Latham's arrival gives Warriors class at the back

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Welcome though the revived Premiership clips show was on terrestrial television last week, it will not have survivedthe delete button on many DVD players or hard disk recorders belonging to Worcester Warriors fans.

Defeat without a bonus point in their opening fixture away to Northampton was bad enough; the knowledge that next up are Wasps away today, followed by Leicester and Bath, made it worse. Apart from the try by their hooker Aleki Lutui, only one scintillating moment – a run out of defence by Chris Latham – was worthy of a play, pause, rewind and play again.

Asking Latham to reflect on this demoralising start for England's most upwardly mobile club – Worcester's fifth season in the Premiership coincides with more improvements to their already splendid facilities at Sixways – it was clear the 80-minute version of the Northampton match was no more palatable than ITV's brief summary.

"It was so stop-start that we never got much of a flow into our game," said the eminent Australian full-back, who recently arrived on a two-year contract after 78 Wallaby Tests in which he scored 40 tries.

"We've studied the referee who will be taking us at Wasps [Martin Fox] and he gave about half the penalties in his match last week compared with the guy at Northampton [Sean Davey], who was very quick on the whistle. In fairness, we certainly turned over too much easy ball, and when we did get the ball it was like we were forcing our hand."

Worcester's hand at the breakdown is weaker for the continued absence of their captain and openside flanker, Pat Sanderson, with an injured quad muscle, but Latham will be on parade today in a side closer to full strength then the one which lost 49-12 at Adams Park last April. Then, the attention of Worcester's Welsh coaches, Mike Ruddock and Clive Griffiths, was focused on the European Challenge Cup run-in and better winning opportunities in the Premiership.

Worcester were beaten finalists in the former and finished 10th in the latter. With Latham, who was 33 last Monday, as their latest overseas signing, they expect to do better. That gliding run against Northampton highlighted his much-admired ability to locate space where none appears to exist. His kicking is arguably the best of any full-back the sport has known.

Latham was planning to watch yesterday's Tri-Nations decider between the Wallabies and the All Blacks – a fixture he played in 14 times – but without regret, as he is "happier here spending time with the family", which means his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ashley, nine, and 16-month-old son, Adam. So Australia's loss is Worcester's gain, and possibly England's too, with Latham mentoring the 21-year-old full-back Chris Pennell in a freewheeling Wallaby fashion.

"I'm talking with him a fair bit, doing some kicking and some game analysis," Latham said. "Once I find my feet in the team and we get to know each other I guess that mentoring will become more natural.

"And it's working both ways. He's been helpful to me starting off at a new club. I need that pressure of quality back-up which forces me to perform."

Pennell and the wings Miles Benjamin and Marcel Garvey are rated as England prospects by Latham, and this true-blue Aussie from upcountry New South Wales says that's fair dinkum by him.

"At the end of the day the Australian Rugby Union had every opportunity to get me to do for them what I'm doing here, but they chose not to. For me it's a matter of passing on what I've learned for a club that's invested in me.

"If it means bringing on the next England back three, nothing would make me happier. My motivation now is about educating guys and helping them be the best they can be."

The Australian RU have recently changed their rules to allow two overseas players into each Super 14 team from next year. Where Matt Burke and Joe Roff led the way in the opposite direction in their later years, so Latham has followed. He has already been impressed by Worcester's travelling support – anathema in the Super 14, where almost every away match involves hopping on a plane – and he is relishing next Saturday's first taste of the Sixways atmosphere.

In person or on TV, Latham should be relied upon to give them something to cheer.

Comments