The Premier League Owl takes a look at Kyle Eastmond’s adjustment to rugby union at Bath.
At the time that Kyle Eastmond confirmed that he was leaving St Helens for Bath, I was working in Sports Marketing and fortunate enough to have relationships with several people within the Super League and be privy to their opinions regarding the player’s impending code switch.
The overwhelming consensus was negative; Eastmond was too soft for Union, he wasn’t big enough, he lacked the mental discipline to make the conversion, and no natural position existed for him within the fifteen-man game.
Maybe some of that derived from jealousy, and from the natural animosity created by a young player turning his back on the sport which raised him. Maybe, but some of those fears were also very reasonable, and the hypothetical assessment of Eastmond’s chances of success were at least grounded in a semblance of reality.
Even though Eastmond’s transition is still very much in progress, he’s already flicked a metaphorical two fingers at a lot of that negativity.
He’s a gifted runner, we all knew that, but where he has been most impressive this season is in the phases between the tackles. For a league convert, that’s hardest part of switching codes – obviously, because there’s no real equivalent in league, and the breakdown laws as well as the governance around tackling and ball-retention are all aspects of the game which have to be learnt from scratch. Regardless, there’s no high penalty-count with him, and he isn’t a liability when he goes to ground in possession or vice versa. That’s a big compliment, and something which isn’t to be expected after just twenty-three first-team performances.
At Bath, Eastmond was initially used as a winger, which can be a useful hiding place for a player still developing his instincts in the contact areas, but as his first full-season has progressed, he’s been predominantly deployed at centre by Gary Gold. That was an interesting – and brave – move from Bath, as well as being a huge vote of confidence in the player himself – to give someone so new to the game the responsibility of guarding the midfield channels is always a risk. In this instance though, it’s a decision which has been entirely vindicated by the player’s determination to carve out a role for himself in his new sport.
At 5 ft 6, Eastmond is clearly never going to possess the physical threat of a Jamie Roberts, or have the additional-flanker quality of a Brian O’Driscoll at the breakdown, but the concerns over the restricting effect of his stature have been proved almost groundless. For someone of his size, he’s an enormously physical defender, and attacks ball-carrying opponents with a callous disregard for any physical mismatch – it’s terribly impressive.
Whether there’s a future for him at the level above the AVIVA Premiership will probably be determined this Summer in Argentina, but at the least, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a just one-way player being carried by Bath for the value of his running. He’s a big, big asset at The Rec, and his partnership with Jonathan Joseph next season is something which could be truly box-office.
Sport Is Everything. The Premier League Owl.