This is why Pi­camoles is my player of the sea­son

The Rugby Paper - - Front Page - Jeremy Gus­cott

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”

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Dom­i­nant: Northamp­ton No.8 Louis Pi­camoles

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