There is no doubt the role of the number 9 has changed over the years. No longer are they expected to be pass masters but now need to be fast and agile with speed of thought. So who is standing out in this years tournament? I was looking forward to seeing Du Preez of South africa having been my pick of the 2007 tournament but he seems to have lost some pace and confidence. Philips of Wales certainly talks a great game but he winds up and steps so much before his pass that unless he is making numerous breaks, could Wales be better off without him?
So much has been written about Australia’s Genia who for me is the most all round player. However to perform he needs a dominant pack. Yes his back row steal ball but I don’t think he can easily show off his skills like New Zealand’s Weepu. Weepu should be the worlds number 1 behind that pack but I feel he needs to lose 2 stone so he can reach every breakdown as opposed to 3 of every 4! For me, this has been New Zealand’s biggest weakness over the years. There is a call for him to start at 10. BIG MISTAKE in my view. Talented as he is he just would not have the kicking nous of a regular 10.
Argentina’s looks busy and is great at organising his forward pack. His game management is excellent and quite rightly was named by Martin Johnson as a focal point of their team.
England’s scrum half Ben Youngs whom I have coached previously has had a rollercoaster World Cup. Missing pre-world cup games did not help but his 30 mins against Argentina highlighted why he is so important to England. He is a match winner with his electric pace and the important try v Argentina to seal the win was vital. His playing ability reminds me of Joost Van der Westhuizen who was the world’s best 9 for some time. Like Ben, Joost was not the best passer but boy could he threaten and single-handedly win games. Like Joost, Ben is being man marked by the opposition and he needs to pass without stepping before he gets caught. I am sure he will be working on that this week.
His encounter with France’s Yachvilli will be interesting this weekend. Yachvilli will not score the winning try beating 5 or 6 defenders but what he will do is CONTROL the game and territory. He has silky scrum half skills but his left boot corner finders are second to none.
They inspire and reward the forwards and demoralise the opposition. If Ben can take a leaf out of his book and do the same, he will no doubt increase England’s likelihood of winning!
As to this year’s best no 9? I reserve judgement until the 23rd October.