Second Five-Eighth

In the Amlin Challenge Final between Northampton and Bath, as the game was running away from Bath they introduced a familiar face from the bench. No, not Peter Stringer; the other one. Gavin Henson. We were all set to have a good old chuckle as Big Gav took the field, but within a couple of minutes something interesting happened; Big Gav gave two gorgeous passes to put runners outside him into space. It was like a momentary glimpse into a parallel universe where Henson was a dedicated professional who had fulfilled his potential.  A tiny kernel of natural tlent remains!

In the past, we’ve often wondered what the point of clubs like Bath signing players like Gavin Henson is; when a player has failed to learn his lessons over and over again, does the time not come when you simply draw a line through his name? But this served as a reminder that some cases, no matter how lost they appear, can be worth a punt [at the time of writing Danny Cipriani has been recalled by England, and show me someone who isn’t absolutely fascinated as to what will happen next].

Big Gav never had the dedication to his trade to make the most of his ability, and it’s a real pity. Henson was never as good as the likes of Stephen Jones claimed he was, but he wasn’t rubbish either.  Yes, he had flaws, and yes he was a real pain, but his distribution, running and kicking game could all be terrific. In the modern era of bosh-‘em-up rugby ‘second five-eighth’-type inside centres who can pass the ball like a 10 are a precious commodity. As if to underline the point, Matt Giteau gave a scrumptious performance as a distributing 12 in the Heineken Cup final the following day. What a sight it is to behold, and what options it gives a team in attack when the 12 can move the ball so effortlessly!

Ireland’s own ‘playmaking 12’ departs the scene this summer, to little fanfare. Underpowered for the modern game and not benefitting from a ‘good face’, Paddy Wallace was fell just short of being a real test player, but for Ulster he was a classy and highly watchable fulcrum in the backline. In the 44-14 defeat to Leinster in the Heineken Cup final he was sublime. Fortunately, he passes on the torch. Stuart Olding has been injured all season, but will hopefully be back next year. He has a job on his hands displacing Luke Marshall (who isn’t a bad distributor either, but is more of a hard-running player in the Gordon D’arcy mould), but is exactly the sort of player Ulster have been lacking this season: think of all those sieges on the Leinster line in the semi-final that came to nothing because they just couldn’t unlock the door. One would have to suspect he’s on Schmidt’s radar too. Given a lack of real pace and huge players, Schmidt made Leinster the best team in Europe based on super-accurate passing of the ball along the gainline. Olding would be a key asset to replicate that at test level.

So there we have it; Stuart Olding, the new Gavin Henson.



  1. Stephen

     /  May 28, 2014

    Ways you know it’s silly season:

    1. Whiff of Cordite compare Stuart Olding to Gavin Henson.

    • jacothelad

       /  May 28, 2014

      Henson may have been a silly and unpleasant scrote at times who did a really difficult thing. He shat on his own career while simultaneously having his head up his arse but he was and maybe still is a superbly talented player. Olding does have a wide range of rugby skills from 10 to 15 just as Henson did…they are a little different from Tango’s but those who doubt the Orange one’s ability are looking at the fool not the rugby player. We will see if Olding returns from his awful injury and retains the step and pace of before. He has that indefinable thing that instantly separates the real deal from those who have to work extra hard to convince the doubters…. guys like Paddy Wallace spring to mind.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  May 28, 2014

        I’d worry about Olding holding up to the rigours of the pro game, he’s a light player, Henson was built and his only frailties were mental.

        • Yossarian

           /  May 28, 2014

          Saw some images of olding training and it looks like he has bulked up during his time out from injury. He looks strong in contact despite his stature, reckon he will be ok physically.

          • connachtexile

             /  May 28, 2014

            Saw the same pics he’s bulked up alot. Hope that doesn’t affect his pace carrying the extra weight around. BOD did the same thing a few years ago and had to lose it because he kept getting hamstring pulls.

  2. Can’t believe you’ve failed to mention Noel Reid! He’s a serious sleeper player ‘second 5/8’ type.

    For me, Olding is more of a 13 than a 12 from the limited amount I’ve seen.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  May 28, 2014

      Tomorrows column, Noel Reid, the next Luke McAllister.

      • Ireland's Answer (allthingsrugby1)

         /  May 28, 2014

        Agree on Olding @ 13 oval digest. That sidestep is wasted at 12. With Munster signing Tyler B as 10 back up I would love to see JJ hanrahan at 12. A majestic passed and well built.

