Rugby has had such a confused start to the season that it may be a little early to be making judgements, but there is no doubt there are fundamental changes taking place within the game itself as well as in the control of it.
The prospect of seeing Will Carling at outside-half proves how times are changing and I was disappointed that he didn't get the chance to try out his new position at Cardiff last Wednesday. Our injury problems among the forwards, especially in the front row, helped to condemn us to a very poor start to the season and forced us to postpone the visit of Harlequins in our opening match of the Anglo-Welsh League.
Considering the bashing that several of the Welsh clubs took from the English, people will think we had a lucky escape. I saw the Swansea boys the day after their trouncing at Bath and their eyeballs were still spinning. They said Bath only kicked the ball twice during the entire game.
I was sad to miss seeing the first step in Carling's attempted transformation at close range and it will be interesting to see where he is playing when we meet them in the re-arranged fixture in October. Will is such a good footballer, he will give a good account of himself wherever he plays and there is no doubt that outside-half demands new skills. In fact, I begin to wonder whether the position will ever be the same as when I played there before my joining league in 1989.
One major difference is that it calls for more power and strength. Defences are far better organised now and although the new binding rules may give him a little more time at the scrums, the outside-half faces such a rugged task at rucks and mauls that the old will-o-the-wisp skills may no longer be enough. Forwards tend to stand off and fan across the field to lay in wait for the thrusts the outside-half traditionally makes.
This is why an outside-half like Gregor Townsend is so valuable, being able to take a tackle and still pass the ball on. Carling will have no trouble doing that but where this extra pressure may find him out is in the kicking department, particularly out of his hands. Defences are so well organised these days that you are invariably kicking for touch or for position under severe pressure. The ability to get those kicks away fast and true is essential to the modern outside-half.
Perhaps Will would find full-back better suited to his abilities, especially if he is to be a captain. The full-back, more than ever, can be the eyes of the team. He can take in the broad view and have that extra bit of time to inspire the creative plays.
Rugby league has long recognised the full-back's potential and often uses him on the blind side of the play-the-ball as an alternative stand- off. Union clubs are now finding that, if he is good enough, using a full- back on the opposition side to the outside-half in second-phase situations gives them a powerful option.
England may reverse what I'm saying and choose Mike Catt, normally a full-back, to be their outside-half but, in a way, that supports my views about this new source of the game's creative strength. We are all impressed about the standard of rugby being played in the southern hemisphere and who are their most dangerous players? Andre Joubert of South Africa, Matthew Burke of Australia and, especially, the All Black Christian Cullen - all full-backs and excellent examples of the game's most potent attacking weapon.Reuse content