Move north puts Balshaw batteries on recharge

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The Independent Online

Jon Callard reckons Iain Balshaw is a changed man - and Callard should know. He was the England full-back's coach at Bath when he first stormed the Six Nations stage, and since last summer, as coach of Leeds, has been overseeing the Blackburn-born player's return to the top flight.

Jon Callard reckons Iain Balshaw is a changed man - and Callard should know. He was the England full-back's coach at Bath when he first stormed the Six Nations stage, and since last summer, as coach of Leeds, has been overseeing the Blackburn-born player's return to the top flight.

"He is a very different player from when he was at Bath," says Callard, a former England full-back himself. Balshaw does not disagree. Soon after England's victory over Italy, in which Balshaw scored a try, could have had another, and generally had the Twickenham supporters buzzing with his electric pace, he was explaining whence he thought the change had come.

When he was at Bath he found it difficult to cope with what he perceived as failure. Little errors prompted self-doubt and frustration and even began to affect his form. He was also dogged by injury, first to a shoulder then to his groin, both long-term ailments. They contributed to his frustration.

Now he is finding other things matter more in life. "The fact that I have become a father has helped," says Balshaw, who will be 26 next month. "I've settled down a bit. I have more important things to think about."

While Callard would not be drawn on the subject, the move to Leeds would appear to have been a vital element in Balshaw's metamorphosis.

"My move to Leeds has definitely helped," Balshaw says. "It has changed my whole perspective. As much as I love Bath, it was just the right thing to do. To just move totally away.

"The environment there and the club itself, and just me being back in the North, has been great. I've just gone back to being more relaxed. I have started to enjoy my rugby again."

He is even enjoying his cock-ups. As the Italy game moved into the last minute Balshaw had a golden opportunity to score a second try, but fluffed it. "I rushed it," he admits. "There's moments when you can look like a prat, and I hold my hand up, that was one of those moments."

Not all that long ago a younger, more intense Balshaw would have brooded darkly on that moment, would not have gone public about it and most definitely would not have laughed at himself.

But he is still a seriously good player. Callard is not given to hyperbole, so what follows is lavish praise: "He lit up the game, and when you consider that as far as speed and fitness goes he is still 10 or 15 per cent away, it is really exciting.

"He is one of those runners who, when you think they are going flat out suddenly find another gear and just pull away. He is awesomely talented."

Scotland today, and all future England opponents, have something to fear from this smiling rugby assassin.

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