And so the revisionist journey of rugby positions, and the folk who stereotypically inhabit them, continues… This time we contemplate the numbers 6&7.
Originally called Wing-Forwards, the denizens of the 6&7 jerseys developed a complex about being conjoined in name with Backs. And so they approached the Rugby Illuminati and agitated for a name change (Hansard includes phrases such as ‘degenerate Faeries’ as being bandied about). Everyone else eventually agreed, but only because Wing-Forward rhymed with nothing. That’s why they are now called Flankers.
Flankers are interesting because they are such a contradiction. Flankers will tell you they are indispensable. They will wax lyrical about the breathtaking breadth of skills they seemingly must possess to do their role properly. Seriously, if you get past the faux humility and listen to their description of what they claim they do, then you may be forgiven if you thought they were something between Darth Maul and Black Panther and responsible for keeping the gates to Hades closed singlehandedly. However, fact is as-ever different from the imagery. And this is best seen when, anytime anyone remotely important cops a yellow or red card, the person immediately benched for a replacement is a Flanker. I mean, they are so demonstrably superfluous that even a Flanker’s scrum role is considered to be acceptably filled by a spare Winger. What does that facta non-verba illustrate? Methinks he doth protest too much. And before the howls of protest ring forth in terms of demonstrated skill-spread, well let’s then reflect for a moment on the masterful displays of
WFlankerism by Lote Tuqiri and Kurtley Beale (two exponents of notable acclaim)… so you work it out.
There are generally two broad types of Flanker; the Boyish Enthusiast and the Psychotic Foreigner. And while one doesn’t drink and the other drinks enough for both, they both tend to be pinging completely off their heads 25hrs a day and 8days a week. So neither are particularly good company for us more simple lads on the straight sauce. There is a burgeoning 3rd type of Flanker to acknowledge; the Mad Puritanical Preacher. But they are still comparatively rare and completely outside even two standard-deviations from the norm. So they are beyond reason. I tend to include them among the Psychotic Foreigner group and leave it at that.
The Boyish Enthusiast lives with his girlfriend Brittany. No one has ever seen Brittany in the flesh because she does her Insta bikini shoots on Saturdays (well, the lads have seen her in the flesh… just not live. Well they’ve seen her live too I guess. Look, you know what I mean ok? She never shows up). He does Pump classes with Brittany on weekday mornings before cycling to his Molecular Biology lecture and then squeezes in a mini-triathlon before footy training. All the while consuming copious gob-fulls of protein balls. As a result, these guys are typically synonymous with a condom stuffed full of walnuts – all bulbous, with shiny and slightly oily surfaces, a bit icky to the touch and a with a slightly repulsive smell. And their pub-chat, being filled with super-helpful suggestions about super-set technique in the gym and tut-tutting about your dietary choices, while you’re 4 schooys in and double-parked on a rum while mid pub-Schnitty, is also about as welcomed as a condom stuffed with walnuts.
Alternatively, the Psychotic Foreigner is simply that – a dodgy, back-packing, perpetually broke nutcase with a crazed twitch in his eye and who always looks like he’s about 3 seconds away from glassing someone. But his chat about going to Burning Man and Cage Fighting while in Bolivia is at least interesting. And no matter where in the world you go, the really scary versions have a slightly indeterminate accent from somewhere else, which makes you realise they are probably serial airport deportees. Note that he will be perpetually accompanied by Skylar the fire-twirling, dread-locked girlfriend he found at a hostel in Amsterdam. She seems to own little else other than once-brightly coloured hemp skirts (purchased roadside in Ecuador apparently) and breezy little linen crop-tops (presumably from Malta).
Physically, the little Flankers will tell you the key to their play is all about technique, while the big Flankers say it’s all in the physicality (the ‘bash’). But to their credit, both types will be uber-fit and will enthusiastically jam their heads in places where few others would dare. Although, exactly why they possess such boundless energy and fearlessness is probably more due to the numbing after-effects of last-nights Disco Bikkies than anything else. And while every coach loves a big unit, in the reality of club-land, Flankers who need to be lifted on to barstools are quite common as the big ones migrate to Lock.
In terms of playing style, NuZuland and the Wobblies generally play ‘Open’ and ‘Blind’ Flankers. This is not a reflection of sexual orientation, deformity or preference but is rather a deliberately vague, illusionary reference to a mystical ideal called ‘running lines’ and ‘angles of entry’ that no one has even ever quite defined, let alone then understood, nor ever actually put into practice.
Comparatively, South Africa & England prefer a much less complicated Bananas-in-Pyjamas, B1 & B2 approach. They have no pretensions of ‘running lines’ or ‘angles of entry’ as everyone simply accepts that the programming of Terminator T1000s with their glitchy AI is still in its infancy. They simply have a pre-installed ‘Search and Destroy’ functionality and flick the switch to ‘On’ then let ’em go. Then they sit back and just watch them charge about crashing into things, all the while calling it ‘good play’.
Every other nation still hasn’t made up their minds yet as to the Open/Blind versus Terminator preference. They still haven’t worked out what Flankers actually do.
It should be noted that a Flanker’s jersey is perfect for those terrified of accountability. This helps explain why adult Flankers are generally Accountants, Consultants, Politicians or middle-management types in real life. There is not a single thing they are actually responsible for in a match, beyond cheap-shotting opposing Fly-Halves after they passed the ball. And most of them can’t even do that well. This explains why the Hooker is often muttering about them.
Flankers will make presumably well-intentioned attempts to infer a purpose to their presence by applying copious amounts of strapping tape on their thighs and heads. However, this doesn’t work either as Flankers rarely jump in lineouts, seem genetically ill-equipped to lift in lineouts and they never push in scrums. Some coaches consider Flankers as midfield and cover-defensive weapons. But again this is pointless, as given each Back supposedly covers their opponent (otherwise what’s the point of them), thus Flankers have plausible deniability when it comes to missing those tackles as well.
This confusion with task and function at even the highest levels means that anytime Flankers actually accomplish anything, like not getting penalised at a breakdown or successfully picking up a ball someone else dropped, the commentary team instantly tries to justify their existence by lauding them as GOAT geniuses. And everyone nods sagely about the wisdom of their ‘running lines’ and ‘angles of entry’. This then doubles as proof that gravity works as such gaslight-justification rolls downhill to club-land. It’s proper “The Emperor’s New Clothes” stuff.
However, Flankers do apparently possess bottomless depths of set-piece knowledge. And they feel compelled to
inflict share such pearls with the Props & Locks. Props & Locks just love that. The Locks particularly appreciate the objective-observance principles self-evidently on-display, given the advice is coming from someone who is perpetually standing beside the scrum machine or well outside of the lineout structure, looking for a wide-passed crash-ball, thus has willfully been taking no constructive part in said set-piece practice.
And from a Flanker’s perspective, all this is just great because once selected, no coach will ever drop them, no matter how much of a muppet they are, just in case they are one of the Psychotic types (plus that means he can’t perv at Skylar so much anymore).
Inspiration: Crash Bandicoot, Stephen the Irishman (Braveheart), Darth Maul and Inigo Montoya
Drink: Protein Shakes for the walnut types and Absinthe for the nutcases. But they will share vegan Disco bikkies with each other.
Politics: Given they are somewhere between committed happy-clappers or secret IRA members (not much of a difference really) they are likely Environmental Anarchist Ravers.
Motto: ‘Only idiots get