Charteris pulling the same moves but to a different tune under Ewels
Today’s aerial battle will hold few surprises for the experienced Bath second row, says Daniel Schofield
It is coming up to 13 years since Bath’s Luke Charteris made his Wales debut as a gangly second row against a Springbok side featuring Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield. A lot has changed since then, not least in terms of the speed and size of the participants at the top end of professional rugby. Back then 6ft 9in Charteris tipped the scales at 106kg (16st 6lb) and was considered a reasonable size for a lock.
Now Charteris is 125kg and is somewhat on the lightweight side. “That’s a sign of how the game has gone,” he said. “You look at the boys coming out of academies, they are definitely bigger. A 105kg second row now wouldn’t get near the team.
“The game is also a lot faster. At the time, you think wow, the game is fast, it is really intense. Then you sit back and watch footage of old games and you can see a marked step up.”
Technology has evolved even faster. Line-out analysis has been transformed by the glut of video replays that can be digested in bitesized clips on tablet computers. “The analysis side of it has progressed hugely in terms of how you can study the opposition,” Charteris said. “You think you are running a state-of-the art operation. Then when you look back, the lifting is rubbish.”
The importance of the line-out has increased markedly since the introduction of new ruck laws.
Around half of all tries scored this season stemmed from a line-out. That places a premium on the type of experience that Charteris possesses. It will be a key battleground against Wasps today.
Fundamentally, the art of line-out calling, a role that he will share with Charlie Ewels, remains the same. Front, middle or back. Body language and gut instinct can sometimes trump hours of deciphering video footage.
“The range of calls has not changed massively,” Charteris said. “There are still the same moves that we did 10-15 years ago, there are just different names.
“Every now and then you come up with a crazy new play which will work once or twice before it is binned and come back 10 years later.”
In Ewels, who captains Bath against Wasps, Charteris has the most eager of apprentices. The 22-year-old made a big impression on Eddie Jones in starting both of England’s summer Tests against Argentina.
“It is a position that England have a lot of strength in but I would definitely put Ewels in that top bracket,” Charteris said. “At 22, he has got a great head on him for his age. Being in that environment with those boys has lifted his game.
“He is a really good athlete. He is not a massive boy but he has got very good technique in the tackle and is confident with the ball in hand and in the wider channels. He is that hybrid player which is more and more the way the game is going.”
While Ewels was in South America, Charteris was enjoying his first summer off in more than 10 years. You don’t get to 34 without picking up a few bumps and bruises along the way. Charteris says he has had “six or seven” major bouts of surgery.
Perversely, it is those surgeries which he believes have extended his career long past many of his peers. “At the time, you think these injuries are the worst thing but they do actually help you in the long run because it provides enforced rest,” Charteris said.
Battle-hardened: Luke Charteris has had ‘six or seven’ major bouts of surgery