Five Fly Halves to Watch This World Cup
‘The Maverick’ - Finn Russell
The anticipation around Finn Russell is building going into this World Cup. The maverick fly half pulls rabbits out of the hat at will. It’s anyone’s best guess what he’ll conjure up next… Will it be an offload out the back door? Will he nutmeg someone as he did when he ruined Simon Zebo’s dignity in 2019? Perhaps he’ll take the ball to the line and run it in under the posts? Or maybe the defence is rushing up so quick in an attempt to shut him down that instead deftly chips it over for a match winning assist as he did when he put Saracens to the sword in the 2020 Champions Cups Semi Finals.
Russell has the full box of tricks. The Scotsman made the second most offloads per game last season out of all the fly halves and made the third most 50/22s per 80. He’ll be hoping for miracles to pull Scotland through a ‘Pool of Death’ where they’ll be taking on the reigning world champions in South Africa and the world number one in Ireland.
‘The Master’ - Johnny Sexton
This will be Sexton’s swansong. At the age of 38, Johnny Sexton will be hanging up his boots at the end of this World Cup after 14 years playing for Ireland. The Irish fly half was nearly denied the opportunity after receiving a ban following the Champions Cup Final for his conduct towards the match officials. This has meant he has missed the warm up games so Sexton will need to bring his old legs back up to speed quickly during the pool stage.
Despite being the oldest fly half at the World Cup, Sexton has a versatile skill set. He is the conductor of the Irish orchestra, not only as their captain but also creating opportunities for the rest of his team. Sexton can land a kick on six-pence making him one of the finest tactical kickers in the sport. He is also famous for his iconic wrap around plays where he’ll loop around his players and create space on the outside for his outside centre and wings. Everyone knows he does it, yet teams still struggle to stop him. Can Sexton sign off by sending Ireland to their first ever Semi Final? Time will tell…
‘The Point to Prove’ - Richie Mo’unga
New Zealand’s fly halves have been living in the long shadow of Dan Carter following back-to-back World Cup titles in 2011 and 2015. With 112 caps and the most points in international rugby, it was always going to be a hard act to follow. Beauden Barrett had the chance in 2019, however the shirt has been prised away by the Crusaders fly half Richie Mo’unga.
Mo’unga is a talented fly half in his own right. The Crusaders fly half has won six Super Rugby titles starting at 10. In contrast, Dan Carter only won three titles during his time at the same club. However, they are very different fly halves. Whilst Carter controlled a game, Mo’unga loves taking the ball to the line. He is not afraid of being clobbered, although he tries to avoid it when he can. Mo’unga beat the second most defenders per 80 out of all the fly halves last season. Expect a great battle in the opening game against Jalibert who was ranked fourth!
‘The Apprentice’ - Carter Gordon
Few would have predicted Carter Gordon would be Australia’s starting fly half at the beginning of this summer. The long-locked Melbourne Rebels ten was uncapped and was untested compared to the high profile options of Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley. The Wallabies ship was already rocking following the sacking of Dave Rennie and appointment of Eddie Jones as the Australian Head Coach with less than a year from a World Cup. It was time double or nothing.
If there’s anything Eddie is credited for, it is picking out talented players at an early age. The selection of Matt Giteau for the 2003 World Cup was a prime example of this. Twenty-years later, Carter Gordon is the new apprentice at the age of 22. There is a difference though. Jones had Stephen Larkham as his first-choice fly half back in 2003, in this case Carter Gordon is not only the first-choice fly half but also the only out-and-out fly half in the squad. There is heaps of pressure on these young shoulders. But this shouldn’t deter him. Gordon loves to take the ball to the line and bagged himself a try on debut against the Springboks at Loftus in the recent Rugby Championship. He sure knows his way to the try line as the fly half with the most tries per game last season.
‘The Discovery’ - Rodrigo Fernandez
Chile arrive at this World Cup for their first ever tournament having upset the rugby status quo by taking the Americas 2 seeding from the US and Canada. The South American side dispatched their North American rivals during the qualification process for the competition. The rise of Chile put a number of new faces on the rugby map, most notably Rodrigo Fernandez.
Few had heard of Rodrigo Fernandez last year. That was until a single moment which could change his life forever. Chile were up against the US in the Chilean capital of Santiago in the first of their two games. The conditions were horrendous and the pitch had become a mire. This was not the time for running rugby. That didn’t stop Fernandez. Having fielded a box kick just outside of his own 22 with a first touch with his left boot which any South American footballer would have been proud of, Fernandez then proceeded to run 80 metres up the field and score Chile’s first try of the match. He would later be awarded Try of the Year by World Rugby. It will be a tall ask for Fernandez to repeat this feat at the World Cup, however we can live in hope!