Brian Ashton: Don't batten down the hatches playing in a storm – take wing

Tackling The Issues

The weather in the Lake District last weekend was not at its best but there was something in the rugby played by Fylde during the first half of their league match at Kendal that did justice to the majesty of the surroundings, even if the scenery was barely visible to the naked eye.

As a sporting experience it was both fascinating and uplifting, and it brought some cherished memories flooding back. No pun intended, I might add.

When the rain is falling in torrents and the gods have thrown in a howling gale for good measure, most coaches and players fall back on low-risk, ultra-conservative, field-position strategy: kick the ball, chase it, and wait for the opposition to make a mistake. There's nothing wrong with that... unless, of course, your mentality demands that you approach the game in a more challenging fashion. Fylde, the club with which I'm most closely associated these days, took the more difficult, adventurous road and reaped the rewards of their ambition.

The players set out their stall before kick-off when the scrum-half sauntered up to the referee and informed him that he and his colleagues intended to play a quick-ball game. The referee looked at him as though he were some kind of alien, yet in the teeth of the elements, Fylde performed with such discipline and intelligence that they registered a bonus point inside 25 minutes and reached the interval 36-0 up. Their sense of satisfaction was tangible, and not being professionals, they were able to celebrate in time-honoured rugby fashion.

Watching events unfold from the touchline, I found myself recalling some equally startling wet-weather performances that reminded all those who witnessed them of the full range of rugby's possibilities. Back in the mid-1990s, the All Blacks, captained by Sean Fitzpatrick, found themselves playing a Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia in Wellington. The underfoot conditions were terribly difficult and the New Zealanders were operating in the face of horizontal rain in the first half, but their mindset and skill set were such that they were able to maintain possession for the entire 40 minutes, give or take a brief moment here and there, and snuff the Wallabies out of the contest. All this in the cauldron of international competition.

Some 20 years previously, during my own playing days at Orrell, we had been drawn against Harlequins in the national knockout cup. Quins were a big club then, as they are now, and they famously described Orrell as "a lay-by on the M6". As the weather closed in during the hours before kick-off our captain Des Seabrook rubbed his hands in glee and said: "Let's see how those southerners like this," or words to that effect. A converted try was worth only five points back then. The result? We won 25-0. As a playing experience, it ranks up there with the best.

So what is it that enables this to happen? The most important ingredient is the belief that it can be done. If people believe, certain technical and tactical qualities then come into play. These include, in no particular order, the following: high-calibre resetting, with players regaining their feet quickly and repositioning themselves faster than the opposition; playing to the edges of the defence, with numbers running off No 12 rather than No 10 to attack areas where tacklers are beginning to thin out; latching early on to the player with the ball, helping him stay on his feet and drive as far as possible; employing the "two pass minimum" strategy rather than trying to run everything off the scrum-half; attacking space even in the most congested parts of the field with secure, sensible offloading; and making the most of blind-side channels, creating space for the quick men with short passing and direct running.

Crucially, teams should never abandon the concept of playing with width, for even in the worst conditions, there will always come a time when it can be used effectively. As the All Blacks have demonstrated so often and Fylde, in their own way and at their own level, reminded us last week, the "width principle" is at the heart of the matter whenever rugby shows the best of itself.

My great privilege to have run with the Lion of Vienna

It was with great sorrow that I read of the death of Nat Lofthouse, our celebrated "Lion of Vienna" and a great England centre-forward. He was the epitome of the one-club man, his club being Bolton Wanderers, and I remember him as one of the real gentlemen of sport.

Not that he was too gentle with me when, as a 20-year-old working in Bolton, I was invited by a colleague at Fylde, the England centre Malcolm Phillips, to sharpen my fitness with some Tuesday night sprint training at Burnden Park. Our coach and fellow competitor turned out to be Nat, who was 40 at the time but still in top condition, as I found to my cost.

At our first session, which consisted entirely of 50-yard interval sprints, he asked me if I wanted a five-yard start. Being a brash little upstart, I turned the offer down. He promptly beat me by eight yards and never asked again. Indeed, I went on to lose every sprint for a year. It was a painful lesson, but I consider myself privileged to have known Nat, however briefly.

Win an exclusive Doom Bar t-shirt!

Do you think you know your rugby? Do you want to make your voice heard? Do you want to win a sharp Sharp's t-shirt?

Tell us what you think about the state of the game in the comments below, and you could be in with a shot at winning a particularly snazzy Doom Bar t-shirt. Over the next month, Online sports editor Simon Rice will be watching the comments under Brian Ashton's Saturday columns like a hawk, looking out for the most interesting, thoughtful and provocative comments from readers. Is Brian on the money, or is he talking nonsense? What's wrong with the England team, who's going to win the Premier League, and are New Zealand really unbeatable?

Then, on February 7, after a month's heated debate, Simon will pick his favourite comment to win that coveted shirt. What are you waiting for? Put the rugby world to rights.

Entrants must be aged 18 or over. Terms and conditions apply.

If you have any problems posting your comments, you can also email your entry to

Suggested Topics
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv

As anti-Semitic attacks rise, Grant Feller re-evaluates his identity

Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

Life and Style
food and drink

Savoury patisserie is a thing now

Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style

Meet the primary school where every day is National Poetry Day

Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?