Analysis of the Home Nation Fly-Halves.

The Northern Hemisphere season is now well underway and players with international aspirations are vying for attention, hoping for a place in their respective squads ready for the Autumn International fixtures, which will be upon us before we even know it.  Naturally, I always take a keen interest in those competing for the number 10 jersey and always keep a particular eye on those who dream of wearing the coveted three feathers.In Wales, Daniel Biggar looks by far the most accomplished performer and has a real match winning temperament.  He is currently doing a sterling job leading his young Ospreys side, and kicking an extremely high percentage of his goals.  Behind him, the competition is much of a muchness, with no one player showing the consistency to pull ahead of the rest.  Rhys Priestland, James Hook, Rhys Patchell, Owen Williams, and Jason Tovey (who has again picked up an injury but is still yet to fulfil his huge potential), will soon find themselves under real pressure from the likes of Jordan Williams, Matthew Morgan and Angus O’Brien.  O’Brien has shown huge promise in pressure situations, for instance as a replacement against the Ospreys and will be one for the future.  Morgan is already in the selectors minds and simply needs a consistent run in the jersey, rather than being pushed to 15.  Jordan Williams is perhaps the most talented of the lot but is almost exclusively played out of his favoured position and asked to fill in at full-back or on the wing which will ultimately cost him his chance.Elsewhere in the British Isles, the situation is also evolving.  Scotland’s Duncan Weir seems to be settling into his role despite not looking like an archetypal fly-half and has really improved his game management in a good Glasgow Warriors side, undoubtedly nurtured by coach Gregor Townsend.  Ruaridh Jackson and Tom Heathcote have shown some good touches too, but neither was likely to threaten Weir for the starting spot this Autumn, even before Jackson’s unfortunate season ending injury just recently.  The Irish situation is almost similar, with Jonathan Sexton full of quality and a real shoo-in for the number ten berth with Paddy Jackson snapping at his heels.  Ian Madigan has all the attributes a fly-half requires and will soon pose a challenge.  However I really like the way Stuart Olding is developing and particularly admire his decision making capabilities.  My view is that his future could lie at outside half, or playing as a second receiver at 12.  Only time will tell.Contrasted to the other nations, England have almost an embarrassment of riches at 10 these days, with the likes of George Ford and Owen Farrell leading the way, closely followed by Stephen Myler, Danny Cipriani, Charlie Hodgson, Henry Slade, Toby Flood….and more.  Whereas in the past, English fly-halves were once openly criticised for not having a major controlling influence on the team, the boot is now on the other foot with even Wales looking outside their borders for quality 10’s and game-managing players.

Personally I’ve always rated Exeter’s Gareth Steenson.  Ever since he first came onto my radar playing for Ireland in the Junior World Cup in Scotland back in 2004 I could see he had the ability to run the game.  I’ve watched him play at the Cornish Pirates and Rotherham as well as Exeter and he is a real all-rounder at 10, displays great ability with the boot and shows outstanding attacking vision, particularly in his current position in the well-drilled Chiefs line-up.

Some might say Steenson lacks a touch of pace, but he more than makes up for that with reliability and quality game management.  He’s the sort of player you can put your life on who doesn’t give the opposition a chance.  All teams want a dependable man at fly-half – just look at the great New Zealand side of the late 80’s and early 90’s where Grant Fox was always chosen ahead of Stephen Bachop and Frano Botica for just the same reasons, despite the latter two winning the “popular vote”.So could there now be a place for Gareth Steenson, a 30-year old Irish player, who is now eligible for England?  Or is he just too old?  Has he arrived on the scene too late in the day?  Surely not.  In my view a player with enough ability to force a talent like Slade into the centre, capable of pulling the strings and with a steely determination to win is good enough to be in any side.Whoever Stuart Lancaster, Warren Gatland, Vern Cotter and Joe Schmidt select need good game management skills, a cool temperament and the cunning and guile to unlock a defence, never an easy task these days.  As always, I’ll be watching with great interest.