Saturday, 17 April 2010

Master Eight?

Speaking of number 8s...

What do Imanol Harinordiquy, Sergio Parisse, Wycliff Palu, Kieran Read, Jamie Heaslip, Pierre Spies and Johnnie Beattie have in common?

Answer: they are all great examples of the modern day international number 8 forward. Big, quick, athletic, creative, with good hands and able to dominate the breakdown and get their respective teams on the front foot.

Notable by their absence from this list are any Welsh and English players. Arguably Wales had a version of the above player-type in 2005 in Ryan Jones but it really is a long time since he displayed any of the above attributes on an international rugby pitch, while potentially Andy Powell could still offer some hope if he could stay off the M4 in the early hours and perhaps grow a brain cell or two.

Meanwhile England, like Houston, have a problem. Since the (first) retirement of Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio, England have struggled to find an adequate replacement. The current incumbent is Nick Easter. Now, I like Nick Easter - he's an honest grafter with a clever rugby brain, good hands and the ability to get across the gain line but, let's face it, he's not the quickest and he's not going to get any quicker anytime soon. This need not necessarily be a problem at club level (or even against Wales) where good rugby nous can pay dividends but up against the very best a lack of pace can prove a serious liability.

The trouble is that Nick Easter fully deserves to be England's number eight as, quite frankly, who else is there? Waiting in the wings is Jordan Crane - aka Easter-lite - OK at kicking penalties in a shoot-out but offering nothing more around the pitch than the present incumbent and is perhaps marginally slower. After Crane there are the likes of the perpetually injured Dan Ward-Smith, the so far unfulfilled Luke Narraway and the so far untried Phil Dowson, none of whom are really screaming "PICK ME!"

A few years back a certain James Forrester looked as if he was the coming man at 8 but injuries soon put paid to that theory whilst players who looked as if they might have the attributes to make decent number 8s - the likes of Chris Jones and Magnus Lund for instance - were never really tried in the position. A year or so ago there was much talk of Wasps' young Hugo Ellis but I've heard very little about him in recent months and it does look as if this shortage of options is something of an indictment of the English development programme - Easter, for instance, being developed by Orrell in National One rather than by any academy.

With the lack of players coming through the system the Australian tour in June might therefore be an ideal opportunity to experiment, to try a player who looks as if he might have all the attributes but perhaps only lacks experience in the position. Maybe Courtney Lawes or, better still, Tom Croft?

Answers on the back of a postcard...

1 comment:

RedYeti said...

I don't think Courtney Lawes has the dynamic speed for the 8 shirt, and he doesn't seem to look to carry the ball too much, which is quite important. People keep saying he needs to bulk up before he can play properly at international level, but the lad is 18 stone, how much bulkier do they want him?!

I think Phil Dowson will get a good run on the tour; he's been playing at Eight for Northampton and is doing pretty well. He's been playing for the Saxons too and did pretty damn well I think. Hopefully he'll get and take opportunities in that position on tour and actually make the position his own. We need some competition for the spot for once, otherwise there's no motivation for Easter to put in the effort...