Reaction Weekend

Rugby and the rise of the “hybrid player”

BY Allan Massie   /  21 November 2020

Eddie Jones resembles his fellow-Australian, the late Clive James; gabby, provocative, not over-burdened by modesty, always interesting and with ideas sparkling like a Catherine Wheel. He has been attracting attention recently with remarks about “hybrid players” – that is, chaps capable of playing as either a forward or a back – and by suggesting that he might depart from the regular practice of fielding eight forwards and seven backs. This, as intended, attracted a good deal of media attention, some writers finding it interesting new thinking.

Of course, none of it was actually new. Back in the 1930s, Danie Craven, who would later become the Capo of Springbok rugby, played both scrumhalf and number 8 for South Africa. Ten or eleven years ago Italy’s South African coach Nick Mallett, faced with a list of injured scrum-halves, played his outstanding flanker Mauro Bergamasco in that position. It wasn’t a success, and the experiment was abandoned at half-time, but I don’t recall it being condemned as crazy when the team was announced.

Back in the 1950s the hefty Wasps and England wing J E Woodward got so fed up hanging about on the touchline and waiting for a pass that never came that he switched to playing his club rugby at number 8. More recently, Richie Vernon has played for Scotland as a backrow forward and centre three-quarter. I would guess that almost every long-established amateur club could boast of members who spent part of their career in the scrum, part in the back division, while innumerable people must have started their schoolboy career in one department, then found themselves, in adult life, in another.


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