By Alan Dymock
SOMETIMES THE most onerous demands are the ones you set for strangers.
Punters masquerading as experts, like yours truly, could lay claim to certain expectations of professional players. However, such requests mean nothing to players already wilting under an already exhaustive international fixture schedule.
It would be folly to run up a list of challenges for elite players because they already have such tortuous expectations of themselves.
Therefore, with the Six Nations looming like an overbearing grandfather clock, the more prevalent
approach would be to demand more from the faceless positions where a high standard is required, rather than picking on personalities, you know, who have feelings.
The England’s No.8 shirt
Whoever is handed the job of riding that Red Rose-chested pack to the try-line needs to be able to command it, especially at Twickenham where the ghosts of Dallaglio and Richards have taken permanent residence.
There may be loose talk of Ben Morgan being more of a hulking No 6 than an No 8, or how Thomas Waldrom, at full-flight, moves like a slinky on a rollercoaster. There may also be suggestions that James Haskell is now too effective being cast into the fray, late on, to merit a starting berth. These are all irrelevant, though.
The England No 8 must be a man willing to lead the line and be able to do so without getting spooked. The rest of the pack need that. He cannot fumble the ball. He must last the pace of a full game. Whoever is chosen, and it could well be Morgan, must be a constant reassuring presence. So who wants it?
Scotland’s rucking corp
After several years of hurling the L’Oreal slogan at Scottish players as they struggled to play an attractive brand of rugby, it is now more pertinent to call for simplicity. Scotland have run too blindly up too many alleys in the last few seasons and now need to be given limitations.
Earning the right to play may seem like workman’s watchwords. Yet Scotland need to be workmen. They need to lay foundations. They need to build. They also need to knock stuff down that stands in their way.
In the heads of this new-ish Scots outfit should be a fixed mantra, perhaps sloshing around in the voice of of Dean Ryan, to play towards scoring. This means completing the job at the breakdown. This means hammering away whenever the game hints at slowing, so that the fleet-footed backline has even an outside chance of breaking cover and not being bulldozed like huts made of wicker.
Part of Welsh appeal comes from their unerring dedication to split-second play. Despite the depth of Wales’ history, they have forever merited being monikered, ‘the cardiac kids’.
Those young men are willing to career from line to line only because their use of turnover ball has been so good in recent years, and their re-organisation after attacks and turnovers too swift for the opposition to trip them up.
So many times Wales have run beyond their means and stretched to an attacking plan that allows turnover-fed opposition to tear
through later. This isn’t unlucky. This is just a high-risk strategy that can, or cannot, pay dividends. But what do we expect? It’s the way Wales are meant to play!
The kicking options better be fed into the scrum-half’s ear early doors though. It must be made clear that Wales need to get back to where they were in the last Six Nations, and perhaps a little patience and a lot of meticulous planning could help them find that winning habit all the sooner.
The concept of “impertinence” is often constrained, shackled to youth and not allowed to be attributed to anyone in seniority. Dogged old dodgers cannot be called “cheeky” and youngsters can only show maturity that “betrays” or “belies” their years.
Green Irish caps, then, will no doubt be expected to be the most risky of players. Raised on a game that famously endorses choke tackles, clawing for ball and gnarled breakdown operators, they must surely all be waiting to infringe.
Of course this is a stereotype; a caricature. Nevertheless, the Irishman flirting with danger in the shadowy recesseses of a game must realise that Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll, Jonny Sexton and any new player need a clean run at things. They want ball, of course, but they would rather operate with the referee on their side.
The new Irish game needs momentum. Sexton needs to be able to pick a rhythm and thump the ball with freedom, and the likes of Simon Zebo need to be able to time their runs without having to stop to pat a penalty winner on the back. Let them run free…