If you listen to a casual rugby fan, those that just about manage the Six Nations and England World Cup matches, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the half backs are the most important positions on a rugby field. The scrum half has a reputation as the pretty boy of the team – the little guy with the hair gel who your girlfriend fancies, which the fly half (or stand-off or outside half if you like) is the person who usually kicks and gets the points (eg Jonny Wilkinson, Neil Jenkins, Dan Carter et al). The reality is that the scrum half and the fly half are the de-facto managers of the attack – what they decide to do dictates how the team will move forward, but they can only do that if the forwards have given them the ball to begin with.
A great half back knows when to kick, pass or run with the ball and they commit to their decision and execute it properly; it was poor half back play that threw away so many games for Wales in the summer and autumn of 2012.
Check out the links below.
This weekend marks the finale of the annual extravaganza of Europop and European spirit called Eurovision. In it countries put their best musical foot forward to beat the rest of Europe for Eurovision glory. The winner has to host the next year’s event. A bit of financially poisoned chalice of sorts.
Hosting Eurovision is not a cheap endeavor by any means in fact in 2011 made it clear costs have gotten out of hand in previous years.
“Martin Österdahl, executive producer of this year’s event, told WSJ that for the contest to survive, “small democratic nations” must be capable of hosting the show and that “someone has to have the courage to break the trend,” of budget-busting spectacles, with both Germany in 2009 and Russia in 2011 breaking the €30 million ($38.9 million) mark.”
Some might be wish to ponder who the most worried Finance Minister is today. Greece is a logical choice with their shock advancement with the song “Alcohol is Free”. The song title alludes to wishful thinking for the many of the hard pressed Greeks cheering their country on. Several countries such as Portugal have not bothered to enter the competition at all citing financial woes and cutbacks due to austerity.
Of course those outside the EU who want to see what the fuss is about can watch the Final at 3pm est this Saturday night. It is quite unlike anything that you will see on American television even on the most obscure cable channel.
Update: Here is the UK version of this piece (ie for those who know about Eurovision) over at the Commentator.
Update II: Marty Dodge (my alter ego) review the best of Eurovision over @ Blogcritics.
In the last six years the back row has gone from being seen as a superfluous element of the fifteen-man game to being seen as the most critical part of the team, as a result of the dominant play of the likes of Richie McCaw, David Pocock and Heinrich Brussow.
There has been a crucial difference in the way we in the northern hemisphere view the back row compared to the three southern superpowers. Southern back rowers tend to be more dynamic on the field and more successful at managing the referee. A southern hemisphere team will focus on the number 7 openside position and use the number 8 effectively as a cross between a blindside and an openside. Some good examples of this would be the way Richie McCaw has been used as a number 8 by the All Blacks to accommodate Sam Cane at openside, the dynamism of All Black number 8 Kieran Read, and the flexibility of the back row positions as used by the Springboks. A northern hemisphere team will focus on the number 6 blindside position and use the number 8 in a more traditional role at the base of the scrum, as a defender and battering ram. A good example of this would be England’s use of specialist blindsides used across the back row, or, historically, the roles played by the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio and Scott Quinnell. Ireland and England’s first choice back row consists of two specialist blindsides in the flanker positions and only Wales have flirted, albeit accidently, with a southern hemisphere style by playing two specialist opensides in the flanker positions. Regardless of your view of the importance of specialists, Warren Gatland has made it clear that he would ideally play specialists in each position, which had the added advantage of narrowing the options available for the tour.
The Lions have named five second row forwards for the tour and with two starting and one replacement for each match, the number of combinations is considerable. Second rowers, or locks, are described by some as “the engine room”, the players buried in the middle of the scrum doing much of the driving behind the front row. Away from the scrum, the locks are usually the chief ball carriers and the players most likely to clear-out rucks and drive mauls. The most visible job of the second rower is at the lineout, where the height of the locks make them the prime targets for the hooker’s throw.
In 2009 the second row was, by far, the most competitive area within the squad, with all five players excelling and competing for a test place. It was also the only area of the field where no replacements were called up and only one of the five did not receive a test cap.