Exclusive Interview with Richard Hill MBE – QBE Internationals Preview
What do you make of the England squad, in particular those names that are missing? What are your thoughts on the likes of Christian Wade and Strettle missing out whilst Marlon Yarde has a place without having the best of seasons with Quins?
In terms of the start of the season I think that it has been great to have the delayed EPS agreement which has been a good collaboration between the RFU and the Premiership clubs, it has allowed for some great competition and it has allowed a greater number of players that have been slugging it out to try and impress Stuart. Quite clearly there have been some difficult decisions and there are some players that are disappointed not to be involved. For those who have been selected in the EPS it has been hugely positive and a huge boost for them to know that they are in the best position to be called up to a squad for the QBE Autumn Internationals. I don’t believe that this is the end of selection for 2015, players will be able to force themselves into the squad, in a similar way that happened to us some years ago. We know that there are players who definitely would have made it into the squad had they not been receiving treatment but what a fantastic opportunity for these players to become further established or at least to be in the reckoning by the time we get to the World Cup.
So who are the names that need to stand up and stamp a marker throughout the coming matches?
I would suggest that there are very few players that are guaranteed starters in this squad, or certainly that are fit at the moment. It’s therefore a fantastic opportunity for any one of the squad to make a mark. In one respect you could say that we have great strength in depth at loose head but you could also say that at the moment we need that strength with the amount of people that are on the sidelines – and that’s probably across the whole team currently. We have established Internationals that are available over the 4 match series but in terms of our set pieces, we are needing the likes of Dylan Hartley & Courtney Lawes in particular in that front 5 unit to ensure that our lineout wins good ball and quick ball as well as in the scrum to give us a good platform to build our game on. England have certainly been at their best when we’ve had a good platform and our Number 8 has been able to make big powerful runs, whether it is Billy Vunipola or BenMorgan. Both on the front foot can challenge the game line quite considerably, which makes life a lot easier for the backs. Danny Care will be a key man in ensuring that we have good organisation and tempo of ball. For the first match it will be interesting to see who is selected at fly-half, Owen would be the natural number one pick at the moment – it just needs to be deemed whether he has enough game time under his belt or not. Certainly he’s been pushed hard, particularly by George Ford. In the midfield there is plenty of opportunity to stake a claim to be the key playmaker and set a platform to get second / third phase going. Mike Brown has been a significant figure of recent years, he’s been very reliable and has a great left boot to get us out of trouble.
What do you make of the Australia squad now that they have brought back Will Genia and Quade Cooper?
It’s a great combination, one that would keep any defensive unit on its toes. Will Genia has the speed away from the base of the scrum and rucks to challenge any defender – he either has the speed to go for the hole itself, or the great decision making to hit one of any 3 strike runners– something which is key for this Australia team. Quade Cooper has a box of tricks – not somebody who will conform to a stereotypical game plan but would challenge the line anytime he can. Their game against the Barbarians wasn’t as emphatic a result as they would have wanted but I think it was a confidence booster and something which they would have relished as a game on tour.
Turning to South Africa, how bug an impact has Victor Matfield had coming back into that team?
Victor is a quality individual. His primary roles are, I suppose, his lineout, his leadership, his ability to galvanize those around him so that every player knows his role – whether they are a jumper or a lifter which adds great confidence to the hooker and which is key to them at getting a speed of ball giving some of their robust players a chance to get into the game. His general leadership around the pitch will be highly sought after, they firmly hold the number 2 position in the world rankings at the minute and they can attack from anywhere on the pitch – even against New Zealand and they aren’t frightened to have a go.
There have been a lot of rumours floating about regarding Steffon Armitage, do you think that he should be included as an exception to the rule?
The rule was bought in to benefit the England rugby team. Do I believe that an individual playing abroad should be included under the current setup? No. As an Englishmen watching English clubs I want to be watching the best players playing week in week out. From a coaching point of view, you want to see those players vying for selection testing each other to the limit. I think it’s a very difficult scenario to get to when you have players who can’t attend training camps so therefore they are going to be a week or two behind others. I think that if you want to be playing for England, the best place to be playing is here because I think that it helps the club game and overall is better for English rugby as a whole.
Finally what are your thoughts on Sam Burgess? Centre or Back Row, where would you play him?
My personal opinion would be to play him in the centres if you are looking for quick results. Quite clearly back row is a specialized position, at centre he should be able to slot in with more ease. Sam Burgess has an outstanding reputation in rugby league, his open field skills are exceptional and at some point over the next month or so he will, I assume, filter into a second team game at Bath and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to some of the finer points of rugby union, in particular the break down ball presentation and rucking – at times he will have to join in with those facets of the game. If he does pick up the understanding of the breakdown and that side of the game, then who knows? It will be a phenomenal effort to do it within 9 months within which he will, you would have thought, have to pick up at least one cap but let’s see. Hopefully he is given the patience and is not analysed too much over the course of the first few games.
Interview conducted on Wednesday 5th November 2014