Welcome to the second edition of Rugby World, a weekly column dedicated to some of the most intriguing stories from the XV man game.
Eddie’s excitement machine
Eddie Jones named his 34-man squad to play the northern autumn Tests, including one against the Wallabies, and opted for youth in some key positions. While 22-year-old flyhalf Marcus Smith has gained most of the headlines, 23-year-old winger Adam Radwan clearly has the hairs on the back of Eddie’s neck tingling and could get an introduction to Wallabies fans next month.
The Newcastle Falcons flyer is rated the fastest player in England, and Jones was effusive in praising his talents in a chat on the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast on Tuesday.
Radwan was brought into the fold last season and marked his only Test appearance with a hat-trick of tries in a 70-14 victory over Canada at Twickenham.
“I’d seen a little bit of him then I went to the last game of the premiership up Newcastle and he scored this NRL try where he’s on the outside and dives through,” said Jones.
“I thought we’ve got to have a look at this bloke. Then we brought him in the camp, and honestly the first couple of weeks he wasn’t great.”
Jones told his fellow coaches they needed to send Radwan back to his club, but he won a reprieve when a match against Barbarians was cancelled and they played an 11v11 trial instead.
“He was unbelievable. It’s just like someone had lit the fuse, and ever since then he’s continued to grow,” Jones said.
“He’s one of those guys who missed out on all the pathway stuff, had been disappointed. Got an opportunity and found his way and now he’s just so hungry, and is absolutely lightning.
“He could be like a [Cheslin] Kolbe in Test rugby – small, dynamic with feet that if he’s one on one, he’s going to beat you. He could beat you in a phone box at the moment.”
While Jones acknowledged Radwan needed to become a more rounded player, he recalled some advice from his mentor and former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer.
“One of the greatest tips I ever got was from Bob Dwyer: He said always pick the players with the things you can’t coach because you can coach the other stuff – the hard work, the effort,” said Jones.
“Jonny May is a great example in how hard he’s worked at his game. I would have said in the last two years, he’s probably been the best winger in the world, and there’s no reason why Jonny can’t keep getting better.
“But I’m sure he’s looking over his shoulder at Radwan thinking I’ve got to keep working hard here. So I could we could get another even better performances from Jonny over the next two years.”
In a lengthy, and fascinating chat on the podcast, Jones also reflected on the rise of Smith and the potential pitfalls in his way, the state of rugby and how he’s planning ahead for the 2023 RWC.
He first watched Smith play as schoolboy in 2015.
“I thought he went through quite a difficult time at Quins for a period,” said Jones. “He lost his way a little bit, probably wasn’t himself, there could be a number of reasons for that.
“I thought in the last premiership year he found himself and then when he came into camp with us he was absolutely outstanding. Humble, hard working, but a bit of edge about him , which is what you want.
“With those young players, it’s about how they can keep their feet on the ground. Everything’s great at that moment but he’s only got to have one or two bad games and then everything’s terrible.
“So it’s just keeping his feet on the ground, keep progressing, keep moving forward. He’s obviously a very good player, the talent’s one thing it’s how you handle the rest of the stuff that’s going to be important.
“I think, particularly in England, there’s either really great things, or there’s a crisis – nothing in between. And generally rugby is about the bits in between.
“You’re either a little bit better, or you’re a little bit worse, you’re never absolutely massively better, or, or, incredibly poor, and you’ve got to try to find the right balance as to when the bring the players in.”
Jones was also quizzed about the style of the international game right now, and where it might be headed.
“We go through this [style debate] periodically. The 2007 Rugby World Cup final, there were 96 kicks. Was there anyone in South Africa who was unhappy?
“It wasn’t great rugby, but the game keeps on cycling through. We go through slow periods, and then people get sick of it we get to a fast period, and then the referees get sick of enforcing the laws at the breakdown and it becomes slow again, and it’s just keep cycling through.
