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What is the most important position in the backline? 99 times out of 100, a person will respond the five-eighth.
Mark Ella, Australia’s greatest five-eighth, is of the opinion that the inside centre is the most important in the backline. Why?
First of all, the five-eighth almost always cannot run straight, given that he’s standing a few metres behind the halfback, and has to receive the ball from an angle different to any other player on the field.
It is the inside centre, who imposes discipline on the backline, says Ella, therefore to avoid a drifting backline, which was a Wallaby problem for a while there, the inside centre must run straight.
Interestingly, as Ella astutely pointed out, because the five-eighth can’t run straight and the inside centre can, if the inside centre stands flat close to the five-eighth, he’ll naturally bring the five-eighth into the game.
Ella coined the term the five-eight’s ‘natural loop’.
This ensures the five-eighth is brought into the game again, and gives the backline an extra support player.
People will say loop-plays don’t work anymore in rugby. No, I’ve seen Carter score off them. What doesn’t happen in rugby is that inside centres don’t stand close or flat enough for this to happen.
The moment the ball is passed, the inside centre must hold on to the ball as long as possible, according to Ella.
Ella maintains that it enables every possible option available to the backline. Whether to take the ball into contact, slip a ball to someone, throw a cut-out and so on, it’s all on the inside centre.
An inside centre who doesn’t attack the gain line, doesn’t attract defenders, simple as that. An inside centre, who holds on to the ball as long as possible, keeps the defences guessing.
Most of all, an inside centre should be invisible. Not invisible in the sense he makes no impact, but invisible in that he has to be the grafter of the backline, the hinge.
If you have an inside centre, who is more interested in making breaks than by having the vision to make the other players shine, the backline won’t operate.
Australia have an inside centre in Berrick Barnes, and the Wallaby midfield currently is its biggest weakness.
Last year in France, Barnes underplayed his crucial role beautifully. He was hardly to be seen in his straight running, good passing, excellent vision and that made guys like Cooper perform even better.
He needs to be in the Wallaby side for the rest of the World Cup. Vision, running, time of pass, invisibility and so on, that’s Berrick Barnes.