English wing-play has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently; first, it was far from a vintage autumn for the Englishmen patrolling the wide channels, with just one try from a winger in an England shirt – and that was a run-in from five metres (never mind the fact that it was nearly butchered). Since then, as if the criticism has manifested itself in cruel fate, injuries have struck down the majority of England’s options.
No rugby player would ever admit to taking any perverse pleasure from seeing their contemporaries, and rivals, struggle, and sure enough Saracens winger Dave Strettle is quick to jump to the defence of the England wingers’ performances this autumn.
“I think wingers will always come in for a lot of stick if you’re not scoring lots of tries,” he says. “You can be the hero or you can be the villain, but I don’t think we’ve had wingers who score lots of tries for England for a good few years.”
He raises a good point – it has been quite some time since England boasted a winger with the try-scoring record of a Bryan Habana, or more recently a Julian Savea or Ben Smith. Strettle is keen to point out, however, that the blame for this should not fall solely at the wingers’ door.
“We’re not a team that plays a game like New Zealand or Australia do,” he notes. “We’re a different team in a sense of how we get results, so it might not be a case of going out there and playing the most attractive style of rugby.”
That may not be what any England fans hoping for a more expansive game-plan were hoping to hear, but Strettle does raise a good point – without the willingness of the men inside them to put the ball through the hands and create the space, how much are those on the end of the line really at fault here?
“It’s easy to point at the wingers when there’s no tries being scored, but you’ve got to look at the team as a whole and think, ‘Are the chances being created for them?’,” he points out. “When you look at the top sides, a lot of the wingers score tries through easy run-ins, so you’ve got to look at what the rest of the team is doing.”
Strettle is an infectiously upbeat character, and even after so many setbacks in his international career – horrific injuries, a poor performance at a crucial time here and there – he remains positive when asked if he thinks there is still a future for him at the very top of the game.
“Definitely – I always seem to find that in the summer they drop me to have a look at other players, then they recall me for the Six Nations,” he says mischievously. “I believe that if you perform in the league then you’ll get your chances, and I’ve consistently done that over the last few years.”
His optimism is admirable, and with the injury list England currently have it is far from unlikely that he will feature at some point in the Six Nations. Of course everything now is geared towards the 2015 World Cup, and Strettle admits that the opportunity to represent your country at a home World Cup is something that adds an extra level of motivation to perform well.
“Everyone wants to be involved for the England team – you always want to play for your country,” he says, “but playing at home in a World Cup, what could be better than that? I think that’s on everyone’s radar. I’m not saying you need any extra impetus to want to play for your country, but it’s definitely the icing on the cake.”
Whether the prospect of regaining an England place has been a motivating factor or not, Strettle has had a superb beginning to the season for Saracens. He is already just two tries away from his tally for the whole of last season, while the club themselves have gone some way to shedding the ‘boring’ tag that has been attached to them after finishing in the bottom half of the try scoring charts for the past five seasons running. Sitting second in that same chart so far this season, Strettle is proud of the club’s renaissance as an attacking force.
“Towards the end of last year, we scored a lot of tries,” he points out, “and we’re working out what works well for the team as a whole. If you actually look at how our team plays, we know that tries are what wins you games and wins you leagues. We’ve really worked this year on being more clinical, in the sense of taking our chances in the right areas, and working on our systems, and it’s allowed us to score more tries.
“You’ve only got to look at some of the tries we’ve scored this year, some of the rugby that’s been played, and the players that have gone on from Saracens to represent their country – we can’t be doing that much wrong can we?”
If he continues to run in the tries, then Strettle may well be one of those players representing his country again before long. After suffering so with injuries in the past, there would be a cruel irony about him getting another chance thanks to the ultimate misfortune of others. But sometimes that is how sport works, and there’s no doubt that if another opportunity comes Strettle’s way, he will grasp it with both hands.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Dave Strettle was speaking to The Rugby Blog as part of a Saracens appearance for Gatorade, official partner of the Aviva Premiership. Information on Gatorade’s nutrition products, hydration tips and training videos are all available at www.Gatorade.co.uk, by following @GatoradeUK and liking facebook.com/GatoradeUK
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images