Life can be strange. I know that’s a pretty vague and obvious way to start an article, but I never fail to be surprised by just how strange. Especially when it leads you down a particular path.
We’ve all been there. Perhaps in your career or love life, situations have conspired seemingly against you, sent you down an avenue you knew was wrong. You cursed your rotten luck and wished you could have done something about it. At the time, you feel aggrieved. And then, a few weeks pass, maybe a month, and what seemed to be the wrong choice, turns out to be the right one. Your hand had been forced and yet, it was the best decision all along. Life can be strange.
Back in the autumn, if you’d said to Stuart Lancaster that you would take Lawes, Launchbury, Farrell and Tuilagi out of his England side, his eyes would have narrowed and, with hackles raised, he would have barked you out of his house. Such were those men linchpins of Lancaster’s plans, he would have happily wrapped them up in rather large amounts of cotton wool and lay them down in his greenhouse.
Robbed of those key services, he has had to dig deep into his pockets for some surplus change, hoping that these men could do the job. He has had to adjust his team’s shape and tinker with the game plan; and goodness me has it worked. England are enjoyable to watch; cohesive and exciting, they play with a freedom and ease that poked fun at Wales and made, eventual, light work of a reenergised Italy. But this wasn’t the plan.
Jonathan Joseph has been the most eye catching beneficiary, but let’s just talk about Dave Attwood. 7th, maybe 8th choice second row if everyone had been fit and well? Sod that. He has been excellent. Last weekend against the Welsh I thought he was the man of the match and then against Italy, he worked incredibly well across the field. Just how many prangs had to happen for England to unleash him? Life can be strange.
At fly half, a position that England and Lancaster have never quite been comfortable with since Sir Jonny retired; a revelation. Not just one, but two men who can blend a team and pull out some individual magic. Farrell’s defensive presence and kicking at goal made him first choice but the England fans ached for someone with a bit of ‘show and go’ about them. George Ford, quite rightly, has the shirt at the moment; he has held the reigns and pulled the trigger with inspiring ease these first two games, but I’m not sure he would have scored the try Danny Cipriani did. Given a cameo, the Sale man showed both pace and vision to get on the end of Jonny May’s offload. Embarrassing riches for Lancaster; life can be strange.
But, for me, the most exciting thing about England at the moment, is what is beginning to hatch down in Devon. Whilst the men at Twickenham were dispatching the Azurri, the same was being done in Exeter by a team containing a triumvirate of twenty-one year olds who can all wear the red rose. The home side pulled an experienced Falcons team apart and notched up nigh on fifty points in a game that will have the England coaches purring. Henry Slade, Sam Hill and Jack Nowell lined up at 10, 12 and 13 for the Chiefs and set about their opposition with a delightful combination of power and proficiency. Hill’s step and bounce is ambrosial and you’d be hard pressed to find a player with better hands and a lower centre of gravity. He possesses an astute and resolute defensive game and is, without doubt, a genuine international prospect at inside centre. Nowell, we know a little about; his feet and pace are as good as the Aviva Premiership gets (Joseph included) and despite looking like a combination of George V and the drummer from Blink 182, he is a finisher of real style. But perhaps Henry Slade is the real star. Possessed with all of the above, here is England’s real answer at ten. Maybe not now, but it won’t take him long. He unpicked Newcastle’s knot with sumptuous ease; he knew where every ball was going to bounce and mixed up his game with a calm assurance that I haven’t seen in quite some time. He was excellent at fly half and yet, has played every minute of the previous thirteen Premiership rounds at outside centre. Shades of Wilkinson, but you know what, he could be better than that.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.