Are We Witnessing the Death of the Hooker in Rugby Union?

|||Are We Witnessing the Death of the Hooker in Rugby Union?

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Much has been made of the death of the ‘traditional number 7’ in recent seasons, but it seems the issue is more prevalent in the position of hooker.

It seems long gone are the days of players such as Brian Moore, John Smith and Sean Fitzpatrick who have been replaced by….well nobody really. Scanning the international landscape you’d struggle to pinpoint almost any hooker who could hold a light to the aforementioned quartet.

If pushed you could maybe argue Bismarck du Plessis is of true international class, in the traditional sense of a hooker, however eve he has been somewhat struggling for form in recent months. Behind him you could maybe look to the likes of Dylan Hartley and  Richard Hibbard, however you could hardly argue they would be considered amongst the all time greats.

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Even the All Blacks seem to be struggling in the hooker department with an over the hill Keven Mealamu backing a competent if unspectacular Dane Coles. Even worse the Wallabies find themselves scraping the hooker’s barrell with the likes of Polota-Nau, Hanson and Fainga’a all failing to fully establish themselves.

In the Northern Hemisphere the situation isn’t much better with the French having failed to settle on a hooker for much of the past couple of seasons whilst Scotland’s continued selection of Ross Ford shows just how bare their cupboard is.

The issue here appears to be that coaches are favouring hookers who are considered to have more rounded skills in favour of those who perform the basics well. Given the mess the scrum has become it seems a hooker is no longer required to actually hook the ball meaning this art has been all but lost in favour of crooked out ins.

This is obviously hugely regrettable, but it is in the loss of hooker’s abilities to throw the ball in at the line-out that we must truly mourn. The failure of so many supposedly ‘international class’ hookers to perform this most basic of tasks must be considered a true travesty in the modern game.

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What this basically boils down to is modern coaches preferring a ‘hooker’ who is more akin to a back rower than a front rower. There is an increasing trend in the modern game for coaches to select athletic hookers who are able to carry the ball in the loose, make numerous tackles and win turnovers. Whilst these are all attributes any coach would wish for in a hooker, they should not be preferred to the positions core skills such as line-out throwing.

The best example of this erosion of the traditional hooker is Leicester Tigers and England player Tom Youngs who spent the first 17 years of his rugby career as a centre. It was only at the age of 22 that coaches decided Youngs had some of the necessary attributes to play in the front row, and therefore set about ‘converting’ him.

Now this shouldn’t detract from the incredible things Youngs has already achieved as a ‘hooker’, nor should it detract from the fact he is clearly an excellent footballer, what it should highlight however is the rapidly declining expectations placed on hookers, even at an international level.

Youngs clearly has the attributes necessary to be an effective rugby player, but you only have to look at how England’s line-out fell to pieces when he replaced Dylan Hartley during the Six Nations and Autumn Internationals. This isn’t just an issue with Youngs however, more one across the whole of professional rugby where skills such as this are being devalued immensely.

This trend looks set to continue with back row players continually being ‘converted’ into hookers in a bid to give a team more options in the loose. It seems modern coaches are putting much more emphasis on the breakdown rather than the set piece. Maybe I’m wrong but to me there seems at least as much value in being able to retain your own ball during line-outs and scrums, or maybe teams these days are happy to just make do?

Do you think we are witnessing the death of the hooker in modern rugby?

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By |2014-10-17T13:04:57+00:00October 17th, 2014|

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