David Flatman: Remodelled Wade is on the fast track to Lions berth

From the Front Row

It must be tough being Christian Wade at the moment. He can't stop scoring tries, nobody seems able to tackle him, and everywhere he goes he's being asked if he thinks his summer might be spent with the British & Irish Lions.

I expect he isn't struggling for perks – the boxes of fluorescent boots and personalised, humungous headphones will be rolling into Wasps HQ – and every super-slow-motion action shot leading into and out of televised matches appears to feature him skinning one hapless opponent or another. However, with all of this attention comes pressure, lots of it.

There is an affliction about which rugby players often speak behind closed doors. They won't mention it publicly for fear of appearing envious or catty, but they will hang this label on the likes of Wade. I did it from time to time, and was proven right once or twice.

"Second Season Syndrome" is a tag to beware for a player in the process of bursting on to the scene. What it implies is that yes, this chap may be tearing up trees right now, but once he's been around long enough for us to do a bit of homework, his exponential ascent might be arrested by opponents now wise to his techniques.

As a rule, rugby players appreciate the talents of others and are happy to praise them. Only last week, Matt Banahan, currently discarded by England, walked into my office and said: "Mate, did you see Wadey at the weekend? That kid's outrageous!"

But I did wonder, after Wade's first few explosive cameos at Adams Park, whether this was just another kid who was the fastest at school and whether, given time, top players from around Europe would work him out, close him down and reveal him as a sprinter on a rugby field.

A couple of things have stopped me wondering. Early this season, Wade was rightly criticised for his defence and for his questionable authority and skill under the high ball – a threat that, as a pretty small bloke, will never go away. I watched him flummoxed with ease at the Rec and, whatever the venue, I saw him looking deeply uncomfortable as balls were hoisted his way. Yet the transformation in the past few months has not only been monumental but has told us much about the way he operates away from the bright lights.

You might assume that, as a professional, improvement should be expected, but many struggle to change their game to such a marked extent. This is partly to do with work ethic, partly about the humility required to admit weakness in the first place, but mostly to do with how hard it is. If it wasn't so tough, we wouldn't see so many top-class scrum-halves and fly-halves only able to kick well off one foot.

Wade can now defend. He is no monster, but now that his positioning is improving, presumably with the help of a club expert, in what can be a very tricky position with instant decisions to be made, he has shown that he has courage.

This is a massive tick in his box. Getting in the right place is one thing, having the balls to collide is another. Wade will put his fast-twitch body on the line, and this speaks volumes for his character.

And under the high ball, all he ever needs to do is attack it with the confidence of someone who knows the work has gone in. He doesn't need to become the next Geordan Murphy or Matt Perry, but every ball he takes with authority removes another question mark on that Lions selection board.

Leinster would have done their research before their match with Wasps last week, but still could not live with him. Nowhere near. And it wasn't just gas; he has footwork, he is elusive and he absolutely does not speculate when he has the ball. Were I coaching the Wallabies this summer, I would be praying that Warren Gatland leaves him at home. A flying machine he may be, but Wade is no fly boy. He's the real deal.


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