Tait's style is a welcome change from big hitters
22:02 GMT, 4 October 2012
For Leicester, it must be like having an exciting new signing — a dangerous attacking talent, young and English. For Mathew Tait, it surely feels like the start of a whole new career.
On Monday, the 26-year-old took part in a match again, which would have been a joyous novelty. And he scored a try too, which undoubtedly stirred distant memories of better days gone by.
It is almost a year since Tait last played. Soon after joining the Tigers from Sale, he was struck down by a groin injury and condemned to a prolonged spell of inactivity.
To hell and back: Mathew Tait has been out injured for almost a year
Learning to fly provided an outlet for his frustration and quite possibly saved his sanity.
Now, at long last, the one-time Newcastle prodigy has made his comeback, in an ‘A’-team game against Worcester, at Welford Road.
One burst of his fabled pace on a familiar outside break led to his second-half try, soon followed by removal from the firing line.
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For the time being, the aim is to steadily coax his body back into the rigours of regular, high-intensity action. But in time, the Tigers must hope that Tait can add a different dimension to their game.
The same goes for England, for this is a rare talent who had seemed in grave danger of going to waste.
Tait was 18 when he made a Test debut in Cardiff in 2005. But after being brutally tossed around by Gavin Henson, he was cruelly tossed aside by the then national coach, Andy Robinson. That led to positional shifts, and a loss of form and self-belief.
Yet along the way he has won 38 caps and despite the rough treatment, crises of confidence and injuries, he has caught the eye.
New Zealand’s acclaimed Sevens coach, Gordon Tietjens, saw Tait running amok during the 2006 Commonwealth Games and pronounced that had he been a Kiwi, he would have played 50 Tests for the All Blacks by then.
In the 2007 World Cup final, which England lost to South Africa, it was Tait’s scorching break which led to Mark Cueto’s famous, ruled-out ‘try’. In that instant, he showed a glimpse of his class as a high-octane strike runner.
These days, so much emphasis is on bulk and off-loading prowess, yet if Tait can hit his stride again, he is too good for England to ignore.
While the game is dominated by the crash-bash-release routine, there still must be scope for guile and nimble, elusive qualities.
It would be a wondrous sight to observe this faded, almost lost star shining anew.
Pumas go in search of historic win over Wallabies
It could be a perfect storm. Australia face Argentina in Rosario on Saturday, decimated by injuries and with their head coach under siege following last weekend’s abject 31-8 defeat by the Springboks.
Quade Cooper’s public trashing of the regime has been an unwelcome circus sideshow and the Pumas are on the rebound after being thrashed by New Zealand, which will make them even more dangerous.
Side show: Quade Cooper has caused unwelcome pressure on the Australians after his outburst
It would be no surprise if this Rugby Championship decider culminated in an historic home win.
And if so, it would be no surprise if Robbie Deans is sacked, leaving the Wallabies on the look-out for a new coach just nine months before they confront the Lions.
O’Shea could give us Rome comfort
At The Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup launch on Monday, politics dominated discussions.
With the next meeting of ERC stakeholders looming in Rome three days from now, when the TV rights war which is threatening the future of European competition will top the agenda, it became apparent that Conor O’Shea should be sent in to mediate.
As an Irishman working in England, Harlequins’ director of rugby has ample perspective and a knack for diplomacy from his previous role in high-level sports administration.
Send him to Rome: Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea proved himself to be a perfect diplomat
He offered a robust argument in favour of the salary cap — citing Arsenal’s book-balancing act in football and the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy in his own country.
Send him to Rome and there could be a way out of this mess. Instead, it is destined to rumble on for months, although, when asked about the prospect of continental events going ahead without the mutinous English, ERC chief executive Derek McGrath said: ‘It is almost unthinkable that could happen.’
There appears to be an increasing willingness to consider reform of the divisive qualification format, but as for the rival TV deals — that thorny issue will be much harder to unravel.
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The Last Word
Someone must convince Mike Phillips to go teetotal for a while. Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, should demand that he steers clear of alcohol for 10 months.
That way, the troubled Bayonne scrum-half could concentrate on playing rugby, which he’s rather good at when his heart and soul are in it. In fact, he’s world class when he’s on-song and off the booze.
But his short, sharp suspension and public rebuke from his French club over another late-night outing, following a recent Top 14 defeat, shone a light on his failings.
Keep off the booze: Bayonne's scrum-half Mike Phillips should stop drinking to keep his British Lions chances alive
Phillips has been in far more than his fair share of nocturnal scrapes in Cardiff and now he’s exporting his bad habits, but at 30 he should have learned to clean up his act by now. And in this Lions year he should be on his toes rather than on the tiles.
He may have been the first-choice Test scrum-half in 2009 but this time he will need to be at the peak of his powers to see off the dual English challenge from Ben Youngs and Danny Care.