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Jim Tucker: Focus on the Flankers

Tue, 09/03/2021, 3:20 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Fergus Lee-Warner dives over after Tim Anstee split the Tahs.

No Michael Hooper or David Pocock dominating the debate on openside flanker has thrown a fresh spotlight on the No.7s impressively buzzing around Super Rugby AU.

It’s been more than a decade since the cast of No.7s didn’t include either of the dynamic duo.

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Both set high standards, inspired the next crop and kept up the legacy of Australian rugby when it came to producing top quality opensides.

While Hooper has been on his Japanese sojourn, just who has been making a mark at No.7 in Australia in the opening rounds?

FRASER McREIGHT (Queensland Reds)

The standout No.7 amongst the youth brigade at just 22.

He’s everything you want in an openside...he’s fearless when latching onto the ball, he tackles, he makes big back-to-back efforts and he’s a running linkman deluxe.

And he’s ambitious after getting his taste of the Wallabies late last season.

Making largely unseen second efforts is what winning games at the highest level is often about.

Take Filipo Daugunu’s first try in the opening round clash against the NSW Waratahs.

He backed up lock Seru Uru and didn’t receive a pass early in the lead-up. Rather than fade out of the play, he got back into position super-quick and did receive a ball from Hunter Paisami which McReight turned into a try-making pass.

“That first game against the Waratahs last year (in Super Rugby AU) I really wanted to show what I could do against ‘Hoops’,” McReight said.

“It was my first game as a starter for the Reds. I had a few nerves and I made a few mistakes but I felt like I was up to this level of the game.

“In my second full season as a starter, I feel more confident within myself and the team.”

“You learn along the way, things like playing a full 80 and fatigue kicking in. You can’t switch off or that moment may lead to a try or a costly penalty.

“I’m really excited to show Australia I’m the premier No.7 in this competition.

“I’ve got a lot of great competition and friends in my position. I’m just really keen to get stuck into them.”


Did McReight say friendly competition? Well, Carlo Tizzano, 21, is exactly that because the pair played in the Australian Under-20s together.

Hooper’s replacement at the ‘Tahs has already started building a reputation for non-stop workrate under that crewcut of his.

He made 25 tackles against the Reds, including one close to the tryline when McReight was trying to sniff out a five-pointer.

He’s given up some penalties during his first few games but all opensides do as they learn timing and which rucks to zero in on.

Tizzano learnt some good lessons being around Hooper last season.

“He’s just a professional at all times, he’s always ‘on.’ I took some good pointers,” Tizzano said.

“I just love competing...and I hope to take his job one day.”

That last comment was said without a hint of cockiness. Every syllable was simply dripping with drive to do the best he can.

The Perth product has already made the big leap to living in Sydney to further his rugby dreams.

KANE KOTEKA (Western Force)

The strongly-framed Koteka is what the Force are all about...a home grown product who has pushed his way through from Perth to make a strong impact.

The first ever graduate from the Future Force program to become a fully-contracted player for the club proudly represents the Wests Scarborough club.

Koteka, 27, isn’t the sort of No.7 who’ll bob up out wide as a link figure.

He’s a grunt-work type who plays hard on the ball and will make you metres with a head-down charge when he backs up on a nice inside support line.

Against the Brumbies in the opening round, his good kick chase to corner an attacker and trucking the Force out of trouble late in the game with a short surge from his own quarter were typical of his contributions.

The high workrate Koteka is a starchy defender and had a strong role to play in the droughtbreaking win over the Waratahs.


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It takes something to out-mullet Pete Samu but Jahrome Brown does it comfortably in the Brumbies’ backrow.

The New Zealand-born Brown, 24, is relishing extended game time for the first time since 2019 after a broken leg derailed him.

Workrate is his big calling card. He made back-to-back tackles early in the second half against the Force and you’ll often see him in position for those efforts.

Going flat out for 50 minutes is his brief.

TOM CUSACK (Brumbies)

The former sevens player is proving something of a super-sub for the Brumbies with his second half cameos in three wins this season.

He’s a change-up type. He showed great quick hands in the lead-up to Tom Banks’ final try in the thrashing of the Waratahs.

Against the Force in the opening round, he had four involvements inside two minutes late in the second half.

Cusack, 28, is proving a valuable role player at a club which has a masterful knack for defining match-winning roles for so many players.

RICHARD HARDWICK (Melbourne Rebels)

Hardwick’s time as a Wallaby was just a blink in June, 2017 when Michael Cheika was in his tinkering stage with the backrow.

Hardwick, 26, has made an impressive start to 2021.

His hard-on-the-ball, penalty-forcing ways have been complemented by robust tackling, forceful runs and just going non-stop.

He was one of the Rebels best when they were disrupting the Reds out of their rhythm at Suncorp Stadium.

He saved one tricky situation by forcing a penalty when he latched onto Moses Sorovi.

The Rebels started the season playing with virtually two opensides because ginger-haired Brad Wilkin has DNA for the that position even though he wore No.6.

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