Oval Talk: Lamb staking England claim

Tue, 21 Sep 09:57:00 2010

With the autumn internationals little under two months away and the Rugby World Cup looming in just 12 months' time, Oval Talk's mind has inevitably turned towards the England set-up.

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The Tri-Nations are over and done with, bringing with them an idea of where the southern Hemisphere teams are at in their build-up towards next year's showdown in New Zealand.

And now it's the turn of the northern hemisphere. We're already three matches into the new Premiership season and have only eight weeks until England test themselves against the likes of New Zealand, Australia, Samoa and South Africa.

Say what you like about the new rules in rugby, but it is difficult to deny they are shifting the sport into an exciting running game - something that has been lacking over the past few years.

Flair, explosive speed and vision are providing vital match-winning moments. For proof you need only look at Wasps' dramatic win over Leicester on Saturday. And while attritional scrum battles are still important, they are no longer the be-all and end-all of the game.

Obviously the team that lifts the Webb Ellis Cup on October 23 next year will be the most all-round team featuring stand-out players in a whole host of positions. But this increased importance on the running game has done nothing to change OT's mind that the position of fly-half is crucial.

A fly-half should be able to call the set moves and make tactical decisions; they need to be quick-thinking, to communicate with all the backs and adapt them to their attacking or defending position. Oh, and they need to be able to kick, both out of hand and for the posts.

Jonny Wilkinson has been a stand-out fly-half for England over the years but since injury and age have made him less and less available and impactful, the team have struggled to replace him. England have been through a succession of players that, while decent, have failed to live up to the heavy weight of expectation.

Wilkinson, renewed by his time in the south of France at Toulon, can still be a fantastic impact sub if only on account of his experience. But it's time to try something new, in OT's mind. Step up Ryan Lamb.

OT has long been an admirer of the 24-year-old London Irish player and cannot understand why he hasn't been given a chance before.

Lamb enjoyed a fantastic season at Gloucester in 2007-8 scoring a total of 168 points in 18 appearances, keeping Scotland's metronomic Chris Paterson away from the spot-kicks before then-boss Dean Ryan lost faith and gave him limited opportunities the following year.

However, since moving to London Irish at the end of the 2008-09 season Lamb has rebuilt himself into a vital player for the Exiles.

Okay so his try-count is not exactly sky-high, something that could be worked on, but Lamb racked up a total of 143 points last season and has already scored 34 this season, kicking five conversions and eight penalties in his first three matches to propel the Exiles up to second and three points behind leaders Northampton.

Compare that with England's previously favoured fly-halves; Leicester Tigers' Toby Flood (one conversion in 39 minutes of one match against Northampton), Sale Sharks' Charlie Hodgson (yet to start this season after shoulder surgery in July) and Andy Goode (languishing down in National Division One with Worcester.

Only Wilkinson (two tries, five conversions, 17 penalties and four drop goals in six matches) has scored more points so far.

Surely it's time to give Lamb a chance.


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