The number 7 shirt is occupied by the openside flanker in a rugby union team. The openside will be one of the most physical, craftiest and downright tough players in a team capable of attacking and defending with men much larger and much quicker than them-self. The perfect openside flanker will combine tough tackling, unparalleled breakdown work and ball carrying abilities that other forwards can only dream of. In order to tie this together an openside must be one of the fittest players on the pitch, and whilst not being the largest member of a squad he will be strong enough to bring down even the largest front 5 player with relative ease.
To be a truly great openside flanker you will be expected to have one of the highest tackle and turnover counts in your team whilst also actively contributing to your teams attacking play. In addition you should also be capable of playing on the very limits of the laws, pushing the referees leniancy to the very limits without actually being penalised for cheating. The openside will often be one of the key leaders on the pitch with many coaches now opting to give the captains armband to their number 7.
An openside flanker will usually be slightly shorter than the blindside flanker, giving up a few inches whilst still weighing in at roughly the same weight. A top blindside will usually be a of a lean athletic build whilst a slightly squat shape and relatively low centre of gravity are key in helping to win turnovers on the ground. Rather than size, an openside flanker should focus on strength as carrying unnecessary muscle or fat could severely impact on your ability to compete all over the field.
In The Loose
Whilst the ball is in play the openside flanker has two main roles depending on who has possession at the time. When defending the openside flanker should be one of the key leaders of their teams defence, willing to put their body on the line and make important tackles before quickly getting back to their feet ready to compete at the breakdown. A good openside will constantly look at the current play and assess were potential dangers may lie and position themselves appropriately.
In attack the openside flanker will often integrate into their teams backline equally capable of passing the ball through their hands to help open up space for players on their outside or taking the ball to the opposition, carrying strongly and making hard yards to get their team over the gainline. The openside must also be ready to compete at any breakdowns when a member of their team is tackled and the opposition attempt to ruck over.
In The Scrum
During a scrum the openside flanker will usually bind to the ‘openside’ of the scrum, i.e the side of the scrum furthest from touch. Binding alongside their locks, the openside will pack down on the edge of the scrum and will attempt to push through the prop infront of them helping provide extra support and drive for their team. Ideally the openside should only bind with one arm in order to react to play off of the scrum.
The openside flanker must be particularly wary when the opposition have the put in, ready to bring down any player trying to run with the ball from the base of the scrum or place pressure on the opposition receiver after the ball has been distributed from the back. The openside flanker is likely to be the first up tackler off the scrum and it is imperative they bring down any opposition ball carrier or risk leaving their team exposed to the oppositions attack.
The openside flanker should also be wary of the ball coming lose at any stage and react to to either interfere with the ball or jump on it should it come loose. This can on occasion result in a turnover ball even though their teams pack are going backwards in the scrum and is therefore an extremely important element of an opensides play.
In The Line Out
Unless either team opt for a full line-out the openside flanker will often be left to join up with the backs ready to attack or defend as part of their teams line. Should either team opt for a full line-out then the openside flanker will often be found at the very back of the line, ready to pounce on any balls that come loose or to disrupt the opposition backs should the ball reach them off the back of the line-out. In addition they may also have to lift one of their teams jumpers at the back of the line-out depending on the teams call.
In A Maul
Generally the openside flanker should look to be on the fringes of a maul ready to pounce on the ball should it come loose or tackle any member of the opposition trying to break off the back of the maul. Whilst at times it may become unavoidable for the openside flanker to remain on the edge of the maul as they may be caught in possession or dragged in by the opposition, in general they should try to leave the hard pushing to the tight 5 so as to be at their most effective.
For any aspiring openside flankers out there Richie McCaw is the perfect role model to follow. Being one of the most loathed players in world rugby is like a badge of honour for McCaw as it means he is doing his job properly. Always playing on the very edge of the laws McCaw gets away with more than almost anyone on the rugby field having learnt how to play referees. A strong ball carrier with lethal tackling skills and more than capable of out-rucking any player on the field McCaw is a constant thorn in the oppositions side winning turn overs all over the field and taking the game to the opposition. McCaw is also a great leader of men, leading by example and encouraging his team to play on no matter what.