The new Premiership Player of the Year is now a European champion and on the verge of winning back the England full-back slot permanently for the first time in years – but it’s been a long old road getting to this point.
Alex Goode started ten straight Tests for England between 2012 and 2013 before Mike Brown’s form took off and he made the 15 shirt his own. Goode’s form never dipped dramatically but Brown’s surge was hard to argue against, to the extent that he was named Six Nations Player of the Tournament two years ago.
Brown’s outstanding form was recognised appropriately with awards. Now Goode finds himself in the same place.
Some hard work has gone in off the field to improve Goode’s acceleration, speed and footwork, a channel for his frustration having watched from the stands as England crashed out of the Rugby World Cup. His sole involvement, a start in that bleak meeting with Uruguay up in Manchester, is unlikely to be remembered.
Rather than head off on holiday, Goode got to work. The results speak for themselves.
“Everyone is different, but I just wanted to get back out there and play. Having not played much in the World Cup I didn’t really fancy going on holiday and wallowing in self pity and anger, or disappointment more than anything about what happened,” he explained to me back in December.
“Maybe I used my frustration of not playing too much and not being picked to drive myself on to an extent.
“It all just allowed me to focus on what I wanted to work on and where I wanted to get better. Luckily that has gone well and it’s showing in matches.”
Goode certainly did enough in Saracens’ unbeaten run through the Champions Cup pool stages and unbeaten run in the Premiership heading into 2016 to warrant strong consideration to start at full-back in the Six Nations.
Instead of the odd cameo off the bench enhancing his reputation, being left out of England’s 23-man squad for the vital game against Wales proved to be a blessing.
Goode, at the last minute travelled, to New York to play in Saracens’ win over London Irish and stole the show. The Man of the Match award he received could have been handed out at half-time. Having more or less been parachuted in from across the Atlantic, that takes some doing.
The list of nominees Goode found himself on this year was rich with talent. George Smith’s impact on the Premiership this season will be remembered long after he returns to Japan, whatever happens to Wasps this weekend at Sandy Park. Charles Piutau had strong claims, Gareth Steenson too, while Maro Itoje’s exploits this season are far from under the radar. Don Armand’s engine never splutters.
Goode in many ways was the subtle candidate, symbolic of his playing style. His ability to spot space is an underrated weapon while his distribution has always been outstanding, typified by two special passes for tries in Saracens’ rout of Bath at The Rec.
Perhaps that was the moment for Goode the glass shattered and his talent was recognised. A big summer awaits.
Ben Coles, Pundit Arena
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