Rugby Union: Grayson finds key to No 10

Paul Trow reveals how England gain from giving their stand-off freedom of choice
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Paul Grayson did not face the easiest of assignments when he stepped out against Scotland at Twickenham last weekend. Rejected by his country after kicking 81 points in five internationals last season, he was back in the England No 10 shirt almost by default. Mike Catt's switch from full-back for the pre-Christmas outings had backfired. The untried Alex King was next in line, but England's manager Jack Rowell had run out of audition time. And besides, he needed a kicker.

So Grayson suddenly found himself back in favour. His recall was hardly welcomed as a triumph for positive rugby, yet nobody played a more prominent role in the 41-13 thrashing of the auld enemy. Not only did the Northampton stand-off complete his England century with 21 points, but he kept spinning quality ball out to his backs and was largely instrumental in orchestrating a bravura performance from Will Carling.

What he did not do particularly well, though, was kick - either to touch or for goal. Had his right boot displayed its customary dependability, his personal haul would have set a new Five Nations record.

"I was trying to guide the ball rather than wallop it." Grayson said last week. "It was a nervy start as everyone was quite tense. The first half was a bit disjointed, but we recycled the ball well in the second half and we got our reward. It was difficult coming straight in without a warm-up game to ease me back. The side had changed a bit and there were high expectations, but it was an exciting challenge. We were desperate to win in a style which people wanted to see.

"In the first half, the Scots denied us line-outs and it was hard to get any continuity or momentum. But we still made gaps out wide and should have scored two or three tries. It all came together in the last 20 minutes. Once we broke through everyone relaxed and our game really flowed. I knew there was no danger of losing - it was just a matter of time."

It also seemed inevitable that Carling would eventually breach the Scottish defence, such was the physical threat he posed. Grayson was aware that the former England captain was on song, and so fed him at every opportunity. "If you get good ball then you have a duty to distribute it, especially when you've got Will outside you. He had a great game - if there was space he went for it."

Carling, rightly, received the loudest plaudits, but Grayson earned his share of praise. Ian McGeechan, his director of rugby at Northampton, was pleased with what he saw. "Paul's got a good picture of the style of game we want to play and how it's constructed," he said. "When I arrived at the club, we made some major decisions to play in a certain way, with fluidity and pace.

"Paul wasn't allowed to play like that for England last year, but it seems Phil de Glanville is keen to keep the ball in hand. This was the first time Paul was given his head with England. He's very good at manipulating play and bringing others into the game."

Such esteem, surely, cannot harm the 25-year-old Lancastrian's chances of touring South Africa next summer with the Lions party which McGeechan will coach. But the Scot confined himself, with Dalglish-like impenetrability, to observing merely: "Paul's playing international rugby and that makes him a candidate."

Grayson is no more forthcoming. "My only concern is to try to stay in the England side and do myself justice. I was out of the side before Christmas, so the Lions tour is a long way off. I've had one game back which was satisfactory but far from perfect."

However, the regard in which Gregor Townsend, his clubmate and opposite number against Scotland, is held must help his cause. "Gregor's probably the most lethal attacking back in Britain and Paul gives him plenty of possession," McGeechan said.

"Playing with Gregor outside is similar to the link I had with Carling. He has a great eye for a gap," said Grayson. "It's not really for me to say whether he's better at fly-half or centre. Certainly, he's a very talented centre but once we get to second, third or fourth phase ball we're all interchangeable anyway. The Scots couldn't produce much good ball for him and we marshalled him well. I sat with him at the dinner afterwards and he was obviously disappointed but after a couple of glasses of red wine the smile returned to his face."

Grayson, who joined Northampton from Waterloo four years ago, has several interests away from rugby. He works part-time as an insurance broker, runs a promotion business with his Northampton team-mate Matt Dawson and has succeeded Allan Lamb as patron of his local cricket club, Holcot Arcadians.

But nothing less than single- mindedness is likely to suffice in Dublin on Saturday. "You can't be loose against the Irish, or underestimate them. We'll have to be very precise. They hit you hard and play with great passion and momentum if they get a whiff. Their victory over Wales was a surprise, but they have a good record against England in recent years." The Irish could say the same about Grayson's record against them - 23 points in their one meeting suggests he should not be underestimated either.

McGeechan on the Grayson game

Running

Paul reads well the pace at which the ball is coming back to him, especially if it comes quicker than expected from the back row. Against Scotland he was obviously allowed to do what he's been doing week in, week out for the club because the ball was being released quicker to him and giving him more time. He's been working on running for the last two years - there's a lot more to his game than people might think at first sight.

Passing

I think he proved against Scotland that he can play the passing game without any problems. He's excellent at putting the ball in front of players so they can run on to it with pace. It's all about timing. Paul can pass off both hands and distribute the ball well. One of the reasons Will Carling was so effective against Scotland was because Paul kept bringing him into the game. He brought Will's strength out time and time again in both halves.

Kicking

Against Scotland Paul's kicking was not up to its normal standard. It's the department of the game he is strongest at and best known for, but at Twickenham he was by his own admission below par. He is normally a strong touch-kicker as well as a reliable place-kicker. He's a naturally skilful player who is at his best when he actually kicks through the ball. He's not fazed by pressure and keeps his head well.

Decision-making

Very good. Paul brings other players into the game and you only have to see how he manipulates play to get people involved. He's now in the habit of consistently making good decisions, and he's definitely not limited to one type of game. If you want variety of choice with the ball being distributed by the half-backs you need a fast back row. Many of the decisions against Scotland were ones we'd been working on with him.

Comments