Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson and Brian O’Driscoll. All world-class players that have lit up rugby in recent years. Apart from all being incredible talents, the one other thing that links them is the fact they are synonymous with one position.
Nearly all the world-class players that are so prominent in the game are not a jack of all trades, instead, they are a master of one. Perhaps there were times in which these players were forced to slot into another position, such as when Wilkinson played at 12, but these were due to necessity, after all, when you hear his name, you immediately think of two things, *that* drop goal against Australia and fly-half.
This idea that to become world-class, you must become an expert of one position is exactly why many have become worried about England and Wasps’ Elliot Daly.
Daly has played on the wing, in the centre and at full-back, making him an incredibly versatile player. It has made him a mainstay of the English Premiership side, while he has become a very talented exponent in Eddie Jones’ England side.
However, this versatility is something that could really stunt his development into a truly world-class talent.
It is important for a player, especially a young one, which Daly is at only 24-years-old, to become comfortable in a position and really nail down the craft of it. This is something the back has not been able to do as he is seen as a player that can play as a centre, wing or full-back, as opposed a player that is any one of the afore-mentioned.
If Daly is given a single position to perfect, it will massively help his development. It takes a massive amount of time to come to perfect the craft of a position, with an ex-England international a superb example of this.
Rugby League convert Sam Burgess tried to make the position of centre his own before the ill-fated 2015 World Cup in England. Stuart Lancaster surprisingly chose him, and it was this decision which sealed his fate. Of course, the losses to Wales and Australia were the biggest reasons as to why he was dispensed of, but the selection of Burgess bordered on incompetency.
The League convert had a matter of weeks to become comfortable and perfect the craft of being a centre, something that he failed to do. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, with New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams an immediate hit at centre, but that is more likely because he is a supremely gifted athlete.
For Daly, time, experience and solidity are the best ways to nurture the youngster.
It is important for Daly that he does not follow in the same career path as Austin Healey then. Healey was an undoubtedly talented player, but his versatility cost him in the long run. Healey was able to play scrum-half, winger, fly-half and fullback, and while he was primarily a scrum-half, his inability to make a position his own is why Matt Dawson is synonymous with the 2003 World Cup triumph for England, and not Healey.
The problem for Eddie Jones and Wasps’ Director of rugby Dai Young is figuring out where Daly is best suited, with Jones preferring him on the wing and Young using him at centre. Daly displayed his searing pace and his ability to pick an attacking line against Wales as he held his nerve to beat Alex Cuthbert on the outside and score the winning try in a thrilling Six Nations clash in Cardiff.
Eddie Jones was an advocate of using Daly on the wing in the Six Nations but he is yet to shake off the tag of being a utility player. However, fortunately for Daly, there is scope to nail down a position in the England team. With the players on the wing, in the centre and at full-back in no way certain, the Wasps player could yet make a position his own.
His pace for the try against Wales perhaps alludes to the fact he would be best suited on the wing, with the positions out wide resulting in more open space to run into, something that he clearly favours, as was shown in the above try.
He has been named as a nominee for the European Player of the Year too, playing at centre, meaning there will likely be a lot of head scratching about where Daly should play, with club and country not agreeing on his best position.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) 5 April 2017
Of course, versatility is a good thing, and, when injuries hit, it can be a huge boost to the team. Wales’ Liam Williams has displayed that it can be very beneficial to be versatile. However, the Welsh player is a world class winger first and foremost, but he is also able to play at full-back.
For Daly, it is definitely a case of being versatile, first and then a wing for England and a centre for Wasps. For a player still finding his feet in international rugby, Daly is at a cross-roads in his career, and he needs Eddie Jones and the management at Wasps to help him as his continued development into a world-class player is beneficial to everyone involved.