Things are going rather well for Gloucester at present. Unbeaten in the Guinness Premiership and blessed with a Heineken Cup draw that gives them an even-money shot at making the tournament's knock-out stage, they have more brilliant young backs - most of them home-grown - than they know what to do with. They also have a crystal-clear idea of how their new signing from rugby league, Karl Pryce, might fit into the union game. This gives them an obvious advantage over those who, on this particular subject, would struggle to find their own backsides with both hands. Like Saracens. And England.
Pryce, a 20-year-old winger from Bradford Bulls, will play as ... yes, a winger. It is a straightforward notion, so beautiful in its simplicity that it is difficult to understand how those currently managing Andy Farrell's introduction to the 15-man code could conceivably get their knickers into such a twist. While Saracens - and England, if those at Vicarage Road are to be believed - thought it a great plan to stick Farrell on the blind-side flank, a highly specialised position wholly alien to league and therefore to everything the player had done over the long span of his professional career, Gloucester have opted for familiarity. Pryce will be asked to do in the West Country what he was used to doing in Yorkshire. Who knows? It might even work.
"Karl's try-scoring record for Bradford speaks for itself," said Dean Ryan, the head coach at Kingsholm, in unveiling his new player yesterday. "We have been watching him for some time and believe his physical presence will complement our other options in the back-line. Rather than bring someone over who has only a couple of years remaining at the highest level" - a pointed remark, given that Farrell will not see 30 again - "we have a young player we can develop into a force in rugby union."
Gloucester, who are financing this move alone rather than splitting the bill with Twickenham, have cottoned on to the fact that wingers are the best league targets. Leaving aside born-and-bred union types who went north and then returned when the old game was declared open - the likes of Jonathan Davies and Scott Gibbs, Allan Bateman and Scott Quinnell - the cast-iron successes have been Jason Robinson of England and Lote Tuqiri of Australia, wide men both. The likes of Henry Paul and Mat Rogers had their moments, but Paul returned to league unfulfilled while Rogers will be doing likewise after playing for the Wallabies at the next World Cup. As a rule of thumb, a 13-a-sider is happier the further he finds himself from a union forward pack.
While Pryce has the physical equipment to make a fist of it up front - he is, after all, 6ft 6in and 18st 2lb - Gloucester want to see him running over opponents at pace rather than wrestling them to a standstill. Somehow, it seems eminently sensible.Reuse content