Greig Laidlaw confirmed at Gloucester and our England three shine, almost …
The last time I wrote this blog, Gloucester Rugby had just been unceremoniously brought down to mother Earth with a big bump: a 39–13 thrashing by Northampton. All those dark he’s-got-to-go mutterings were given new impetus and the only fun in our lives at the moment is the gossip and rumour mongering of who’s coming and who’s going. We’re pretty desperate here in Gloucester – desperate to find a silver lining that might compensate for that mother of a black cloud that we refer to as the 2013–14 season.
Jam tomorrow is all we have to ease the pain.
As I predicted … Sorry… As was predicted by people a lot smarter than me, we’ve said hello to Greig Laidlaw, that well known Scottish fly half who is being brought in to fill the vacuum left by the departing Burns, Mills, Taylor and (I think) Bentley. Although he’s not, to be fair. He’s not a fly half at all, really. He’s a scrum half. And instead of hats being thrown into the air and woo-hoo’s of joy and happiness, there were many amongst us more inclined to a grumpy, ‘Is that it?’
And so I ask the question: is Greig Laidlaw the Great White Hope of Gloucester Rugby?
For me, signing a nine who plays a bit at ten, to fill the gap at ten doesn’t quite hit the spot. For starters, our present nine also plays a bit at ten and you wonder how that’ll pan out. Will they take it in turns? Will they toss for it? Or arm-wrestle, with the loser getting the ten position?
But what really gets me about this is that it smacks of a compromise. And a compromise smacks of settling for something we didn’t really want in the first place. And settling for something we didn’t really want in the first place smacks of panic. We were told that we were looking for a ten with 1) an eighty per cent kicking success rate, and 2) a leader. Indeed, with fanfare and trumpets, Gloucester Rugby announced just that: Laidlaw has, it told us ’considerable game management skills, accurate goal kicking record and character’.
Many would call me a gloomy old pedant but I must emphasise that Laidlaw is not primarily a scrum half. He is a part-timer, and surely, we didn’t search high and low for a scrum half who could play a bit at fly half. No, what we wanted was a fly half who could play a lot at fly half. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find one and so we’re making do with young Laidlaw. (Young compared to me, of course – at 28 he’s not particularly young in rugby terms.)
Perhaps – you never know – Gloucester Rugby has something up its sleeve and the really big jam announcement is still to come, but I’m not holding my breath.
While we’ve had three weeks without rugby at Kingsholm, we’ve had to make do with England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales strutting their stuff. And as a useful diversion, we’ve had three cherry and whites in white only. Three out of fifteen starters for England – that’s one fifth, if you’re struggling – from a close-to-the-bottom club. That must be something to woo-hoo about.
Billy Twelvetrees must now be one of the first on the team sheet these days – he does everything right. He makes those inside him and outside him look good, he’s solid in defence and his pass is a thing of beauty. This guy is a Gloucester Legend in the making.
Ben Morgan rolled up his sleeves and shined while Vunipola was sidelined. He was excellent going forward and is becoming a force to be reckoned with. I don’t know whether you follow the wise words of Dean Ryan (he writes for the Guardian) but he was saying (if I understood correctly) that our Ben is all right if he gets the ball on the move, but if he gets the ball standing still he’s ineffective. Or something. Evidently, it’s all to do with the fact that when Gloucester first had him he was a winger and Gloucester didn’t like him as a winger and sent him packing.
No, I didn’t understand it, either.
There is no doubt about it, Jonny May has huge potential. He is one of the most exciting wingers around at the moment but someone has got to start coaching him, or he’ll drown in his own indecision. There was a time not so long back when he was the golden boy of the Gloucester back line and supporters would turn up carrying ‘Give it to Jonny’ placards and every time he got the ball there would be a clamour of excitement and expectation. And the harder it got to score those give-it-to-Jonny’ tries – we’ve had a difficult season – the more he would manufacture a path to the try line – and this usually involves running backwards and around the opposition. Saturday’s was a classic: I swear for about five metres he was sprinting, at breakneck speed, towards his own try line. And this was followed by an equally desperate thirty-yard sideways sprint across the pitch where – to nobody’s great surprise – he was tackled.
I think his problems started in the very first match against France, when he butchered that scoring opportunity, attempting to ground the ball with one hand. If he had scored that try, things might have been different. As it was, however, he was largely ignored by his England teammates.
And the lesson to be learnt? Don’t butcher tries.