The calls for George to receive an England call-up are increasing, and if he continues to perform like this you can understand why. He has clearly been soaking up the experience of playing with John Smit and Schalk Brits down the years, and that is reflected in the variety of his game – he can do the work in the tight as well as anyone, but there is also an element of flair to his ball-carrying game, along with some brilliant hands. At the weekend, admittedly against Zebre, he bagged a try and an assist, while also getting through a mountain of work in defence to make 11 tackles.
Sometimes in sport the cruelty of injury allows you an opportunity, and with Tom Croft and Steve Mafi currently out of the Tigers’ team Gibson has grabbed his by the scruff of the neck. He can at times be an uncomfortable player to watch – while he is similar in stature to Croft, there is none of the grace with which he gallops around. There is, in fact, more of the dog of someone like Lewis Moody – a combination of those two can be no bad thing. While England are pretty well stocked in the back-row positions, you are never more than a couple of injuries away from getting your shot – as Gibson has learnt this season. He has been on an England tour before, and has extensive experience in the Saxons, so would be a reasonably safe choice for Lancaster.
That sidestep was a thing of beauty. Hanrahan only entered the fray in Perpignan in the 78th minute, but that step in the final minute is enough to earn him a mention here. He has been sharing the fly-half duties with Ian Keatley this season at Munster, but of the two Hanrahan certainly has the most potential. He led Ireland to their best ever finish (5th) at the 2012 Junior World Championship, which included wins over South Africa and England, and was nominated for the IRB Junior Player of the Year award that year, losing out narrowly to Jan Serfontein. While Johnny Sexton is the number one choice at fly-half for the forseeable future for Ireland, no-one has stamped their authority on the back-up berth and at the tender age of 21, Hanrahan has time on his side to do just that.
The Irishman in Wales has had a breakthrough season and continued his fine form in Cardiff’s plucky win over Glasgow on Friday night. He may have a lot of work to do to usurp the incumbents in the Ireland set-up, but with a move to Munster next season on the cards he certainly has the motivation to keep these performances coming and try to break into the squad, at least. On Friday he beat three defenders – more than anyone else in a ghastly pink shirt – in several strong carries, while also putting in a big shift in defence. International recognition may still be some way off, but slowly Copeland is working his way onto the radar.
Northampton’s astonishing victory over Leinster at the weekend was built on a relentless physicality, and while the likes of Samu Manoa and Courtney Lawes often make the headline for this, Clark is brutish in a different way. There may not be the attention-grabbing hits that the others make, but his intensity (that now almost clichéd buzzword in rugby) around the breakdown and sheer work-rate are more impressive than most. On Saturday evening he was Northampton’s top tackler with fourteen, while he also snaffled two turnovers to disrupt any rhythm Leinster were hoping to build. As was mentioned with Gibson, England are not lacking for options in this area, but with Clark already in the Saxons squad if he can keep his head down in a disciplinary sense further England recognition could beckon.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images