Multi-Skilled Pirates –
Our Flexible Friends At Play Off Time?
STEVE'S BLOG 25
The Musings Of A Happy Old Prop
November 26th 2009
Now that eleven matches have been played in the Championship, and all the teams have by now played everyone else, thoughts are beginning to turn already to the all important play offs.
Happily the RFU have sanctioned the Final being on an aggregate ‘home’ and ‘away’ basis which promises to be a pretty tasty encounter.
Some years ago I watched Rotherham clinch promotion at Goldington Road against Bedford and even as a neutral the atmosphere was terrific.
A death or glory clash between the Pirates and Bristol or Exeter really would be the stuff of dreams.
There is a lot of speculation at the moment as to whether clubs will use – or abuse – the dual registration and player loan loopholes to artificially boost their chances once the playoffs begin.
We all know this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand a really talented midfield back or a topnotch prop could obviously make a huge difference but what it would it do to squad morale and combined teamwork can only be guessed at.
I was once left out of a Cheshire cup semi-final replay when our coach brought in a ‘ringer’ at the very last moment. I was understandably confused and upset but my team mates were absolutely furious and, having drawn with Birkenhead Park the previous weekend, we went down by over thirty points with virtually the same teams on the pitch apart from me.
To be fair the player was probably a better runner with the ball than I was (which went for most of the human race!) but the negative effect upon the rest of the side was blindingly obvious and we never saw him again.
Furthermore the early rounds of playoffs will coincide with the Six Nations and top clubs are going to be extremely reluctant to release anybody who is much good when their squads are being stretched by international calls. Even if they do let somebody go there must be a good 50% chance that they will be recalled at short notice which is the worst of all worlds.
To date the Pirates have deliberately avoided this course of action wherever possible despite a horrific run of injuries and a slightly smaller squad than last season. Ben Jones was a notable - and very successful - exception and indeed he was only brought in as both Gavin Cattle and James Doherty were on the mid-term injured list.
Why have the Pirates been able to do this? I would submit that one of the reasons is that the roster contains a good percentage of players who can play equally well in several different positions.
Jimmy Moore, Rhodri McAtee and in particular Rob Cook have proved able to do a job almost anywhere in the backs and this is invaluable. At a time of financial stringency it also makes great commercial sense as such players can be used rather than just sitting in the stands if not selected in their first choice position.
When England won the World Cup in 2003 the one player I could not understand being left behind was Austin Healey who, although by all accounts was not the easiest bloke to manage, could perform at international level as a winger, centre, scrum-half or full-back and could be called on to be a devastating unconventional fly-half if the need arose.
In the pack Laurie McGlone and Matt Evans have moved seamlessly from back row to lock, Alan Paver has switched as the need arose from his normal loose head slot to tight head and what about Dave Ward? He is not the first Pirate to be equally adept at both hooker and flanker – Vili Ma’asi did it too – but it is a very short list. This gives the coaches more options when naming the substitutes bench and makes such players worth their weight in gold.
This is not new of course. In his early years Joe Bearman appeared for the Pirates on the wing and in the centre and Lakalaka was also tried on the wing. Furthermore Victor Olonga (who can forget him!) could do his thing anywhere behind the scrum and Nat Saumi and Andy Birkett come to mind as others who would slot in wherever Peter Johnson or Kevin Moseley (the coaches at the time) had a problem.
As the professional game continues to speed up and the financial straitjackets dig ever deeper I would suggest that rugby players will soon only have four positional sets.
They would comprise of :- 1) running backs 2) midfield backs 3) front row forwards and 4) back five forwards.
I would actually welcome this development as it makes financial sense, gives fit players more potential game time and provides better cover for the injured player who is less likely to have to be risked when carrying a strain or a bad knock.
Well anyway that’s what I think – what about you?