Hodgson’s choice

I am talking candles with my young son. It is approaching his sister’s birthday and we are musing over the possibility of a candle that could burn different colours, changing every so often as it went down the wick, perhaps also occasionally fizzing like a sparkler. I toy, temporarily, with the idea of stopping the conversation and writing an email to a manufacturer, such is the strength of the creative, but another philosophical ponderance enters my head. I smile and look across at him.

“Would you be that candle,” I begin, my son’s seven-year-old brow furrowing as I speak, “that burns all those fancy colours for one day? Or would you be a normal, run of the mill candle that lasts for a whole week?” He thinks, stands up from his chair, and makes to leave the room. “Don’t be silly Daddy, I’m going to be both.” And he trails off towards the TV, leaving me open mouthed and outfoxed; foiled once again by the wonderfully simplistic way children see the world.

It gets me thinking though. Can you be both? Sport can produce players in possession of both excellence and longevity. It isn’t common, and indeed the names that conjure up those tandem qualities occupy a hallowed haunt in their respective sports. It seems being very good is one thing; staying there, is quite another.

In rugby, it is most difficult. The physical demands of the modern game, coupled with the genuine ill-fortune of injury make it nigh on impossible to be regarded as the best for too long. Anything more than a ten year stretch performing at the top level is, well, beyond good. So to be still burning away in such an illuminating fashion nearly fifteen years after ignition, must surely make anyone take note. Charlie Hodgson, it seems, is quite a candle.

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I watched him yesterday for Saracens. His shaven bald head dipping and weaving in a back line part police cordon, part angry mob. The Tigers visited the Allianz looking to take advantage of a fatigued North London outfit, who had one eye on a mouth watering contest next weekend against Clermont. Leicester, dressed in their garish orange away strip, bombarded their hosts. The East Midland pack, who had unboxed Chiefs so expertly a fortnight ago, sweated and toiled. Tigers did all they could to become an irresistible force, but the men in black sank their studs in to their now famous plastic pitch and deadened their eyes. Is there a more immovable object than Sarries in this mood?

Leicester lashed out at the unfairness of the task. Both Tom Youngs and Niki Goneva spent time in the bin for ludicrous moments of ill temper, frustrated at what they no doubt faced: Saracens soaking it all up and then returning the punches with more weight and greater accuracy. The Barnet boys are typified by Hodgson. Almost omnipresent around the park, he busies himself with any task. Looping and twirling behind his runners, always looking to keep things moving, trying to make sure there’s another man on the outside. Bosch and Wyles were put away by Hodgson, the latter for the fatal blow; the timing of the pass so good, everyone wanted another look at it.

Charles Christopher Hodgson is a record breaker. Arguably the best fly half the English Premiership has ever seen. More points than anyone else. More games than any other 10. Interestingly, he holds a record of appearances for England. No other player has started as many consecutive games: Hodgson completed 18 between 2004 and 2006. Funny, especially as any historian looking back will probably surmise that he wasn’t the fly half of his generation. Hodgson’s crime was to ply his trade at the same time as one of rugby’s best outside halves. In any other era, Hodgson would have been king.

Now, 34 years young, and still a reassuring hand on the steering wheel of one of Europe’s best teams, Charlie’s effect on Saracens is unmistakable. He is all about the others; giving, sharing, distributing, protecting; an anonymous wolf in a wolf pack so definitive. If there was a stencil for a modern ten, it would probably look like Hodgson.

Harlequins v Saracens - Aviva PremiershipYou can’t argue against Saracens, how ever much you’d want to, like you can’t against their wily outside half. They are upright and steadfast in all competitions; one already neatly tucked away; burning the requisite colours and effects to dazzle any bystander. And what’s more, they’re still going. Week after week, month after month. Excellence and longevity; difficult to hold a candle to.

Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.

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