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Question for the pedants. How come the stand-offs don't stand out anymore?

Happens every time.

Finn Russell has proved he can chop and change between No.10 and inside centre.
Finn Russell has proved he can chop and change between No.10 and inside centre.

The copy has to leave my laptop about a nanosecond after the final whistle, but there's two minutes left and the game is balanced on a knife-edge. The scoreboard doesn't tally with my notes, I still haven't seen a crowd figure, and I've no idea who replaced the tighthead prop in the 55th minute or whether the inside-centre's knee injury is likely to be serious. And then he turns up. The intern.

"Man of the match?" he asks, with the fresh-faced enthusiasm of an eager young vicar in his first parish. Now, at this stage of the proceedings, a hyperventilating hack is more likely to come up with a chronological list of the Plantagenet kings or an executive summary of Fermat's Last Theorem than figure out who has been playing particularly well.

"I'll just go with the majority," I mutter, well aware that the majority have probably said exactly the same thing.

There used to be a different way of doing it. You'd look at the scoreboard to see who was winning, then nominate their fly-half. OK, so it was a rudimentary system, but it generally worked. And it generally squared with the way rugby used to be played. Chances are, or rather were, that a side needed their main playmaker to be on top of his game if they were to get their noses in front.

In the 1970s, individual accolades were seen as contrary to the spirit of rugby. Bill McLaren, for one, was always reluctant to get involved in a man of the match decision. But if they were being handed out back then, most of them would probably have been taken by fly-halves.

No longer. It has become extremely rare for a No.10 to be lauded as a game's most significant figure. I've just checked the official match statistics for the past two Six Nations and (southern hemisphere) Rugby Championships. Number of games? 54. Number of fly-halves given MotM awards? Three.

Now a pedant - and rugby has a few - might argue that three out of 54 is not that bad a figure in a game played by 15 players. Yet if a front-five player rarely get the award, and front-row players almost never, then statistically the odds are stacked in favour of fly-halves, but the actual numbers are still against them. From a more cursory glance through the match reports, it seems that loose forwards, especially loose forwards called Kieran Read, have been stealing a lot of the glory latterly. Clearly, your chances are also boosted if you happen to be called Brian O'Driscoll.

The three fly-halves honoured were England's Owen Farrell, Italy's Luciano Orquera and South Africa's Morne Steyn. In every case, they also carried the goal-kicking duties for their respective sides, and the awards reflected strong returns in that area as much as anything else they did. The inevitable conclusion is that the position long seen as the most important on a rugby pitch has become one of diminished influence. Mr Oh-So-Important has become just one of the crowd. Perhaps the thinking is that specialists are no longer required, that the position has become one for all-rounders.

In a way, it always was. History shows that some of the game's most revered playmakers could do decent shifts elsewhere. Around a third of Gregor Townsend's 82 Scotland caps were won in the centre. John Rutherford played there for the Lions as well. Felipe Contepomi, Michael Lynagh and even Phil Bennett popped up in the midfield for their respective countries. But there is no question that the fly-half skill set is not as distinct as once it was.

So how come the stand-offs don't stand out anymore? The mind goes back to March 2009, and a conversation with Steve Bates, the former Border Reivers coach who was then in charge of Newcastle Falcons. Earlier that season, the Kingston Park side had lost Jonny Wilkinson to (yet another) injury, had struggled to fill his position, and were in danger of relegation. But Bates had rescued them by moving winger Tom May to fly-half, where he thrived. The Falcons went on a six-game winning streak and levered themselves out of trouble.

"The changing nature of the game in that position has contributed to what we've tried to do," Bates said then. "It begs the question of what a fly-half role is now. Has it changed a little bit?"

Clearly, it had. Another intriguing dimension to Edinburgh's recent fly-half fire sale is provided by the fact that the two players who have filled the No.10 jersey most impressively for the Murrayfield side over the past three seasons have been Greig Laidlaw and Greig Tonks, converted from scrum-half and full-back respectively. Like May, they were - and are - good rugby players, with skills that turned out to be more transferable than anyone ever imagined.

Glasgow and Scotland seem to have settled on Duncan Weir as first-choice fly-half for the moment. But the emergence of Finn Russell over the past few months, plus the return to action of Peter Horne, suggests that a different kind of game might soon be taking shape. Both Russell and Horne can chop and change between No.10 and inside-centre, more in the mould of the New Zealand concept of first and second five-eighth than conventional northern hemisphere thinking.

Russell was named man of the match at the end of Glasgow's victory over Treviso last Friday. I'd like to think it was my vote - based, of course, on lengthy and considered analysis - that swung it.

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