Surely, Spring­boks no longer need a fetcher?


THE days of only one man hav­ing a li­cence to steal are well and truly over.

That man, who would wear the No 6 or 7 on his back, is dead. Now ev­ery man in the team has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to steal.

The so-called “fetcher flank’ or the open­side – usu­ally one of the smaller men in the team and tasked mainly to win turn-over ball for his team and slow it down for the op­po­si­tion – doesn’t ex­ist any­more. It’s ev­ery man’s job now.

Some of the most fa­mous and re­spected open­side flanks in the game – like Richie McCaw and Schalk Burger – weren’t re­ally even proper “fetch­ers”. They were so much more than just be­ing pil­fer­ers of ball. Nei­ther were Fran­cois Pienaar or Rassie Eras­mus – not in terms of how the spe­cial­ist open­side is de­fined.

Hein­rich Brus­sow was prob­a­bly the last Spring­bok to be a spe­cial­ist fetcher – and boy, who can for­get how he ter­rorised the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions in 2009. Not even Fran­cois Louw, who wore the No 6 on his back for the bet­ter part of the past five years, is a ball-poacher ex­traor­di­naire. And the in­jured Mar­cell Coet­zee nei­ther ... they did the job ex­cel­lently, but they were also far more ver­sa­tile than the spe­cial­ist “fetcher”.

Re­cent Bok coaches like Jake White, Peter de Vil­liers and Heyneke Meyer only spo­rad­i­cally picked a spe­cial­ist No 6 who was la­belled a “fetcher flank”, and Al­lis­ter Coet­zee is now also of the opin­ion that you gain more with two big­ger flankers in the mix rather than hav­ing one man who plays only to the ball – the job re­served for the open­side man.

Eye­brows were raised when Coet­zee se­lected Siya Kolisi and Oupa Mo­hoje as his flanks for the first two Tests against France this month. Many wor­ried the Boks would bat­tle to have enough ball to play with as there was no “fetcher” in sight ... Jaco Kriel, the only spe­cial­ist No 6, was left out of the match­day squad. But sug­gest­ing he is the same kind of player as Brus­sow is stretch­ing it. Kriel is not an out-and-out “fetcher” ei­ther.

Yet with two ver­sa­tile flankers the Boks won the bat­tle against the French in Pre­to­ria and Dur­ban, and that with Jean Luc du Preez com­ing into the game early in Dur­ban – and he’s no “fetcher” ei­ther.

The thing is, ev­ery man must now be able to get to the break­down quickly to ei­ther try win a turnover for his team, to counter-at­tack from, or slow the op­po­si­tions’ ball down to al­low his team’s de­fen­sive lines to be re­set. If it hasn’t been Kolisi do­ing the pil­fer­ing in this se­ries, it’s been the likes of Mal­colm Marx, Jan Ser­fontein, Frans Mal­herbe and Franco Mostert – none of them flankers – get­ting to the break­down first, get­ting their hands on the ball, and win­ning a turn-over or a penalty for their team.

In to­day’s game one doesn’t even need to make the turn-over – or the steal. One sim­ply has to get your hands on the ball and show in­tent to take it away from the man on the ground and the ref­eree will in all like­li­hood blow the op­po­si­tion team up for “hold­ing on”. It’s that sim­ple. Any­one can do it.

Big­ger flankers, like Kolisi, Mo­hoje and Du Preez, are be­ing favoured be­cause they are more ca­pa­ble of halt­ing the op­po­si­tion team’s mo­men­tum in driv­ing mauls, they’re of­ten more po­tent in the clean-out, they carry the ball more strongly than the lit­tle guys, they link well with the backs and they be­come li­ne­out op­tions.

Of course, the man who plays on the open­side of the scrum – that is on the side where the backs line-up against each other, or the big­ger part of the field – will usu­ally be the first guy among the for­wards to get to a break­down, or tackle, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be the first man to try make the steal. That may be the fly­half or one of the cen­tres, or a wing, so it re­ally is ev­ery man’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to know how to steal.

Jake White, who fa­mously said if he wanted some­one to do any “fetch­ing for him” he’d ask his son to get him a beer from the fridge, may have had a point in pre­fer­ring big­ger play­ers with more ver­sa­til­ity; ev­ery­one needs to do some kind of “fetch­ing” in a game of rugby. White was never the big­gest fan of Brus­sow – prob­a­bly this coun­try’s clas­sic “fetcher flank” – and he made no bones about that. He once picked a back­row of Pedrie Wan­nen­burg, Juan Smith and Joe van Niek­erk, and who can for­get his 2007 World Cup win­ning loose-trio of Danie Ros­souw at eighth­man, with Smith and Burger on the flanks.

Cur­rent coach Coet­zee spent four years as White’s as­sis­tant and per­haps he learned a thing or two about fetch­ers, pil­fer­ers, pinch­ers and steal­ers. He cer­tainly also favours the big­ger loose for­wards ... and when they play like Kolisi, Mo­hoje and Du Preez have in the two Tests so far this year, why would any­one go against him?

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