Flankers are on the rumble

For all the hoopla and headlines about Dan Carter, Jonny Wilkinson and Quade Cooper, this has been a World Cup defined not by perfect 10s but heavenly sevens.

Those big-name fly-halves might still have the modeling contracts and skincare endorsements but they can keep them. The open-side flankers are on the rumble – and the message is clear: run away, glamourpuss, the jackal in the tackle is here.

Each of this weekend’s four semi-finalists have a number seven in their side that strike fear deep into opposition hearts.

.Wales have Sam Warburton, France the unyielding Thierry Dusautoir (who actually wears six in the French style); New Zealand the relentless Richie McCaw and Australia the man they call ‘Bam Bam’, Queenslander David Pocock, 23.

That three of the four are also their country’s skipper is no coincidence. That Pocock is not – yet – shouldn’t fool you for a minute into thinking that he is anything less than their equal.

He may even be the best of the lot. Rugby logic dictates the Wallabies’s 11-9 larceny of South Africa last Sunday simply shouldn’t have happened. The Springboks had 76% of territory and spent a total of 11 minutes camped in the opposition 22.

That it did had a little to do with the early injury to South Africa’s own breakdown supremo Heinrich Brussow and a lot more with Pocock’s own magic numbers – 26 tackles, three of his side’s remarkable tally of nine turnovers and countless disruptions to the opposition ball.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans described it the best individual performance of the tournament so far. Some of those wearing opposition colours weren’t quite so convinced.

Jackals have never been the most popular of beasts. All that scavenging and stealing tends to go down badly with those in possession, which helps explains why Pocock’s champion display was labeled with a rather less pleasant c-word in some circles this week – “cheat'”.

Pocock won’t rise to the bait. “It’s been pretty funny this week, looking at my Twitter timeline and seeing what the fans are saying,” he told a packed news conference.

“It’s fairly standard in a game these days that number sevens cop a bit of heat from the opposition and that goes for McCaw as well.”

If Pocock has stand-out characteristics, they are the classics of his position – speed to the tackle and head-down, rump-up strength when he gets there.

His absence with a back injury was a critical factor in the 15-9 pool game loss to Ireland. Against the Springboks he was not so much a thorn in the side as a human JCB, long yellow arms reaching down to dig the ball from the pile of green shirts with mechanical regularity and relentless energy.

“You’ve got to try to get in as quick as you can,” he said. “As an arriving player, if the ruck’s not formed, you’ve got all the rights and you continue to have those rights as long as you don’t put your hands on the ball.

“That’s the main focus – and then listen to what the referee is saying.”


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