>> De Kock: North­ern 9s are just get­ting bet­ter


“It would be a crazy de­ci­sion to leave Danny Care out of the World Cup squad”

The qual­ity on dis­play by the four Home Union scrum-halves dur­ing the Au­tumn in­ter­na­tion­als was very im­pres­sive and shows there is a huge depth in that pos­tion when it comes to pick­ing the Li­ons squad in a cou­ple of years’ time.

While we didn’t get to see Conor Mur­ray this Au­tumn due to in­jury, Kieran Marmion is a new, ex­cit­ing prod­uct on the Test scene who has been out­stand­ing at club level for Con­nacht for a long time. He is a game-breaker, so it was great to see him get a run for Ire­land.

Marmion is some­one who is very much in the Danny Care mould. He can turn a game on its head and has shown what he can do. I’m glad he’s been blooded and given an op­por­tu­nity but, let’s be hon­est, Mur­ray is head and shoul­ders above the rest in terms of how he has per­formed over the last cou­ple of years.

His dis­plays on the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons tour to New Zealand in 2017 were im­pres­sive, but it proves that there is depth in the scrum-half berth for Ire­land, which is very promis­ing for Joe Sch­midt’s side.

Com­ing to Eng­land, I re­mem­ber play­ing against Ben Youngs when I first ar­rived at Sara­cens in 2009, which just shows how long he has been around for club and coun­try. With the ex­pe­ri­ence he has gained, the 82-Test cap vet­eran is now one of the calm heads, but still has the abil­ity to ig­nite his team’s at­tack and is bril­liant on the break.

Most no­tably, Youngs’ kick­ing game has im­proved ex­po­nen­tially over the last few sea­sons and he is very im­por­tant to Eng­land’s cause.

Care is an­other player who has shown over the years what a qual­ity player he is. He got his first op­por­tu­nity to start in a long time against Ja­pan, which was cou­pled with a host of changes through­out the squad. There was no sense of co­he­sion and I felt it was un­fair on Eng­land’s most capped scrum-half to be left out of the match­day 23 against Aus­tralia.

I re­ally hope he is not in dan­ger of miss­ing out on a World Cup place be­cause he is an out­stand­ing player of high qual­ity. I feel it would be crazy to leave Care out of the squad. There is al­ways go­ing to be com­pe­ti­tion for places at scrum-half, from the likes of Richard Wig­glesworth and Ben Spencer, but I would still back Care to re­turn to the fold.

He is a po­ten­tial game-changer, but Ed­die Jones won’t have that op­tion to call on if they don’t pick him in the squad.

Wales’ Gareth Davies is a No.9 I en­joy watch­ing. He is su­per-ex­cit­ing and I ad­mire his tenac­ity and the way he gets stuck in. More­over, he is re­ally fast, which aids his bril­liance on at­tack and he fits tidily within a Welsh set-up that is so well-set­tled. For Scot­land, Greig Laidlaw is a con­ser­va­tive player and isn’t go­ing to light up the world with in­di­vid­ual bril­liance. How­ever, his con­trol of the game is sec­ond to none. The 33-yearold is a good leader and has been im­por­tant to Scot­land over the years.

In terms of the pro­to­typal North­ern Hemi­sphere scrum-half, it’s not a one-size-fits-all ap­proach. The likes of Mur­ray and Laidlaw con­trol the game in­cred­i­bly well, while Youngs, Davies and Marmion are livewires. You find that the nines that con­trol the game bet­ter have gen­er­ally been part of the team struc­tures for longer.

If I was tasked with pick­ing three scrum-halves for a Li­ons side, Mur­ray and Youngs would be my first picks and, based on cur­rent form, I would def­i­nitely opt for Davies as the third scrum-half in the party. Mur­ray and Youngs are 29, while Davies is 28.

I would say that top-qual­ity scrum-halves peak be­tween the ages of 28 and 32. At that age, you have plenty of games un­der your belt and you have seen it, done it and ex­pe­ri­enced it. Of course you have still got to ex­e­cute, but there is no sub­sti­tute for ex­pe­ri­ence as the speed of mind and the un­der­stand­ing of how to con­trol a game is there. When I was near­ing 30, that was the case for me.

Home-grown play­ers have learned from hav­ing more overseas sign­ings in re­cent sea­sons, but I think it’s a two-way street that has helped us from the South­ern Hemi­sphere.

For­eign im­ports also learn plenty from lo­cal scrum-halves who are brought up in UK-based struc­tures and know what it takes to prove ef­fec­tive. The learn­ings are around hav­ing more pa­tience and not nec­es­sar­ily hav­ing to run ev­ery­thing. Whether it be the north or south, it comes down to a way of coach­ing and play­ing the game.

That di­vide has def­i­nitely nar­rowed over the years and I be­lieve the in­creas­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness in the north comes down to the for­eign in­flu­ence on a coach­ing front.

With New Zealan­ders Joe Sch­midt and War­ren Gat­land in charge of Ire­land and Wales, and Aus­tralian Ed­die Jones at the helm of Eng­land, plenty can be said for the for­eign in­flu­ence in the north.

The in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty the South­ern Hemi­sphere coaches bring to the north is im­mense and that lends it­self to the cal­i­bre of game im­prov­ing. Play­ers who are in their prime, or are ex­pe­ri­enced, are also drawn to play in the north which, for me, can only serve to strengthen the game there.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Cru­cial to Eng­land: Ben Youngs has im­proved his kick­ing game

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