Rugby positions have evolved over the years, especially since the advent of professionalism, and the role of the humble winger has been no exception.
Initially a purely defensive position, the surge in popularity of passing at the end of the 19th century and the increasing value of tries in rugby’s scoring system, gave them more importance in attack and put a premium on the value of a pacey finisher.
Subsequently wingers were perhaps seen by some as fancy-Dans, although their ability to supply the scoring touch and turn a match on its head in an instant has always been respected.
But if the wide players of yesteryear were mere spectators for much of the 80 minutes, then there is no chance that a modern winger could complain of having cold hands.
Today, wingers are expected to get involved in all facets of play, as has been the case during this year’s men’s Six Nations. Here are just a few examples…
Darcy Graham’s turnover
The Scotland winger highlighted his attacking talent early in Scotland’s Calcutta Cup win against England at Murrayfield, carving through tackles to set up Ben White for a try on his test debut.
But it was Graham’s work on the other side of the ball that arguably won the game for the hosts and earned the Edinburgh player plaudits for his breakdown prowess.
With time in the red and England mounting one last attack in search of the try that would secure them victory, Graham did brilliantly to disrupt the ball after Elliot Daly had been tackled.
Daly could only watch on as the ball squirted from his grasp and bobbled into the grateful clutches of Hamish Watson, who secured possession that was ultimately kicked dead to end the match.
“He’s a brave little [guy]. To go in for that last turnover and get it was absolutely outstanding,” Scotland captain Stuart Hogg said of Graham’s intervention. “It was an outstanding performance from the little fellow.”
Mack Hansen takes flight
Hansen has made a huge impact in his first Six Nations in an Ireland jersey, picking up the Player of the Match award against Wales on the opening weekend and then stunning the Stade de France into silence with his aerial ability in Round Two.
Les Bleus had come flying out of the blocks in Paris and led 10-0 with barely six minutes on the clock of a match they would, eventually, go on to win.
However, it was Hansen who soared highest into the sky as he judged Joey Carberry’s seventh-minute restart perfectly to pick the pocket of France full-back Melvyn Jaminet and score a try that will be talked about for years to come.
It was a piece of opportunism that will have impressed Ireland coach Andy Farrell, who likes his wingers to be versatile, multi-faceted players and could herald the start of a long test career.
Jonny May tries his hand in a scrum
England winger May has been forced to watch on as the men’s Six Nations 2022 has unfolded, having undergone surgery on a knee injury.
However, no article detailing feats you wouldn’t expect to see a winger undertake would be complete without reference to the time May became an honorary forward.
Following a late yellow card for Joe Marler in a test between England and Argentina at Twickenham in November 2016, the hosts found themselves a man light in the back-row as Teimana Harrison was withdrawn so Mako Vunipola could return to the pitch.
May valiantly stepped into the breach when England were awarded a late scrum, binding on behind Vunipola at openside flanker.
The Gloucester winger did not exactly put the winger into wing-forward but did just about enough to help England win the ball and see out a 27-14 triumph.
“Poor old Mako was a little bit confused when he saw Jonny’s head pop between his legs. Luckily we got the ball in and out,” scrum-half Ben Youngs said.