The final place in the Royall Lyme Rugby World Cup XV Forward Pack is filled by a Kiwi of some pedigree. The All Blacks have a knack of producing effective No 8s and the current incumbent of that jersey Kieran Read is the latest in a longline of players who have dominated the position internationally. One of the most renowned is my choice at No 8, Zinzan Brooke.
— Park House School (@PHSNewbury) March 9, 2015
The No 8 is a pivotal rugby position at scrum time where they work closely with the scrum half to ensure the team builds a foundation from the set piece. Coaches also look for the ‘eight man’, as they are known here in the US, to provide options in open play by carrying the ball or providing extra cover in the back line to field high kicks.
Zinzan Brooke was a player ahead of his time, a Forward with the skills of a Back which he learned early in his career as a 7s player. He had an enviable running and kicking game which gave him mobility on the pitch and the ability to create opportunities for others. Described as ‘versatile and durable’ he had an impressive record for both club and country, enjoying success with both in his time at the top level.
“I like the running game. I like to put the guys through a gap. The guys now demonstrate that fantastically well…I used to love the physicality, I loved going into a war.”
His first RWC was the 1987 tournament where he came off the bench and scored a try against Argentina. It was the sign of things to come as Brooke would score 41 for his country in all, despite only becoming first choice at 8 late in his career. His 17 tries in Tests was a record for a Forward player and shows his composure and skill under pressure.
— The Blues (@BluesRugbyTeam) January 7, 2015
Brooke captained his club side to the first two Super Rugby titles and would score 150 tries in his career. It’s noted many of these were pushover tries from the base of the pack but they all count and often those last few feet to get across the line are the hardest to earn.
This often unconventional player proved his worth with the boot in the 1995 RWC semi-final game against England when he scored an unexpected drop goal from just inside the half way line. He always backed himself to kick points and he scored three dropped goals in his test career.
“I used to practice all the time. I used to love kicking. Why is it that a fly half has to kick the ball? John Eales is famous for winning a Bledisloe Cup with that kick down in Wellington. It should be the best person with the best ball skills.”
New Zealand won the 1987 Rugby World Cup and Brooke would go on to compete for his country in the 1991 and 1995 tournaments but he was part of an All Blacks generation that dominated the game but failed to deliver the top prize.
When asked what makes a good player great, Brooke told Total Rugby
— IRBConfEx (@IRBConfEx) July 30, 2014
“Doing the basics that’s just part and parcel but you have to have more ammunition to your game to make it different. Everyone can be Mr 70% Man all the time but you have to have another string to your bow. Will I kick here? Will I pass here? Can I cover? Reading the game, that’s what I think I brought to the game.”
One to watch at Rugby World Cup 2015 – Duane Vermeulen
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) September 6, 2014
Duane Vermeulen goes into his first Rugby World Cup off the back of a season that saw him nominated for the IRB Player of the Year. The Springboks No 8 clearly made an impression in his Rugby Championship performances in 2014, especially those against the All Blacks, and much is expected of the Stormers’ player in a busy 2015 schedule.
Known for his turnovers, tackles and carries Vermeulen made his debut for South Africa in 2012 at the age of 26 and has developed into a key player for Heneke Meyer’s team. His stand out performances have caught the attention of Toulon and he is rumoured to join the French club after the RWC tournament in October along with other new signings Ma’a Nonu and Samu Manoa.
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Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Head Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyToday.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com