England coach Eddie Jones has been eulogising about his team’s latest winger, Wasps’ Elliot Daly, but beneath the veneer of the Australian’s facetious hyperbole is a genuine excitement about one of the country’s brightest talents.
Some players get thrown in at the deep end early on in their careers, individuals like Bath’s Anthony Watson who made his international debut at the tender age of 20 – coming off the bench against New Zealand back in 2014.
Similarly, individuals like Jonny Wilkinson (27 games), Manu Tuilagi (21), Mathew Tait (19) and Owen Farrell (16) had all established themselves as England players before their 22nd birthdays.
Daly, on the other hand, has been in and out of England squads for three years without ever getting the chance to run onto the pitch as a test player, even playing against his country for the Barbarians back in 2013. Indeed, his debut did not come until February this year when he came on as a replacement for Jonathan Joseph against Ireland in the Six Nations.
It seems bizarre to think that a man of Daly’s obvious talents has been ignored at international level for so long.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Eddie Jones explained:
“Elliot has got the qualities to be able to give us another attacking option that’s very hard to defend against.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Eddie Jones interview without the trademark non-sequitur:
“Elliot has become a lot more serious about his rugby. He’s been blessed with talent. He’s a public schoolboy, holds up the trophy, has beautiful manicured hair.”
Jones seems to have a penchant for players with particular coiffures, but regardless he saw the raw talent Daly quite clearly had and has helped him build on his basic skills in other areas to make him into an all-round utility back that can compete with the best in the world.
Whilst previously there may have been question marks over Daly’s defensive work – stemming from his small stature, being only 5 foot 10 amongst giants – he has firmly defied his doubters, putting in 7 tackles against the behemoths of South Africa and another solid outing against the Fijians.
But the Wasps centre and fullback has shown his versatility by taking to the wing like a duck to water, scoring an absolute scorcher of a try against the Fijians that highlighted his natural running abilities.
His move to the wing has also displayed his improving ability in the air and his kick chase was again a strength of England’s performance against the Pacific Islanders.
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Moreover, Daly’s long-range kick out of hand eventually led to Courtney Lawes’ try against the Springboks, which illustrated his fantastic ability to simply read what is in front of him.
The Wasps flyer has had such an impact on his coach that Eddie Jones has been persuaded to drop the classy consistency of Semesa Rokoduguni in favour of moving first-choice Jonny May to the right wing to accommodate Daly on the left.
Like exiled winger Chris Ashton, Daly has been given licence to move across the field as he pleases, getting himself involved, looking for the ball and popping up at the most opportune moments, as explained by Jones:
“He does things you don’t coach. We give him a roving role but he’s got a good sense for the game.”
Furthermore, Jones couldn’t resist the tantalising comparison between Red Rose legend Jason Robinson and Daly:
“He made England into one of the best attacking teams in the world because of his ability to go anywhere in the line and attack.”
Like Daly, Robinson was a tremendously talented natural athlete, someone whose brain was uniquely suited to the demands of test rugby, but during his time as a union player he constantly strove to improve in areas of the game he perceived as weaknesses.
Daly has done the same, and by combining his wonderful footwork, electric pace and natural ability to read a game with solid defensive foundations and a powerful boot for place kicking and kicking out of hand, suddenly England has a player that is simultaneously both artisan and mechanic.
Whether at fullback, centre or indeed winger, Daly’s England future looks to be positively incandescent. Argentina should be very wary of a man who is now absolutely crucial to England’s plans.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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