This is why Picamoles is my player of the season
IT is no real surprise that there are three Wasps in the RPA Players’ Player of the Year shortlist – and it could have been more. The style and ambition Wasps have played with this season means their players will be noticed, and that is the case with Christian Wade, Elliot Daly and Jimmy Gopperth, who make the list alongside Owen Farrell (Saracens), and the only forward picked, Northampton No.8 Louis Picamoles.
Wasps intention has been to play quickly to get the ball into the hands of exciting match-winning runners like Wade and Daly, but the crucial link before it gets to them has been Gopperth. The New Zealander has been playing inside-centre alongside Danny Cipriani for much of the season, but while Cipriani has a brilliant feel, it is Gopperth who has been pulling the strings and directing play in a very clever orchestral manoeuvre.
Gopperth is a midfield driving force and a master tactician for Wasps, and he is also incredibly reliable when it comes to kicking goals, and you need that as much as ever in a close game. His skills are 8/10 and his game understanding the same, if not higher.
It was smart recruitment when Wasps signed Gopperth from Leinster because he can play fly-half and 12 with great effectiveness. He is an unsung hero in the same way that Fraser Waters was when Wasps won the European Cup twice, in 2004 and 2007.
I imagine Gopperth is one of the first players picked every weekend because he is one of those invaluable senior players who pull the strategy together and makes it happen.
Sometimes players have a breakthrough season at international level and then drop off, but Daly has managed to continue his rise for a second season. My feeling is that he is the most skilful English player out there at the moment. It’s a great skill to be able to goal-kick from 50 metres, and it seems that there is nothing he cannot do. Even when he is tackling a much bigger man head-on he adapts his technique to do the job.
You cannot have a skill-set like Daly without having technical ability, and the occasional lapse of concentration – such as when he mistimed his tackle against Argentina in the autumn – will become less likely as he gains in experience.
When you always know if something is ‘on’ like Daly does, it is sometimes difficult to get others on the same wavelength quickly, but when it happens he is devastating. Daly has scary speed and can shred defences – and he has already played so many games for Wasps that he is a senior player.
Daly seems very well-balanced in interviews, and there’s nothing he seems to like more than playing and training. He is also known as a bit of a prankster, and it’s great when you have a team-mate who brings that sort of enjoyment to the squad.
However, what I like most is that you can see his anticipation in the way he is always running onto the ball at pace and picking lines to beat defenders. Daly is one of the big joys in the Premiership, and in world rugby.
You see so many comments about why Christian Wade is not going on the Lions tour, or even to Argentina with England. Wade is another of the Premiership’s superstars, and he must have thought things were going his way after scoring some great tries and displaying brilliant footwork.
Having speed of foot is a gift, and Wade has it on tap – and uses it well. He’s got a good swerve, and he puts defenders on edge because he is so good at spotting any lapses. He is also rarely caught out defensively.
I am almost speechless that Wade is not included in the England tour party to Argentina, having gone there four years ago and then been called up by the Lions. It cannot sit well with him, and the only consolation is that at least he will get a proper pre-season.
I’m sure that some of the younger wingers going to Argentina are talented, but Wade deserves his day in the sun.
Farrell is the most improved England player. He has unbreakable confidence, and he is a lionheart. There is no backward step, or doubt, or fear of failure in him. In the past he had a tendency to lose focus and concentration when he went for a big hit in defence, but he seems more composed this season.
We have also seen him transform from a static fly-half three seasons ago who was ordinary against the very best – and was mainly a distributor who linked and rarely made runs – to a consistently high performer. Farrell rarely makes mistakes, and plays with great accuracy.
He showed this against Llanelli earlier this season when Saracens were losing the return leg of their European Cup tie at Parc y Scarlets until he dragged them back into the game single-handed. The next step is for Farrell to have an influence at international level – and he is much more likely to do that at fly-half than at inside-centre.
The sooner he moves to fly-half the bigger influence he will be. Hats off to Farrell because it is hard to develop your game in the Premiership, and you rarely see players making the big gains that he has. Four seasons ago I didn’t think Farrell could make a break, whereas now he can do it at will.
He is also one of your banker penalty takers, and banker defenders. Even so, I don’t see him as a centre. I would have loved to have played against him from an attacking point of view, although he is good enough that no one has cut him to bits.
Picamoles has been phenomenal for Northampton, and has more than replaced Samu Manoa. The big Frenchman is one of those players where you know what is coming, but you cannot stop them doing it.
The adjustment he made in moving from the Top 14 to the Premiership seems to have been so smooth, and he appeared to have adapted so well that it is a pity if the rumours that he wants to leave Franklin’s Gardens turn out to be true.
However, judged on his contribution to the Saints this season, Picamoles has been a dominant carrier who has outgunned most of the opposition he has played against. He has been a standout player in an average Northampton side – and the fact that he was not in a top three side like the other four contenders for the award makes it all the more impressive.
Daly and Wade are exciting candidates, and Gopperth and Farrell are commanding, but Picamoles will have been targeted heavily by Northampton’s opponents, and has just shrugged it off.
That’s why I would be tempted to give the RPA award to Picamoles. He has handled himself immaculately, and showed world-class fitness which he carried over into the international season for France.
“I am almost speechless that Wade is not included on the tour to Argentina”
Dominant: Northampton No.8 Louis Picamoles