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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Rugby Union -

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

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