The Team That Never Travelled: Part Nine, Fullback

The Mole: arch-conservative or reactionary? Both, probably – even though it’s a long-accepted fact that all reactionaries are paper tigers. The case in point? Fullback. The Mole’s take is that it’s a specific position which requires different talents and a wholly different skillset than a winger. Not a fan of the interchangeable back three. Not at all. I’ve seen Ugo Monye play in the No15 jersey.

Bish Bash Bosh? No thank you.

Clement Poitrenaud [29, France & Toulouse]: The Stade Toulousain fullback will always have a question mark over his legacy. His refusal to dot down a bobbling ball in his in-goal area during a H-Cup final against Wasps that lead to Rob Howley’s never-say-die winning try will always paint him to some as a Clouseau-esque bumbler, and perhaps Lievremont figured there was only room for one such figure in his travelling party (i.e. him).

But beyond that, Poitrenaud, whose name apparently means “chest puffed out” in Occitan (thanks Wikipedia) is a devastating counterattacking fullback who has worn the number 15 shirt (or indeed number 12 shirt) for European rugby’s most successful club team for the best part of a decade, and did so again for France in this year’s Six Nations Championship. Lievremont however could not find room for him in his extremely talented backs division, opting for grizzled high-bomb veteran (and inside centre) Damien Traille and Cedric “The Entertainer” Heymans as fullbacks, with mutton-chopped clubmate Maxime Medard and Alexis Pallison also offering cover.

Isa Nacewa [28, Fiji & Leinster]: The man voted player’s Player of the Year by European Champions Leinster and IRUPA, as well as notching up such accolades as Magners League Fullback of the Year and being dubbed  a “Barbarians Hero” by the Beeb, has already had just about enough World Cup experience to last him a career.

Nacewa’s brief substitute appearance against Scotland in RWC 2003 Pool B decider rendered him ineligible for the All Blacks [whom he subsequently wanted to represent] but the IRB refused to annul his test cap with Fiji. Rather zenly Nacewa has put his lack of an international career behind him, describing it as “just a part of the story” and turning down subsequent offers to represent Fiji on Northern hemisphere tours and indeed at RWC 2011 due to his commitment to both Leinster and his young family.

Nonetheless Nacewa is more than just a cult hero at Leinster but – having finally established his best position – has become one of the pre-eminent performers at the H-Cup level, where his glorious Maradona-esque solo effort against Leicester in the quarter-final was a personal highlight of the season.

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