Gloucester's scrum-half put in an extremely sparky first-half performance against London Welsh on Friday evening, setting his side en route to a bonus-point win. We analyse the 22 year-old's display.
Friday evening’s encounter between London Welsh and Gloucester at the Kassam Stadium was a meeting of the Aviva Premiership’s most enthusiastic summer recruiters.
Stung into action by a week of work Shaun Edwards, the Exiles looked intent on shoring up an abysmal defensive record that had seen 20 tries shipped in their three previous games. There was added bit to their linespeed, which unsettled the visitors – clearly still acclimatising to David Humphreys’ methods themselves.
Predictably, what resulted was a rather disjointed first half. However, one youngster shone amid the inaccuracies and fully justified his starting berth ahead of new signing Greig Laidlaw. While the experienced Scot came on with 53 minutes on the clock and contributed to a late avalanche of points as Welsh tired and eventually sunk to a 46-10 defeat, Dan Robson was outstanding.
Danny Care, Ben Youngs and Lee Dickson are well established as Stuart Lancaster’s scrum-half trio and it will take a few more impressive displays to shift them. Even so, Robson is undoubtedly capable of forcing his name into the World Cup reckoning. A Saxon last season, he would not look out of place at Test match level at all.
His energy and awareness in attack was fantastic – and we will come to that later – but it is also worth admiring Robson’s composure and core skills. This clip is from the opening phase of the game, straight after kick-off.
Robson organises his runners and sends up Dan Murphy. Though the first tackle from Welsh lock James Down is a dominant one, Gloucester’s support play is good enough to win possession and set up a better angle for a box kick.
Contestable kicks are a very important part of modern rugby – they are a crucial component of the All Blacks’ game-plan and Danny Care’s infamous replacement in Paris back in Frbruary was due to some overhit clearances that gave France too much room on the counter-attack.
Here, the weight on Robson’s kick is very good, giving chaser Rob Cook an inviting target and putting Seb Jewell’s positioning under the microscope.
The best kicking nines – think Ruan Pienaar or the retired Dimitri Yachvili – possess variety in this area. Just minutes later, Robson executes a different type of kick with equal assurance.
Again, a cool head is helpful as Cook bravely clears up a dangerous grubber from Jewell. Robson, who is sweeping to cover anyway, first trusts his teammates to recycle and then, from a tough angle, gains about 40 metres. Without a fumble from Tom May, there may have been a quick lineout chance, but you must applaud a strike that alleviates any immediate threat.
Robson was alert to every attacking opportunity during his time on the pitch. Justin Burnell’s side are not the fittest in the Premiership by a long shot, and Gloucester would have been a pre-determined strategy to make them uncomfortable by maintaining a fast tempo. They had the perfect man to nail that down.
At the end of the first quarter, Robson sounded a warning with a sumptuous individual dart and chip from a quick-tap penalty.
The final bounce eludes him, but there is a refreshing ambition about this effort – not to mention exceptional skill. Isolating the moment Robson decides to go quickly though, we see this is not a maverick shot to nothing. Rather, it is a instinctive piece of decision-making.
After a phase of advantage the penalty is given. Robson (circled in red) follows referee Luke Pearce so he is on the correct mark and fine to proceed. As this screenshot shows, there are seven Welsh defenders within a tiny area. All are flat-footed, perhaps expecting Gloucester to take the points. Instead, Robson makes a calculated gamble that almost comes off spectacularly.
Minutes later, he held his nerve to conjure the first try of the contest, this time from the back foot inside his own 22 as Henry Purdy wins a penalty at the ruck after a 12-phase attack from the Exiles.
While Piri Weepu and Oliver Stedman debate the decision and three more of their teammates lie on the floor and out of action, Robson only has eyes for the ball. Ben Morgan’s gaze suggests there has been a call from out wide on the left too. What happens next is devastating.
Billy Twelvetrees eventually collects the direct assist, but Robson’s role goes beyond the initial tap. His second touch in the movement from the ruck following Jonny May’s carry is vital as well. Sniping across field before straightening up slightly, he commits winger Rhys Crane and turns what could be a six-on-four into a five-on-two.
Turnover ball, and the transition between defence and attack, is such a rich source of tries – especially for clinical, creative backlines. Hook’s vision to keep the ball alive from Dean Schofield’s errant offload, allied to the speed of Robson and Charlie Sharples, makes for a fine score. These two screenshots highlight Robson’s contribution. First, it is he that tracks back to make the tackle on Schofield.
Then, having carried the ball in two hands and used footwork to attract Jewell, his pass to Sharples again expertly timed, sent only when the Welsh full-back has turned his shoulders inwards and is therefore fully committed.
It was a virtuoso evening from Robson, who will surely enjoy a good share of the number nine jersey at Gloucester despite the presence of Laidlaw. That can only be a good thing for England. As the World Cup nears, another livewire scrum-half is pushing for involvement.