Instinctive Geraghty needs backing to fulfil potential

Shane Geraghty

Northampton’s spotless start to the season came to an end against Saracens. It is not the end of the world to lose at the home of last year’s Premiership finalists but even at this early stage of the season they find themselves at a crossroads in one respect. At some stage Jim Mallinder has a decision to make regarding his fly half: he has two of top class and such are the differences in what they provide, chopping and changing can only be a solution for so long.

Stephen Myler, the more reliable kicker of the two, had a poor first game with the boot and Shane Geraghty was brought in. Now Geraghty has had a poor one. Does Mallinder change tack again? Is Geraghty now his man? If so, why did he not pick him in the first game? And can he continue to chop and change? The answer to these questions could go a long way to deciding the immediate future of Geraghty, one of the brightest young talents in the English game but one who is struggling to find his niche.

Geraghty’s game has always rested on his instinctiveness. He has a natural flair. Indeed there are a group of young English fly halves in that mould in Cipriani, Geraghty and Lamb. They all have talent in abundance but their game management is often found wanting. They have all been left out of big games to decent, but more limited players (Walder, Myler and Malone respectively). Meanwhile their contemporary Toby Flood, an arguably more solid player but one with a considerably smaller skill set, has been racking up the caps. In order to ‘make it’ they need to improve the team element of their fly half play as opposed to just the individual. Until they get that balance right they will not be seen as real contenders for higher honours at 10.

But in going through this process they run a serious risk of losing that which got them there in the first place – that flair and instinctiveness. Rugby is the ultimate team game but in this country especially there is little room for the maverick. Cipriani’s problems lie in his reluctance to compromise his own talents for the good of the team. He is seen as arrogant for this but is not the inability of the coaches to find a way to harness his talent just as concerning and frustrating?

The same goes for someone like James Simpson-Daniel who must watch with barely controllable envy as James O’Connor plays nominally on the wing for Australia but in reality in a free role in which he is encouraged to roam the pitch and cause havoc wherever he sees the opportunity. Not rocket science, just a judicious use of a rare talent. Why fit him into a team structure when he is potentially at his most dangerous outside it?

Shane GeraghtyFly halves have less licence in this regard as they dictate the shape of the team. It is correct that they are being coached to manage the game better but it should not be at the cost of taking the instinctiveness out of them. They were signed because of their natural rugby ability, and if they are thinking too hard about what they are doing they will miss opportunities to do what they do best. They are high risk, high reward players and coaches have to accept that mistakes will happen.

There are similar examples in other sports. Kevin Pietersen received so much criticism for getting out in irresponsible ways early in his career that he has stopped trusting his instincts. But who would you rather have in your team: the Pietersen who blazed his way to 94 against South Africa a couple of years ago only to get out self-indulgently trying to go to 100 with a 6, or the Pietersen who could barely get the ball off the square this summer? There are obviously more to Pietersen’s problems than that but to my mind the issue started when he stopped trusting his instincts.

Ryan Giggs said that all the best things he has done on a football pitch have been instinctive and have ‘just happened’. This suggests that increased coaching and time spent programming people is of limited utility and can be counterproductive. If everybody on the pitch is largely programmed then it makes the special things which people like Geraghty and Giggs can do even more important. The difference in rugby is the potential consequences of a risk not coming off. Giggs has got a defensive line behind him to clean up the mess if he loses the ball. A loose pass from Geraghty anywhere on the pitch can lead straight to a try.

The point here is that Geraghty has a wider skill set than Myler but if he is constantly worried that any mistake might see him dropped then he will play with too much fear and will lose effectiveness. Coaches should not restrain players like him too much. If you’re going to do that you might as well not pick them at all. The shame is that we do not seem to produce the sort of rounded fly halves like Dan Carter and Matt Giteau who can run, kick, pass and manage. The closest we have come is Charlie Hodgson who to my mind has been horribly mistreated by supporters and selectors alike over the years.

If you are going to pick the likes of Lamb and Geraghty at fly half you have to stick with them if they make the odd mistake and miss the odd kick. Only through knowing that they have the coach’s absolute backing will they be able to show their natural ability and also grow into the role of all round general. Chopping and changing will only stunt their progress and could end up ruining them.

By Stuart Peel

6 thoughts on “Instinctive Geraghty needs backing to fulfil potential

  1. Myler is in the team for his kicking – the fact is that he hasn’t performed on that front so far this season and should be dropped. Geraghty’s kicking has been generally good, and if you’re a Saints fan he’s the man you want to see dancing with the ball inside the opponent’s 22. He’s got so much more imagination than Myler – if Northhampton want to win the league this year (as they really should do with their team) then they need to realize the talent that they have and stick with Geraghty throughout the season. Hopefully this will lead the moronic Martin Johnson to make a correct decision and give Geraghty a chance before choosing the World Cup squad.

  2. Agree that Geraghty needs to be given a decent run for Saints, but unfortunately I think it’s too late for him to make the RWC.

    We know how stubborn and conservative Johnno is, and so to make a U-turn on a player whose kicking is shaky for the World Cup is highly unlikely I’d say.

  3. Great piece.

    “In order to ‘make it’ they need to improve the team element of their fly half play as opposed to just the individual. Until they get that balance right they will not be seen as real contenders for higher honours at 10.”

    That pretty much sums it up, and why Geraghty isn’t and shouldn’t be near the England team at the moment.

  4. Lamb’s current run of good form is happening because Toby Booth has stuck with him even after some off days. Mallinder has to do the same with Geraghty.

  5. Agreed.

    Just after I wrote this I watched Gloucester v Wasps from the end of the 2005-2006 Premiership season. I’d forgotten about it but Ryan Lamb was 19 and for half an hour in the second half he absolutely carved Wasps to pieces, including dummying a kick on his own line, setting off and chucking a 30 metre pass still inside his own 22. 2 phases later he dummyed Joe Worsley and went under the horns. Awesome stuff. Completely fearless. It was his ability to do that which got him noticed and it was something which perhaps only Geraghty or Cipriani could have replicated. But it’s becoming rarer and rarer to see any of them do that.

    Having said that they may all be on the way to becoming more rounded players but they should still be encouraged to go for it if they think it’s on, no matter what.

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