Over the next few weeks Total Rugby will delve into some of the technical aspects of the game: scrummaging with Andrew Sheridan and back play with pioneering coach Eddie Jones. First however, is an insight into the inner sanctum of the back row and more precisely the role of the open side flanker. Here we have the views of some of international rugby’s finest exponents.
On the role of an openside flanker..
Richie McCaw, New Zealand
"My main role as a flanker is, defensively, to tie in with the back line to ensure that the defence works well. On attack I think my primary role at first phase is to look after our ball. You attack the back line and I'm usually the first person there to make sure we secure that ball. Thirdly I put pressure on break downs and make sure I disturb their ball and try to turn their ball over."
Neil Back, England
"I think in the amateur game you were definitely a link between the forwards and the backs and certainly at the breakdown in the amateur game the seven was normally there because the girly backs didn’t want to get their hair dirty or their fingernails dirty..
"Now every player has to be equally equipped to go into the contact area and make intelligent decisions and it’s a key area of the modern game in the professional era, making the right decisions at the breakdown. It’s certainly an area in which all clubs around the world are really focusing on, and I think the southern hemisphere got the march on us there, but now the northern hemisphere are certainly up to speed.
"In my coaching role we spend a lot of time in the contact area, making good decisions on when to commit to the contact and when to back off and organise your defence."
On the key attributes of a good openside..
"The one skill that I think has helped me over the years, and I think it’s quite important for an open side flanker, is anticipating a little bit what’s going to happen, where are breakdowns are going to end up. Actually anticipating when there’s often a shorter way to go, because even if you’re quick and you’re fit if you’re running further than you need to and your opposite man goes on the other side he’s going to be there. So I think understanding where other players are going to end up is one of the important skills."
"I think you’ve got to have a hunger for the ball, I think you’ve got to have a good game understanding, you’ve got to be able to place yourself in any backs position and understand the moves accurately so you can support that movement in attack. I think you’ve got to be a destructive tackler, you’ve got to have good all round skills, a good pass off the base.
"You’re really a frustrated back that likes getting stuck into the contact. As a back row player I would work with the scrum halves to improve my passing, I would work with the centres to improve my understanding and awareness of space and opportunities."
Richard Hill, England
"An ability to realise when someone's tackled, whether to go in with your hands, whether you wait for the tackle to take place or for all parties involved to fall to the floor and then see if you can step over. Or sometimes knowing that if someone’s made a tackle, you actually back away."
Josh Kronfeld, New Zealand
"You’ve got to have good handling skills, good vision, be a bit of mongrel. You want to be able to be doing stuff, grovelling on the ground as well as doing the airy fairy stuff upright with the ball in hand so you have to be pretty well rounded in terms of your rugby skills."
On fitness, and advice to youngsters starting out in the number 7 jersey..
"I think the big part outside of the actual rugby is the conditioning side and fitness. I put a lot of work into being fit, it’s a big part of my game. I always tell younger kids that if you can keep your fitness up then you are going to be a lot more effective.
"As a young player I used to always chase the ball or be as close to the ball as often as possible to be effective and I perhaps have refined this a little bit now. But if you have those sorts of instincts, then you are going to be able to work out where you are effective and where you’re not. So that’s what I tell to younger kids: try to be as close to the ball as often as possible."
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