x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Swatting away the fly-half

If this Rugby World Cup has not been the death knell for the canny fly-half, then at the very least it has been a poor advertisement for them.

What happened to the days when you needed a tactical mastermind at No 10? If this Rugby World Cup has not been the death knell for the canny fly-half, then at the very least it has been a poor advertisement for them.

New Zealand will play their semi-final against Australia today with Aaron Cruden making just his second start at international level in the supposedly pivotal position. He is the third choice for the position in the eyes of the All Blacks coaching team, who have been deprived the services of Daniel Carter and Colin Slade through injury.

He does not even rank that highly for the majority of the supporters, many of whom would prefer to see Piri Weepu, the scrum-half, moved along the line by one and Jimmy Cowan brought back to play No 9.

Such is the modern game that it is conceivable the All Blacks could muscle their way past Australia today even if Cruden has a poor game. Should they then dispense of him for the final, and bow to the popular vote by moving Weepu to the No 10 shirt instead, there will be two scrum-halves in direct opposition at fly-half.

After four years of tinkering, Marc Lievremont, the France coach, came to the conclusion about two weeks ago that his best fly-half is actually his half-back, Morgan Parra.

But Quade Cooper, too, has been just about Australia's worst player so far, and they still have a good chance of carrying off the spoils.

Maybe this will go down as the tournament when the cliche about 10-man rugby being the most pragmatic plan for major tournaments was rewritten to allow for a mere nine.

pradley@thenational.ae