How to create a Volcanic eruption



England, conservative, boring old England, have an exciting, dangerous new weapon. Sadly, like a caveman presented with an AK47 and a magazine full of ammunition, conservative, boring old England have no idea how to use it. They made a promising start in fathoming out this problem; the finger twitched for a while in the general vicinity of the trigger, but then they thought better of it and found themselves once again staring at it in confusion. England need to figure out how to fire this weapon soon before the gun goes rusty and the powder goes damp.

The weapon’s name, in case you hadn’t guessed, is Lesley Vainikolo. The injury to David Strettle against Wales could prove to have done long-term damage to England. This is not because it was a setback for a highly promising young winger, a player who should win many, many caps in years to come. It is because it led England to change the way in which they use Vainikolo; they removed their finger from the trigger.

Vainikolo the impact sub was loaded and ready to go, primed to unleash fury on tiring opponents as matches entered their final quarter. That was the role in which England were preparing to use him and think of the havoc he could have wrought. Unfortunately, he had to come on early when Strettle got injured but in the following games, he should have resumed his role from the bench.

This would not have been relegation. In the modern game of 22-man rugby, it would have been simply retaining him in the role to which he is best suited and in which his abilities could cause the most impact. Vainikolo was not on the bench for that first game because he was the third best winger in the country. He was on the bench because he was the one who could cause the most damage late in the game. Someone with a more rounded game, and more experience of the way a game of rugby union unfolds should have been brought in to start. Lewsey, Simpson-Daniel, Tait, Varndell, Cueto – it’s not as though England are short of options in that position.

Vainikolo has shown some deft touches and has made an impact when he has got the ball in his hands. But there are two forces which mean that, in a starting role, this does not happen very often. First is the way England play, second is Vainikolo’s work rate. Currently, England are playing a conservative brand of rugby. They are not using their backs very much and when they try to they are struggling to give them the right kind of ball. Playing like that, if you have a winger who can wreak havoc with ball in hand, you need him to come looking for it in open play. For whatever reason, Big Les does not do this, whether it be fitness, an inability to read the game or simply that England’s approach does not allow for it.

The combination of the way the team play, and the way the man himself plays, has conspired to dilute Vainikolo’s impact. He has soft hands, good skills and is almost unstoppable one-on-one in a bit of space, especially against a tiring opponent. It is not merely that he is hard to stop, but that his presence creates space for others. England can overcome the weaknesses of the player and their own inability to use him by returning him to the bench. They should then bring him on late with instructions to work his socks off for the last 20-30 mins and bellow at those inside him to get him the ball.

England need to see the Volcano erupt in the final two games. The way to do this is to let him build to boiling point and then, when the time comes, let him loose and watch the sparks fly.

by Stuart Peel

4 thoughts on “How to create a Volcanic eruption

  1. Agreed, starting on the bench makes most sense at this stage in his transition. It will be interesting to see how successful he can be in an England shirt. I’m not sure I buy the general feeling among some parts of the media that think big V is destined for greatness if we just pass the ball to him. Unlike the days when Lomu used to terrorise England backs, defences now are mentally strong and better organised. Of course, there’s still much to gain from having a big, powerful beast with good hands, but at international level they aren’t going to break as many tackles. Will be interesting to see…

  2. I’d love to see the Volcano explode and land back in the Tongan team where he belongs….3 years in England qualifies ??? If a duck lives in a henhouse for 3 years it’s still a ruddy duck…he is not English and should not be playing !!!!

  3. Stuart, so if you’re in favour of bringing the big ‘Tonglishman’ off the bench for the last 20 or 30, who would you put in the starting spot? Personally, Simpson-Daniel proved yet again in the Gloucester-Quins game how creative and destructive to defences he is, and I know he’s a favourite of this blog. Varndell still has a lot to work on, Cueto is a bit stale, and I prefer Lewsey at full-back and Tait in the centre/at full-back.

    Also, you say that the Volcano has not caused enough of an impact in the previous games due to his lack of workrate AND the fact that the England backs aren’t getting him the right ball. How would you use him? It’s a winger’s responsibility to go looking for the ball when it isn’t being flung out to him, and Brian Moore hasn’t shut up about the fact he thinks he should be brought on the crash ball through the 10/12 channel – is that how you see him being used, or do you think the England midfield should do more to create space for him out wide?

  4. Well given the choice I’d play Simpson-Daniel in every position from 11 to 15 but as that’s unrealistic, give him the winger’s shirt. England have got so many options in the back three now though that they should really try to use them better.

    I think England should work to get quick ball to Vainikolo in space. Use him up the middle from time to time to create space for others, as long as they get quick ball from him, but he’s never going to bash his way to the line straight through the middle. 10 years ago, at a time when defences were not nearly as good as they are now, Lomu, who is bigger than Les, made much less impression through the middle than when he had the ball in space.

    In terms of workrate, the fact that he is not proactive at looking for the ball is because he has not yet learned to anticipate the play and pick a running line – this is quite a hard skill to master and nobody can do it in 6 months unless they have a natural eye for it. This is one of the reasons I think his inexperience counts against him when it comes to the full 80 mins.

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