Analysis: What makes a flanker effective in the modern game?

Analysis: What makes a flanker effective in the modern game?

The Six Nations is just a few days away! It's been around three months since our last taste of Test Rugby and as always the Six Nations provides plenty of excitement for teams and fans alike.

As part of our build-up to the Six Nations, we have got Omar Mouneimne in to preview the tournament. The Worcester defence coach has taken a look at three flankers ahead of the competition and highlights what makes them so effective in what they do.

He takes a look at three players in particular namely: Tom Curry (Sale Sharks and England), Josh van der Flier (Leinster and Ireland) and Sam Underhill (Bath and England). All three players are world-class and extremely athletic flankers however there is a stark difference between the two English players and Josh van der Flier.

There are three methods to slow the ball down on defence: Dominant hits, choke tackles and finally competing at the breakdown. The Gold standard is hit, feet, compete which Omar explains in the clip below and dives into the stats of the three players.

If we look at the stats, van der Flier makes 50% less dominant hits than the English pair, they all have a tackle success around 90% and they all contest at the breakdown every second tackle that they make.


So let's take a closer look at three flankers.

Tom Curry

If we have a look at Tom Curry, we can see his physicality and line speed against La Rochelle. He makes a good hit, chokes the ball carrier before taking the player to the ground. He has slowed the ball down and draws in three players into the ruck.

Off this lineout below. Curry flies out of the line with his brother and makes a dominant hit getting his shoulder stuck in and drives the ball carrier and stops the momentum of Exeter.

In the next clip, also against Exeter, Curry does the work of a typical openside flanker by having a sniff at the first breakdown but he realises that Exeter have already won the breakdown. 

He bounces out and goes to contest the next breakdown where slows the Exeter attack down and once again he draws in three defenders to the ruck.

Most of the flankers are used on kick chases as they want them to attack the breakdown and slow the ball down. 

Curry does this superbly, he is involved in the hit bounces up and contests over the ball, forcing Exeter to clean him out and secure the ball.

Curry has all the tools for a great openside flanker. He hit you upstairs, he can chop you down and he can bounce in and out of breakdowns.

Josh van der Flier

Now if you look at van der Flier here, he gets stuck into the breakdown but he doesn't quite survive the clear out. His body position is quite high, his bum is in the air and essentially leads him to be cleaned out a lot easier.

In the next clip it's the same thing. He bounces into the breakdown but his body position makes it easy for the attack to clear him out.

There is a bit of a pattern of this as he is involved in a number of rucks and has a high number of involvements but doesn't survive a lot of cleanouts and averages a single steal a game.

And he isn't always slowing the ball down. 

Here again, he looks like his stuck into the breakdown but his feet are close together, his bum is up and he gets cleared out.

In the next clip, his technique is far better as his base is wide with his legs further a part, he gets over the ball and is difficult to clearout.

Now against Northampton, he shows similar attributes to Tom and Sam as he makes a good choke tackle, slows the ball down and forces Ludlam to clear him out.

Sam Underhill

The first thing we have a look at with Underhill is how quickly he gets to his feet and competes at the breakdown after a chop tackle.

He did this against New Zealand in the World Cup from a kick chase as he hits Barrett, gets back to his feet and competes at the breakdown.

He does this again later on in the game as he makes a good hit on Read, bounces up and does the 'Gold standard' of hit, feet and compete.

Against the Springboks, he does the higher, choke tackle - similar to Tom Curry. He grapples de Allende and forces him to the ground slowing the Springbok attack down following the maul.

Against Saracens he makes a good high shot on Vunipola, drives him back and gets back to his feet, drawing in a Saracens attacker.

He does some typical flanker play from a scrum in the same game. He makes a great cover tackle bounces to his feet and contests for the ball.

He has another great hit on Vunipola and gets straight back to his feet and doesn't get sucked into the breakdown.


So just from those clips you can see van der Flier doesn't make a lot of dominant hits, he sticks his head into a number of breakdowns but is probably not tight enough in the rucks. Whereas Curry and Underhill have a few more tools up their sleeves and are a bit more physical.

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