David Flatman: Human cannonball Agulla has broken down my defences - News & Comment - Rugby Union - The Independent

David Flatman: Human cannonball Agulla has broken down my defences

From the Front Row

Ihave never been a fan of the man-of-the-match concept; I always like to think of rugby as the purest of team sports, in which men literally risk their physical health in order not to let their mates down. So to watch this and, at the end of it, declare one man superior – to me at least – smells a little bit of marketing. However, this is very likely my opinion because in 14 years I have only won it three times. Bitterness is indeed an ugly trait. And anyway, nine times out of 10 it is the goal-kicker who takes home the champers.

This year I feel a compulsion to – for one column only – buy into the fad. Well, a version of it. Now and then, at whatever level, you play against someone who stands out, someone who looks a level above everyone else on the field.

This is the feeling people get when they play against Stephen Ferris or Richie McCaw, or even Seb Chabal in his prime. They are wrecking balls who seem, however aggressively targeted they are, impossible to suppress. But everyone already knows and crows about them.

For me, the more interesting players are the ones who seem alarmingly good yet disappear under rugby's radar. Horacio Agulla is one of those players.

I would say that he is the best winger I have played against in a long time. This does not just mean that he is lightning fast and scores beautiful tries. No, it just means he is unusually difficult to play against.

He does not appear to be as quick as a Dave Strettle, or as lumpy as a Matt Banahan. (Mind you, who is?) His kicking and passing game do not seem quite as surgical as Geordan Murphy's and, frankly, he just does not score that many tries. But he is a bull.

He is small enough that his opponents assumed – once – that he would be easy to knock over. They soon learned he was nothing of the sort, as they watched him busting through tackles like a cannonball.

It is no surprise that Agulla cleaned up at Leicester's annual awards dinner last week, even though to many outside the game he might not seem the starry type.

He is an intelligent, natural player who looks like he learned to be effective by playing games, not by lifting weights and eating broccoli. His error rate is low, indicating a high level of competence under pressure, and good lord is he competitive.

The Tigers seem to know what an asset they have in Agulla, so I would be surprised to see him leave Welford Road. The diminutive Argentinian with beastly power and a heart the size of a house is my player of the season.

Catt will leave no one in any doubt

I am not sure why, but very often when a player becomes a coach a switch is flicked; a switch that sees them transform from a great lad into, frankly, a bit of a git. This does not always happen, but you would be surprised how often.

Of course, as a player, you are just horsing around with your mates, and as a coach there needs to be an element of immediate social separation. After all, there will be some tough conversations along the way, and telling a close friend he is getting the boot can prove too much for many.

Now and then, though, someone makes the transition and gets it just right. Mike Catt is one of those blokes. As a player he was always up for the good times, enjoying a beer on a Saturday night – and Wednesday if the weather was nice – but he was also the second fittest member of the squad, never more than a metre behind me.

But what I think made his transition so natural – besides a deep knowledge of the game – was his honest streak. Catty does not mince his words. This can, at first, be seem abrasive but soon, if you are man enough, it becomes a valued asset to the team.

So the awkward chats are probably quite easy for him, as he has been having them for 20 years already. This leaves his mind free to focus on nothing but good rugby and a good atmosphere.

Nobody in the team questions the boss's integrity because nobody is left in any doubt. This commands respect. London Irish's loss is England's gain.

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