When I read the squad Warren Gatland had selected I couldn’t help but be astounded by some of the selections, or rather some of the non-selections. The most notable omission was Chris Robshaw. I couldn’t understand how one of the best players in the 6 nations, getting two man of the match awards and was at the forefront of everything England did, wasn’t selected. The only thing I kept hearing was this phrase that seems to be becoming increasingly clichéd. “The reason Robsaw wasn’t selected is that he’s not an ‘out and out seven.’” You hear this phrase thrown around a lot, from pundits, in forums and even mundane pub conversations. Does anyone actually know what they really mean by it?
I understand the premise of the ‘out and out seven’. It’s a player that in attack is the first to rucks with a high work rate and being a link man whilst in defence they will hound the first receiver, make plentiful tackles and pillage ball wherever they can. Sounds like a useful player to have in your team if he can do all these things well. The defining characteristic seems to be the ability to jackal. Getting over the players who’s just been tackled and either strip the ball or force a penalty for holding on. Justin Tipuric and Matt Kvesic seem to be the perfect examples of this and are often described as true sevens.
I don’t like the idea that you can’t win without an ‘out and out seven’. It’s why people criticise Robshaw even for England. The thing is Robshaw does create turnovers, has an unbelievable work rate and makes his tackles. Now turnovers are a crucial part of the game, and a team will struggle to win if they can’t take the ball from the opposition at all at the break down, but people seem to believe it has to be the man wearing seven that produces all of these. That’s where I stop comprehending the idea. England will probably create as many turnovers as any team with an ‘out and out seven’. It’s because players not wearing seven can jackal and counter ruck. Joe Launchbury and Tom Wood both pilfer ball all over the place and even the lumbering figure of Dan Cole will look to get over the ball and create turnovers frequently, it’s not even reserved for the forwards. Billy Twelvetrees was second in premiership turnovers and Ugo Monye seems to have a habit of making a try saving tackle, getting to his feet and creating a turnover.
When so many of your team can turn ball over I don’t know why you wouldn’t want someone with the work ethic and commitment of Robshaw with the skills and intelligence to create space for others and getting rid of danger at the break down. The seven he wears is just a number on the back, would anyone mind as much if he wore six for England? When a team is about balance and cohesion it seems odd that you have to have a specific type of player in a specific shirt. When there are so many different types of fly halves and full backs that all contribute different things to their team but are often just as influential, so there’s no reason Robshaw can’t be as important to England as Pocock is to Australia, they just do different things.
Despite all this I’d love to have a player in my team that I’ve described as the prototypical ‘out and out seven’ and Tipuric has been the Lions’ best back rower in my mind. But to not select someone on the basis that they aren’t one is ludicrous if they offer the skills that Robshaw does and are clearly good enough.