Openside Flanker in Rugby

The openside flanker is probably the most unique position in the forward pack. They quite often have a very specific skillset which makes them incredibly valuable to their teams. Lets take a look at the position in more detail.

Size and Number of Openside Flankers

One of the things that will surprise people the most when looking at an openside flanker is that they are the least bulk of any of the forwards. Now this certainly does not mean they are not strong and in fact pound for pound, the openside flanker is often the strongest player on the rugby field.

But because they are required to cover a lot more space, they tend to be more mobile than the rest of the forwards. Openside flankers cover more space and so will usually be around 6ft 3in on average. This is the average height at international level, with some club level players being smaller than that.

They need to have a mix of power and speed so openside flankers certainly aren’t small. An openside flanker will wear number 7 on their back if they are the starter. For substitutes, there is no number that they are required to wear, but the sub will usually have either 20 or 21 on their backs.

The role of the Openside Flanker in the scrum

The role of the Openside Flanker in the scrum is partly described in the name. They will line up on the openside of the scrum which means the side with more space, further away from the touchline. This means that they are required to cover more space once the ball comes out of the scrum.

But while the ball is in the scrum, the flankers still have an important job. The openside flanker will need to push as much as they possibly can because they need to support the prop in front of them. Good drive from the flankers can give the props a huge advantage going forward.

The openside flanker has a very important decision to make when they are in the scrum. They need to known when to push and when to be ready to peel off the scrum and get into defence. They have more space to cover than the blindside flanker and so their decision is more important.

If they pull off the scrum too soon, the flanker cannot support the prop.

The role of the Openside Flanker in the lineout?

At the lineout, the openside flanker will be a great attacking option. Their combination of speed and size means they are often jumpers towards the back of the lineout. Being one of the smaller forwards mean they are often lifted up in the lineout because they are much lighter than the rest of the forwards.

However you will not always see the Openside Flanker have a role in the lineout. Their athleticism means they are often put with the backs when not required in the lineout. This is to help the defending team make tackles from the lineout. They are key tacklers in open play and so openside flankers are often excluded from the lineout.

The role of the Openside Flanker in Open play

In open play is where the openside flanker has their most important role. It is partly down to the size of openside flankers. Being slightly smaller than the rest of the forwards means the openside flanker is used slightly less in set pieces and much more in open play.

The main role therefore of the openside flanker is tackling. They have to be towards the top of the tackle charts because the openside has the physicality and speed to cover all of the field. They need to be towards the top of the tackle charts as they can get low and make powerful tackles.

But in terms of defence, it is not just in the tackle that the openside flanker is important. The ruck is a crucial element of rugby and openside flankers are the masters of rucks. Jackling is a massively important skill that can change a game in a second. It is something that the very best openside flankers are excellent at.

They have the power to get over the ball and make it very difficult to shift. Their quickness means these flankers can get into position very quickly and therefore can make it difficult to shift. The very best flankers make the ruck a nightmare for the opposition and can produce multiple turnovers per game.

While they are important in defence in the ruck, Openside Flankers can also be crucial to the ruck in defence. They need to be one of the first players at the ruck, clearing out the opposition and allowing their team a platform to attack from. Their speed means they need to track around the pitch and get to as many rucks as they can.

Their speed means they are one of the first players supporting a line break. If the flanker can get to the ruck after a line break first, it usually stops the opposition from having any chance of stealing the ball and this can create a great attacking opportunity for the attacking team.

The openside flanker can also be used in attack. Quite a lot of them are used in ball carrying, but in much wider positions than the rest of the forwards. They can provide attacking mismatches for backs as well as forwards which makes them an important weapon in attack.

But while they can be used in attack, you would still certainly see the openside flanker being much more commonly used in defence. They have a crucial role in the team and a brilliant openside flanker can transform a team because they are brilliant at so many different parts of the game.

Best Openside Flankers of all time

Richie McCaw

As well as being the best flanker of all time, Richie McCaw may be the best rugby player of all time. If you have any interest in this sport, you would have heard of the All Blacks star before.

Having begun taking rugby seriously when he started attended boarding school in 1994, McCaw became a brilliant talent in New Zealand despite originally not being selected to the New Zealand Secondary Schools Team. He made his All Blacks debut in 2001, not long after making his Super Rugby debut with the Crusaders.

When McCaw was originally selected for the national team, he was only 20 years old and it was a selection that was criticised at the time. It looked like the critics were right when McCaw knocked the ball on in his first ever touch of the game. But those critics were quickly silenced.

McCaw was man of the match in his debut and quickly became part of the All Blacks starting team. It was only a few years until McCaw was made All Blacks captain and he became one of the most successful captains in rugby history.

He led the All Blacks to back to back Rugby World Cup titles. The second title came in a 34-17 victory over Australia in the 2015 Final. This would be McCaw’s final every rugby game and so he retired in the perfect way.

The best openside flanker of all time was also World Rugby Player of the Year three times, more than any other player and he was also nominated eight times, three more than any other player. McCaw was a master of the dark arts at the breakdown and able to push the boundaries of legality.

Arguably the greatest rugby player of all time, McCaw had pretty much the perfect career and is now a World Rugby Hall of Famer.

David Pocock

Current Australian senator David Pocock had a phenomenal rugby career before becoming a politician.

He began that rugby career with the Western Force, having grown up in Zimbabwe. Pocock’s parents moving to Brisbane helped to begin his rugby career and he played schoolboy rugby alongside Quade Cooper before advancing up to the Western Force first team.

