Jake White, wherever you are, stop reading now. You ain’t gonna like what follows!
There’s a definite trend emerging in the Super 14, after just two rounds, a trend inspired by the ELVs and one that is likely to forever alter the makeup of the traditional loose trio. This trend can be summed up in the following Biblical-style commandment: “Though shalt not pick slow loose forwards!”
Traditional thinking allows for a loose trio with one smaller, quicker man with excellent foraging skills. He is the fetcher, or open-side flanker. He is first to the breakdown and aims to win a turnover, by means foul or fair, or to secure the ball if his teammate took it in. If he can’t win the ball back, he slows it down for long enough to ensure the rest of his teammates can organise themselves defensively before the opposition can play on. Various coaches in the modern era, most notably Jake White, have called the validity of this role in question, arguing that there is no need for a specialist open-sider and that all loose forwards need to be tall and heavy.
What is becoming clearer under the new laws is that quick ruck ball is essential, far more so given the higher pace of the game. No more can the requirement for a fetcher at 6 be questioned; the new arguement is that a fetcher is needed at the base of the scrum too. If he has a good step and a safe pair of hands, he will be more valuable behind the scrum than on the side of it. What is key, though, is this dynamic duo of ball-hungry speedsters being able to get away from the scrum FAST. Remember that everyone else has to be 5 meters further back than before.
What this means is that sides can no longer afford the luxury of a slow loose forward anywhere in their loose trio. Why do you think all of yesterday’s heroes, the Venters, Smiths, Wannenbergs, Collinses and Lauaki’s (thank God there’s only one) have looked so pedestrian thus far? The fact is, the traditional “basher” in the loose trio, the retreaded lock played variously at 7 or 8 with the sole intention of providing “go forward” at the point of breakdown, will find himself in the rugby wilderness as the new laws take shape. There is only one route left for him, and that is to move into the second row. Yesterday’s slow flanks will be tomorrow’s quick locks and the mobility of the tight five will increase as the game speeds up further.
Yesterday’s oft unappreciated fetcher – those men with a suitable combination of guile, lots of pace and good ground skills, will find themselves coming more into demand as they are picked not only at open-side flank, but at number 8 as well. Rassie Erasmus is a step ahead of the game here, seeing Luke Watson and Schalk Brits as number 8s. Rassie doesn’t have enough pace in his trio as a whole, though. Schalk Burger is also unlikely to prove the sort of open-sider who will flourish under the new laws either. Expect to see a Stormers trio comprising Watson at 6, Burger at 7 and Brits at 8 before the competition ends this year. Robbie Diack will prove ineffective as ever – even more so under the new laws.
So what about the blind-side flank? My good friend MornéN, who helped me with the thinking behind this piece, has long held the belief that a good 7 should be interchangeable with a good 13 and I believe that this is even more valid now. If your seven does not have skill, pace, hands and a good step, he’s not a flank – he’s a lock. Expect to see many of the traditional number 8s today move to 7 over time as this trend becomes more apparent. Spies, Kankowski, Vermeulen… these are the men whose future lies on the blind side of the scrum. This guy should probably still be a lineout option, but trying to have three in your loose trio just doesn’t make sense anymore; there aren’t as many lineouts now, for a start. The scrum has become the most important set phase from an attacking perspective.
We’ve already discussed the Stormers. What about the other SA teams? As I’ve mentioned before, the Bulls have got it completely wrong with Danie Rossouw. The ELVs have finally put paid to any lingering delusions that he might be a loose forward. He is a lock and the best thing the Bulls could do is to pick a combination of Kuün and Stegmann at 6 & 8, with Wikus van Heerden on the blindside. When Spies returns, put him at 7 and see if Wikus is quick enough to play 8 under the new laws. Somehow I doubt it, although he has good ground skills. Pedrie Wannenberg is a lock now, so play him there, if at all.
The Cheetahs need to get Floors in at 8, with Vermeulen moving to 7. Juan Smith, it’s the second row for you, buddy, unless you prove quick enough to continue at 7. The Lions have a number of talented players who can do the job at blindside, with Juoubert and van Niekerk being the obvious contenders. They really need to get a second fetcher into the squad, though… not sure who’s waiting in the wings.
As for the Sharks, well… let’s see how Keegan Daniel goes tomorrow. Perhaps Peter de Villiers was ahead of his time all those years ago when he picked Daniel at number 8 for the SA u21s… A loose trio with Daniel at the base and Botes and Kankowski at open and blind respectively in a mouthwatering prospect and one of the quickest you’ll find.Tweet