David Flatman: Signing Alex Corbisiero and his knee allows Saints to be flexible

From the Front Row: Gomarsall looked like Bilbo Baggins dressed up as Boy George
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The Independent Online

I attended a wonderful charity dinner in London on Wednesday supporting the Nordoff-Robbins music-therapy charity and recognising the careers of two English rugby legends, Mark Cueto and Andy Gomarsall. We do loads of these gigs, to be honest, but when they are evenings spent with great lads for a great cause, they are no chore.

We were treated to fillet steak, decent red wine, lovely music from the Stereophonics and some strong coffee to finish. All very satisfactory. But there is always one...

As I popped off to freshen up, a swaying old goat arrested my progress by grabbing my shoulder like a Croydon police constable and mounting my right brogue like a pavement. Then, with fermented fumes pumping from his beleaguered mouth, he asked me a question that can only have be designed to cause an argument: "When are you lot going to sort your bloody selves out?" "Good question," I replied, nudging him sensitively off my favourite shoe. "Possibly after this pee."

I did not get away with it, and his pontificating began. His complaints surrounding the modern game included haircuts, drinking habits and dress codes but, more than all of these gripes combined, he hated "all this switching and swapping from club to club". So I let him get it all out and I told him I thought he was wrong on all counts. Except dress codes; Gomars looked like Bilbo Baggins dressed up as Boy George, but you can't account for the eccentric upper classes.

After a few minutes of being spat on and talked over, I discovered he was a London Irish fan and was very unhappy about Alex Corbisiero's move to Northampton. He quoted the legions of folk who seem certain that the England prop's knee is totalled and declared his appointment a risky decision. I have heard this a few times, and I disagree.

Firstly, let us discuss him as a player. He is by no means the biggest prop running around, and he does not seem to fit the mould of grizzly old bear. Chilcott he ain't. However, he does seem to have the power when it counts; the All Blacks struggled with him, as did the Springboks, and this does not happen without good reason.

Every prop-forward has his own technique; Corbisiero's is neither conniving nor evasive. He attacks with everything at awkward angles and he often makes it impossible for an opponent to keep his outside shoulder down and square – where he needs it to be. And this approach is mirrored in his loose play; he has a dynamism that still seems to shock would-be defenders at close quarters.

Now the knee. Like all of you, I do not know what is up with this knee of his, but I don't think that the people running Northampton Saints – one of the few money-making clubs in England's top tier – would be sufficiently remiss not to bother checking it, do you?

I expect it needs managing and that he will not be expected to run on it more than once a day, but plenty of the players you see on Saturdays operate in this way. I also think that he fits nicely into their squad. Soane Tonga'huia is off to France so they need a replacement, but the emergence of the young Englishman Alex Waller means they do not need someone to play every game, as Tonga'huia seemed to manage for so long.

They want a top-of-the-range operator for the big games but they will be happy to start Waller in any match that sees Corbisiero on England duty or in need of a Saturday on the sofa. Signing props and being happy for them to play no more than 18 to 20 games a year is not soft, it might just be the future.

So Saints have signed a very good prop. At a push Corbisiero can cover the other side of the scrum and will be the perfect role model for a young man driving for recognition at his home club. Waller will also have the chance to learn from Dorian West, who we know can build a wrecking-ball scrummage, which will also be invaluable.

I do feel for Irish, but I like this signing. So do we (read: "they" – I am now a has-been) really need to sort ourselves out? No, I think we are doing just fine. And I think Saints have landed themselves a good one. I just hope he doesn't start wearing white boots; then our punchy pensioner might be revealed as the visionary his wine convinced him he was.