Wasps legend Dallaglio talks about Nathan Hughes
Only Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Leonard have more England caps than Lawrence Dallaglio.
The long-time Wasps skipper appeared 85 times for his country, most famously in the 2003 World Cup winning team, and has a string of Grand Slams and Triple Crowns to his name, not to mention Premiership and Heineken Cup winners medals at club level and three British Lions tours.
At the other end of the spectrum, the man who has inherited Dallaglio’s black-and-gold No.8 shirt is just starting out on his international career.
While working his way through a three-year qualification stint, Nathan Hughes’ powerful running has won some rave reviews, and it was no surprise when he was parachuted directly into Eddie Jones’ squad.
Fom there he has progressed to the bench, and won his first two caps during the second halves of England’s wins over South Africa and Fiji in the last ten days.
So what does the former England skipper, who these days combines charity work with TV punditry while still remaining an advisor to Wasps board, make of his successor?
“Nathan has been producing a high level of rugby for a few years now, and he thoroughly deserves his opportunity,” Dallaglio says.
“He has earned the right to be in the England squad, and once you’ve done that you have to earn the right to be in the team, then to stay in the team.
“It’s been a step-by-step journey, and Eddie Jones has been very clear that you have to earn that right, and when the team is winning, like England have been, that’s a difficult thing to do as breaking in isn’t easy, but it also means Nathan is there because he deserves to be there.”
The Fijian-born giant had spells at openside flanker as well as his preferred No.8 during his hour-or-so on the pitch at Twickenham, and many pundits believe his longer-term international future lies the blindside flank.
This will allow Hughes and his Wasps predecessor Billy Vunipola, who is perhaps England’s stand-out performer currently, to feature in the same starting line-up, but will also require Hughes to adapt his on-field approach and devote more time to defensive duties and close-quarter work.
Hughes’ club boss Dai Young has consistently maintained that this shift of emphasis is well within the 25-year-old’s scope, while Dallaglio sees parallels with his own entry into international rugby.
“In some ways I can relate to his situation,” the World Cup winner says. “I made my debut against South Africa in 1995 when I came off the bench at No.6 and replaced Tim Rodber, then ultimately I found my place at No.8 via a spell at No.7, so I’ve been down that route.
“If I had the chance, I’d say to Nathan that getting in the England squad is one thing, staying there and being the best player in it is his next challenge.
“Like a lot of players he’ll go from coming off the bench to having the opportunity to start, what he and we will then want is that he has such an outstanding performance that he makes it very difficult for the selectors and the coach to change it.
“If he can deliver what he’s been doing at Wasps for a few years, it’s going to make it very difficult for them, and will add some very interesting conversations to the selection mix.”
James Haskell also shifted around England’s back-row with great success, and like Dallaglio became a distinguished leader of the black-and-golds.
The parallels between the two are clear - and according to Dallaglio the 70-times capped 31-year-old, who Eddie Jones reinvented as his preferred No.7, also once followed in his footsteps quite literally.
“James Haskell was continually asking for autographs while I was still playing,” he says, “his mother kept telling me there’s this young boy who wants to speak to you!
“I’m very proud of what James has done; he had a little sabbatical away from the club, but has very much been part of Wasps renaissance, and has led a lot of it.
“It’s great to see him doing so well personally, but also at the moment great to see Wasps doing so well without him in the side.
“I mean that in the nicest possible way, because a few years ago the club was really reliant on a few individuals, but he might even find it hard to get in the team when he’s fit now!”
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