rugby Player of the Year would be on the small side for a lock but, possibly due to his background in Aussie rules, possesses a freakish vertical jump reported to be 80cm – well above the NBA average of 71cm. This jumping ability makes him a perfect lineout option.
5. Matt Banahan
Whilst relatively unknown outside of the Aviva Premiership, Banahan is a must for this team. He originally joined Bath from the London Irish academy as a lock but immediately swapped to the wing and hasn’t looked back.
At 6’7” and 110kg the recent Gloucester signing is the size of international locks and will add some serious power to the engine room.
6. Jamie Roberts
Perhaps the player most suited to his new position, the Welsh veteran’s hard, direct running lines and confrontational head-on tackling are exactly what a coach would want from a blindside. At 6’3” Roberts is also a useful third lineout jumper.
7. Liam Williams
Openside flanker was a difficult position to choose as not many backs are breakdown specialists, however Williams perfectly fits the bill for a 7’s other roles.
He is utterly fearless in contact, often running head first at full pace into oppositions and has the fitness and determination to keep doing so all match.
8. Manu Tuilagi
Whilst his career has been severely hampered by injuries and indiscretions, whenever Tuilagi does play he showcases some of the most powerful running in the professional game.
Any defence would be terrified of the Samoa-born England international doing picks and gos from the back of the scrum or running the ball back from deep.
9. Ardie Savea
Savea certainly possesses the fitness and pace required to get to every breakdown as a scrum-half and due to his sevens career has a better game awareness and handling than many forwards, earning him the 9 shirt.
He would be a no-nonsense scrum-half in the vein of Mike Williams.
10. Sergio Parisse
An easy pick as the legendary number 8 has been often found running the Italian and Stade Français’ backlines and is incredibly comfortable as a playmaker and first receiver.
Parisse even occasionally steps up to take drop goals himself. There isn’t much this man can’t do.
11. Dane Coles
A very exciting forward to watch with ball in hand, the All Blacks hooker in a wingers jersey would please a lot of fans.
Coles can often be found out in the wide channels finishing off tries with his surprising turn of pace and agility as if he is supposed to be doing it.
12. Michael Hooper
The Wallabies and Waratahs captain is undeniably one of the most talented forwards in the loose.
His combination of leadership, pace, game awareness and handling would make him a perfect inside centre and he’d bring some powerful tackling to the backline.
13. Justin Tipuric
Tipuric forms the second half of an incredibly dynamic, mouth-watering midfield partnership. The Welsh backrower runs intelligent support lines and has the pace and ability to beat defenders one-on-one and finish tries.
14. Tom Croft
It is a great shame that Croft’s career was peppered with injuries and ultimately cut short in 2017. He possessed unbelievable pace and agility, often being faster than most of the backs he played with and standing at 6’5” and 104kg he would have been a terrifyingly successful winger.
15. Veaea Fifita
Fifita set the world alight scoring a 40m try and earning Man of the Match in his first start for the All blacks in the 2017 Rugby Championship.
He is a physical tackler, solid under the high ball and would run devastating counter-attacking runs against a broken defence, playing in the mould of Isreal Folau.
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