Jonathan Davies: How to bring the best out of Hodgson

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Andy Robinson is right to stick with Charlie Hodgson for the ferocious Test against Ireland at Lansdowne Road today. Whatever has gone before, Charlie is still England's best footballer at No 10.

Andy Robinson is right to stick with Charlie Hodgson for the ferocious Test against Ireland at Lansdowne Road today. Whatever has gone before, Charlie is still England's best footballer at No 10.

But I would have been tempted to rest him from the goal-kicking duties and give the job to Bath's Olly Barkley for the day - or, at least, confine Charlie to taking the left-sided kicks, which are the easier ones for the right-footer.

I am aware that Robinson has already confirmed publicly that Hodgson will continue to be his number one kicker and that the coach reckons that the player's accuracy for Sale against Leeds the other week, when he slotted four out of five and dropped a goal, proves that he has not lost his touch.

Yet, even at this late stage, it would be better to let Hodgson concentrate on his normal outside-half duties, because his decisions are going to be vital to England's chances and he does not need the goal-kicker's demons to be busy at the back of his brain.

Hodgson must have control of England's game, to put them into favourable positions at every opportunity. That will require knowing what to do and when to do it, and also producing faultless kicking out of his hands.

When England were a point ahead against Wales in their opening game in Cardiff, Hodgson could have pegged Wales back with a kick to the corner. Instead, he flung a long pass that led to the Welsh counterattack from which Gavin Henson scored the winning penalty goal.

I have no doubt that Hodgson is a quality player, but international rugby requires much quicker thought and action, and a high level of concentration and confidence.

Confidence is not easy to maintain if your goal-kicks are not going over, and nowhere does an outside-half need confidence more than Lansdowne Road.

It is a cauldron in which it is hard to keep your head. Everything is at 100mph and the Irish seem to have at least 20 men on the park.

It is guaranteed to be a tough game and it is bound to be windy, and the need to turn pressure into points is so important.

England do not need reminding that it was their failure to take their chances that led to their defeat against France. They won't get so many chances in this game, so it is imperative they make the most of them.

If a team have penalty-kicking troubles, the temptation is to go for the catch-and-drive. But in a match likely to be as tight as this you have to take your goals. The great All Blacks team of 1988 would take any points that were going. They knew they would score tries eventually, but if you can go nine or 12 points up through penalties, why spurn them?

I realise that Barkley is not yet a proven international goal-kicker and that it would place enormous pressure on him if he were to be given the duties, but I would certainly take that chance.

If it didn't work, Robinson has taken the sensible precaution of putting Andy Goode on the bench. Many would have put Goode straight into the team after his performance in Leicester's massacre of Newcastle last weekend, but he cannot provide Hodgson's creative touch. He can get the ball between the posts, though, and if the situation calls for it he could be called on to take over the goal-kicking.

Ollie Smith was another who shone for Leicester, and he threatened Jamie Noon's position at outside-centre. I think Noon deserves another chance, but he has to be more penetrative. You must get over the gain-line to have a chance in Dublin.

England will boost their chances if they can put pressure on Ronan O'Gara, who I feel is not given enough support by his scrum-half, Peter Stringer. If he wants to realise his Lions ambitions, Stringer has got to put in more work and be more than just a link-man.

As he doesn't run enough himself, he puts pressure on O'Gara because the opposition are able to ignore him and concentrate on closing down his half-back partner. Stringer should kick more and try a run or two so that he is perceived as more of a threat.

Ireland must be favourites, especially with their talisman Brian O'Driscoll back, but it is going to be tight. Penalties could easily decide it, and if England get that part of their act together they will be in with a chance.

Comments