Of 10’s & 12’s

9 02 2010

Danny Cipriani: Staying or going?

Should he stay or should he go?

Danny Cipriani’s proposed move to Australia to join up with the new Super 15 side continues to hang in the balance. With contradictory newspaper reports (sometimes in the same paper) suggesting that he has, is going to or has turned them down, nobody is sure whether he is coming or going. Cipriani, despite seemingly having been around for years, due to his huge media profile, is still only 22 and in the infancy of his career. Currently he appears to be 5th choice England fly-half behind, Wilkinson, Flood, Geraghty, Goode and with Johnson’s seeming dislike/distrust of him, the offer is probably tempting. For our money he should probably go. A year or two in southern hemisphere rugby would probably sharpen him up and he would return a more complete player than he is now, which in the long run would only be to England’s benefit. A talented and exciting player, there is little doubt that at some point he will play an important part in England’s plans but considering the current regime this will not be in the immediate future.

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On the subject of exciting 10’s……

When a side sets out to play attacking rugby, as England did last week, the importance of good operators at 10 and 12 has always been important. As the game developed in the professional era with defences becoming more ‘rugby league’ in style, spreading out across the pitch in an all enveloping line, operators who can breach them are becoming increasingly sought after. With England and for that matter all the 6 Nation sides playing in such a moribund way, we thought we would take a look at both great and very promising 10/12 partnerships of the last 10 years to see what it is that northern hemisphere rugby is missing in its current incarnation. In roughly chronological order:

Wilkinson & Greenwood (2002-3)
People who are surprised to see Wilkinson’s name in this list are forgetting the brilliant rugby that England played from 2001 – 2003 with a combination of these two at the helm. Contrary to what some leaden recent performances and memories of JW’s metronomic kicking suggest, these two were a very effective and exciting midfield partnership. For doubters please look at the highlights on Youtube of England vs Ireland 2003 which was probably the high point of their partnership.

Best fly-half ever?

Carter & McCallister/Mauger/Umaga (NZ – most of the decade)
For much of the decade Dan Carter has reigned supreme as the consummate  fly-half performer in world rugby. Outside him for most of it have been one of the three men mentioned and all fantastic players in their own right. Kiwi rugby is more often blessed than most with free running talents and this tradition looks set to continue. There is a school of thought that Carter could make anyone look good alongside him, but it has equally been his good fortune to play in dominant sides adept at creating quick ball with which he is able to work.

Jones & Roberts (B&I Lions 2009)
Despite losing the series
in South Africa last year these two proved that they had what it took to play confident and effective attacking rugby. With BOD outside and the large presence of Phillips inside, they showed what is possible for Wales going forward in the future. Jones is a strange one, as when asked to pick the worlds top 10’s his name would never be mentioned, yet he is quietly effective and gets his back line going forward. Roberts looks set to be a star for years to come although Wales will need to use him better than they have done in the past few test matches.

Giteau & Barnes/Mortlock
An honourable mention should also go to Matt Giteau, Stirling Mortlock and Berrick Barnes, as of late various combinations amongst these three have shown real promise. With the long term incumbent at 12 still to be totally decided these pairings have at least shown an ability to play exciting and attacking rugby. Like Carter, Giteau in particular has the ability to elevate the game of anyone playing alongside him as he is such a natural attacking talent.

Non Qualifiers
Astute readers will realise that there is not a single South African pairing in the list. Whereas there are and have been effective pairings (Morne Steyn & Jean De Villiers spring to mind), none of them could be accused of setting the field alight with their creativity and attacking play. Indeed the South Africa have chopped and changed their picks at 10 so frequently over the last 10 years that if anyone had made the list it would have been a minor miracle.

Yannick Jauzion

Ireland, despite having the genius of Brian O’Driscoll at 13, have lacked play makers able to truly inspire rugby fans inside him. Darcy threatened for a couple of years prior to his injury forced breaks, but with Ronan O’Gara at 10, effective though he may be, they have been a side that plays the percentages rather than one that regularly breaks the shackles. With Sexton likely to become the regular 10 this season and Darcy getting back to his best, perhaps this might change.

It is clear when looking at this list there are players such as Carter and Giteau who are able to inspire more or less whoever is outside them, and some like Wilkinson or Jones who need a playmaker alongside them to prosper. We realise of course that we haven’t taken into account other contributing factors to a sides attacking ability (flankers able to dominate the breakdown, a strong 13, dominant set pieces up front etc) but to our mind these have been the best (Wilkinson / Greenwood & Carter plus one of three) of the last 10 years. What also stood out whilst compiling this list is the sheer lack of truly exciting players in these positions. Is this a symptom of the laws of the game and the way it is played now?

What do you think? Who have we missed?

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