“That’s a great thing about our game – it keeps changing all the time. Players and coaches have got to adapt to what’s happening and at the moment we’re in a good cycle. The referees are being tough at the breakdown, we’re getting quick ball and allowing teams to attack.”
He said England’s staff were focused, as always on what’s next.
“Like all the other teams in modern sport, we’ve got a data and analytics team that looks at everything and they can predict where it’s going. At the moment, 99.9% of Tests, up until this year, were won by the team that kicks the most. That’s fact.
“But now it’s starting to even out that the teams who can run, if you get a balance between your running and kicking, you’ve got a greater chance to win Test matches.”
Quade’s delicious coach stitch up
One of Eddie Jones’ long time deputies, Scott Wisemantel, made the switch to the Wallabies under Dave Rennie last year and has been credited with helping spark Australia’s attack under Dave Rennie.
The mere mention of his name brought a smile to Quade Cooper’s face on a press call this week when the Wallabies playmaker was asked about Wisemantel’s impact.
It gave Cooper, who had shared an Instagram video of him embarrasing Wisemantel with some quick feet at training, the chance for a stitch up he richly enjoyed.
“He’s a great bloke,” said Cooper. “For me it’s not so much his football brain, and he is a great football brain, but it’s the conversations that I’ve been able to have with him just in and around the environment.
“Talking about who he is as a man, the things that he stands for the morals, the values that he holds dearly to him. We’ve had some phenomenal conversations about mindset, about what he does in his time away from the game or some of the things that he’s learned in his long career as a coach.
“I really love him as a man and as a human, first and foremost, and then when you get out onto the football field, I have that much respect for him as a man first. And that’s why I still feel pretty dirty about what I did to him the other day on the training paddock.”
This is the moment he was referring to.
And asked to explain what happened, Cooper quipped: “He over tracked, which is something that we don’t do here at the Wallabies – he’s spending the week with our defence coach.”
Rennie has compiled an impressive assistant crew, and prop Allan Alaalatoa has praised the impact of Wallabies forwards coach and Brumbies boss Dan McKellar.
“Our set piece has definitely grown … I think Dan’s involvement has really helped,” he said this week.
“I know that a lot of the boys in the squad respect him and what he has to say so I think definitely there’s been a huge improvement around our set piece.”
The ‘absolute genius’ who influenced Carter
All Blacks legend Dan Carter, doing the media circuit for his new book, has revealed former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith was the most influential in his career.
“Absolute magician, absolute genius. I’ve never met anyone who works as hard as he does,” Carter told Newstalk ZB of Smith, who was Graham Henry assistant in 2004, as Carter emerged as All Blacks No.10.
“He challenges you, he gets the best out of you. He’s a good friend. He was a big part of my journey.
— Dan Carter (@DanCarter) October 13, 2021
“It is really hard to nail one coach because I had so many amazing coaches with Steve Hansen, Graham Henry, Robbie Deans, some absolute legends of world rugby.
“But the fact that Smithy could drag me to Japan for a couple of extra years at the end of my career goes to show how important he was to me.”
Steyn retires from international rugby
Springboks legend Morne Steyn has quit international rugby to focus on getting more playing time with the Bulls.
The 37-year-old played in the recent Rugby Championship, but told Springboks management he wanted to spend more time with his family and play more regularly in the twilight of his career.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about things and it has been difficult over the last few months being away from home with touring and being away from my kids,” Steyn said.
“I said to Jacques [Nienaber] that I haven’t been the No.1 choice for a while now, and it doesn’t make sense to wait for injuries for a chance to play. I have a year or two left in my career and I would rather spend it playing for the Bulls than sitting on the sidelines. I really want to enjoy my last two years of rugby.”
Nienaber is also missing Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe and World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit for their Autumn Nations Series Tests against Wales, Scotland and England.
De Klerk is sidelined by a hip injury, Kolbe is absent because of a knee problem and du Toit is recovering from his shoulder injury.
“It’s always unfortunate to lose players due to injury, but we have good depth in our squad and these are established players who have proven themselves at the highest level,” Nienaber said.