- Moody names Australian David Pocock as the best seven in the world
- The way the Premiership is refereed inhibits the need for a traditional seven
- There are two key roles for a seven – to serve as a link with the backs and to disrupt the opposition’s play
In order to fully explain the role of a seven, we can first address that there are of course two flankers, the traditional blindside at number six with the openside at seven. The six, Moody explains, is more of a ball carrying line out jumper. "From scrums, he would be the first guy that you'd be hitting coming around the corner, he'd be your big ball carrier. You can look at players like Ben Clarke and Tim Rodber historically with England, Richard Hill to a degree. In South Africa you have Willem Alberts and Francois Louw, in New Zealand Jerome Kaino."
Moody continues, "A seven would be more of your link player, the person that's linking with the backs. There are two elements to the game. As a seven, you need to be able to disrupt the opposition's play - if that's in the style of David Pocock then you're over the ball, you're aggressive, you're making a nuisance of yourself, slowing it up and you're making it very difficult for the opposition to play the ball. My disruption was getting into the opposition fly half, putting pressure on the kick and making a nuisance of myself at the breakdown - that's a key part of the defensive play of a seven."
So what makes the best sevens in the world stand out amongst those around them? Moody answers, "Look at Australia and New Zealand, the reason they're so good is that you've got guys who are out and out sevens and they turn the ball over. If you've got a Pocock in your team that's going to turn over four or five balls, you've got more opportunities for scoring. The best form of attacking ball is turnover ball because all of a sudden you've got quality players, if you're Australian, like Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Matt Giteau and Kuridrani all attacking an unstructured defence. In New Zealand even more so, you've got the Smiths, Savea, Milner-Skudder all coming at you."
"Pocock's probably the best in the world. He's been injured for a number of years and Hooper's done a good job of stepping in but I think Pocock has proven why he's so good. He's impossible to move once he's over the ball. He's a good ball carrier, his all round game is pretty good but his absolute stand out ability is being a piece of granite once he's over that ball. For New Zealand, Richie McCaw is just so consistent, he's such a nuisance at the breakdown.
Given how important it is to gain possession by turnover in the modern game, it would suggest that any teams that play a seven without these key skills will immediately be weaker. But it’s a case of some teams opting to load their gun differently as Moody illustrates. "All that matters is that you find whatever combination is right for you. Invariably the best teams in the world have a clear seven but then you can offset that by saying that South Africa have won two World Cups and they've never had an out and out seven. You look at the team now and they have Schalk Burger, Alberts, Louw, Vermeulen. Historically going back you have van Niekerk - all of them are very similar. They are big, abrasive, disruptive ball carriers and they can make a good nuisance of themselves at the breakdown but you wouldn't say that any of them are clear sevens like McCaw, Pocock or Neil Back for instance. France are exactly the same, you've got Nyanga, Dusautoir - even going back to Laurent Cabannes, he was more of an attacking seven, he was never the kind of 'fetcher' over the ball."
Moody continues, "France, South Africa and England have always, I think, operated more of a 'left and right' back row rather than traditional sixes and sevens. But, the cry has always been in this country that we haven't got an out and out seven. The truth is we need to invest time in creating them. For so many years the southern hemisphere were refereed in such a way that they were allowed a contest at the breakdown. For nigh on two decades, the Premiership has allowed very little contest at the breakdown and so you've never been able to develop that skill as you knew you'd be pinged off the park if you tried it."
Now that refereeing interpretation across the world is as uniform as ever (though some might say there is still some way to go), the opportunity is there for players to develop and flourish in the traditional seven role. Who does Lewis Moody think does the job well? He suggests, "Matt Kvesic probably has the right build and frame. He's a little bit like McCaw and Pocock in his frame, strong through the quads and the glutes and the core area which allows him the flexibility and the strength to stay in the breakdown once he's over the ball. What England really need is some of these young guys to stick their hand up and say 'look I'm here and I'm deserving of an opportunity to play'. I think we maybe missed an opportunity not to give Kvesic a run out in more games prior to the World Cup. I think Wallace at Quins has also been pushing really hard behind Robshaw."
With the English domestic season now under way from the top flight down, there will certainly be some keen eyes trained on those wearing the number seven over the next few months. As always in rugby, you may not have succeeded in one tournament but there will be another one to compete in coming up fast - there'll be plenty hoping to follow Moody's call to seek their opportunity to shine.
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