It was his man of the match performances for Australia A that eventually got Pocock into the Wallabies team. 2009 was his breakout year for both club and country, with Pocock playing in 13 of the 14 tests Australia played and he became the teams starter.

From 2010 onwards he became the Wallabies starter and was also named Australia’s player of the year in 2010. He was a finalist for IRB International Player of the Year in 2010 and 2011.

Pocock did struggle with injury quite a bit in his career, but he was crucial in the Wallabies reaching the 2015 Rugby World Cup final. Pocock scored a try in that final, with Australia coming up short. But he had led them to win the 2015 Rugby Championship victory prior to the World Cup.

Pocock was a dominant openside flanker, whose rugby career showed just how strong the man really was. Despite years of his prime being taken by injury, Pocock is still one of the best players in Australian history and a dominant flanker.

Sam Warburton

Cardiff born Sam Warburton is a man whose rugby career was cut short due to injury. He was forced to retire at age 29 having never been able to fully recover from various neck and back surgeries. But Warburton still had an incredible career in his time in rugby.

Having grown up in Cardiff, Warburton decided to focus on rugby instead of football from a young age despite a trial with Cardiff City. He instead joined Cardiff Rugby Academy as well as playing for Glamorgan Wanderers.

He broke into the Cardiff side in 2009, the same year that he made his Welsh debut as part of a young side facing the United States. He started coming off the bench in the 2010 Six Nations and slowly developed into a starter. He was quickly pushed into leadership roles, being named captain of the side for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

His performances in that tournament showed that Warren Gatland had made the right decision. But his red card in the semi-final meant Wales could not get to the final.

Warburton returned to the Welsh team and battled through injury to lead Wales to a Grand Slam in 2012. He would again be the captain of a Six Nations winning side in 2012. Injuries may have plagued his career, but Warburton is a British and Irish Lions captain as well as one of the best players in Welsh rugby history.

Best Openside Flankers right now

Josh van der Flier

Leinster have got a pipeline for producing incredible talent and they have been able to produce the best openside flanker in the world right now. Josh van der Flier came up through the Leinster academy, having his debut for the Provence in 2014.

Two years later he got his first call up to the Irish side by Joe Schmidt. He made his debut against England at Twickenham. Van der Flier struggled with injury through his first few years in international rugby. In Ireland’s Grand Slam winning 2018 campaign he was injured in the first half of the first game, missing the rest of the tournament.

But over the last few years, he has been a crucial part in Irelands rise to being the best team in the world. He missed just five minutes of the three tests against New Zealand, helping his side to a historic win against the All Blacks. Van der Flier showed his brilliance in attack in scoring the first try of the final test.

But it is not just his brilliance in try scoring that makes him special. Van der Flier is a modern flanker in the sense that he covers a lot of ground as well as being able to make a physical impact. He is quick to the breakdown in both attack and defence, making things very difficult for the opposition.

He is a truly incredible player and Ireland’s success over the last 12 months is partly down to Josh van der Flier taking his play to the world class level.

Michael Hooper

Australian flanker Michael Hooper has been the shining light of Australian rugby over the last few years, despite some disappointing results.

Hooper came into the Wallabies set up in 2012, having been given his chance in Super Rugby due to an injury to George Smith. Hooper was the man who stepped into the Australian team after Davi Pocock had picked up an injury. He was phenomenal in his first two years and quickly became Wallabies Player of the Year.

Pocock would continue to struggle with injuries and it meant that Australia were looking for new leaders. Hooper became the youngest Wallabies captain in 50 years when he was in charge of the side for the 2014 test season. It was a huge job for the 22 year old Hooper but he certainly stepped up.

He would become the teams full-time captain 2017 and showed his brilliance over the next few years. He now holds the record for the most caps as Wallabies captain as well as being the youngster Australian player to reach 100 test caps. Hooper has been a consistent in this Australian team for quite a while now.

While he is a phenomenal captain, Hooper may be even better of a player. Hooper has hundreds of turnovers at the breakdown and you won’t find a harder working man on the pitch than him. He is the perfect leader for this Australian team.

Hamish Watson

Scotland have found the perfect flanker in Hamish Watson. Having been born and raised in England, he was signed by Edinburgh in 2011 while still playing junior rugby. It has turned out to be a brilliant move for Watson and Scottish rugby.

He made his Edinburgh debut in 2011 and had to wait a few years before he was eligible to play for Scotland. But in 2015 Watson had impressed enough to get the call up for the 2015 Six Nations.

Having started out with a bench role, Watson has been an ever present in the Scottish side since 2017. It looked like Watson would be a crucial part of the Scotland squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but he sadly picked up a tournament ending injury in the first game against Ireland.

But since that World Cup disappointment, Watson has been in incredible form. He was the Player of the tournament for the 2021 Six Nations thanks to not missing a tackle during the entire championship. It earnt him a British and Irish Lions call up, with Watson coming off the bench in the first test against South Africa.

The Scottish flanker is one of the best tacklers in the world, with the power and speed to take anyone down. If he is not the one making the tackle, then Watson Is a massive threat at the breakdown. He can get over the ball incredibly quickly and is a nightmare for the opposition.

One of the things that separate Watson is he is also an explosive ball carrier. He is slightly larger than most openside flankers and so is used as a wrecking ball in attack, always able to get a few metres over the gain line.

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