  3. You also have an interesting situation in Munster where they seem to be moving away from the James Downey type player with a view of either having J. J. Hanrahan who has played alot of 12 underage and considered by some as a 12 rather than 10, Ian Keatley who when moved to 12 with JJ @ 10 has seen our attack improve massively or Tyler Bleyendaal who is actually a 10 but signed to be 12.. Heck they even have Dineen and Hurley also capable of playing there who are not the worst passers around either.

  4. Not gonna lie, first person I thought of when I saw the title was Madigan. Anyway!

    Olding getting injured was one of the biggest disappointments of the season to me, as I do think that he’s a class act, and really stepped up to the plate at the end of last season. Was a little surprised Anscombe didn’t pick him sooner in the season, but I think he’s going to be crucial to Ulster in the next year or two (but not as crucial as the front row union coming in)

    As Oval Digest mentions, Leinster have Noel Reid too, and Munster’re bringing 10-cum-12 Bleyendaal in as I guess they were sick of having one of Keatley or JJ play 10-cum-12 semi-regularly. Second 5/8ths are always nice to see, Leali’ifano is probably one of my favourite Aussie players (dat kicking motion too!), and shows there’s still room for a little(r) guy in midfield.

  5. Yossarian

     /  May 28, 2014

    Paddy Wallace 30 irish caps and being flown to NZ would suggest his face fitted to someone. Talented player who moved between 10 and 15 before settling at 12. Defensively suspect for the international game and unlucky that Darcy career ran parallel to his.

    Noel Reid, maybe madigan, olding, bleyndaal. A lot of the Irish sides could look to start playing with a second 5/8th next season.

    • Wallace was also unlucky that people remember his biggest mistakes disproportionately to their actual influence. I think a lot of people recall him giving away the penalty that almost cost Ireland the Grand Slam – and it was a foolish penalty to give away – but of course Jones missed, and regardless, a defeat doesn’t come down to one mistake by a player who’s hardly on, tempting as it may be to think that way sometimes.

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  May 28, 2014

        Absolutely. Ireland conceded 15 penalties that day.

        • In a way that’s one of the most remarkable things about Schmidt’s version of Ireland – to go from a team that perennially conceded penalty after penalty to one of (if not the) most disciplined teams in the tournament really was remarkable.

  6. Anthony Foley explicitly said this is how he likes his 12 to work too – I’m paraphrasing here, but he essentially said, ‘I like a playmaker at 12, and a big hard runner outside him’ – in reference to the Bleyendaal-Smith combination. So maybe we’ll be seeing a bit more of this type of thing, in Ireland at least.

  7. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  May 28, 2014

    Very nice sleight of foot there Whiff as I sat back coffee in hand reading about Henson at second 5/8th awaiting the segue to Madge & MOC & Saturday evening! Very happy with the detour up the M1 though, particularly with the fitting tribute to Paddy Wallace. Very solid guy, always happy to have a chat if you bumped into the team at an airport or wherever. Even in later years he always thought he had a ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here’ look on his face when on Irish duty. I understand he woke up in a cold sweat for quite some time after getting penalised at the end of the Slam game in Cardiff given what might have been. Best of luck to him.

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  May 28, 2014

      correction – “I always thought he had a “I can’t believe…”

  8. Seanio

     /  May 28, 2014

    While Paddy Wallace does indeed have 30 plus Irish caps, the Mole some time back made the point he was been around the Irish set-up since 2002 (and been to three World Cups), so 30 plus caps spread out over 14 years would suggest that his skill-set was never really in favour with Eddie O’Sullivan, Declan Kidney and latterly Joe Schmidt.
    I will always recall his performance in difficult circumstances against New Zealand in Wellington- he stood up manfully to Ma’a Nonu and scored a very well taken try if I remember well. Likewise to Hairy Naomh Mhuire, the best of luck to him.

    • To be fair, he was injured for the vast majority of Joe’s tenure so far. So it’s just two coaches he couldn’t get the favour of.

      • Seanio

         /  May 28, 2014

        Point taken and accepted Phil Tran, thanks- I was lapsing into Thornleyesque disingenuousness there!

  9. Bob Simons

     /  May 28, 2014

    Re: Cipriani. Hopefully smashed (legally, of course) by Kaino.

  10. hulkinator

     /  May 28, 2014

    The Second five-eight (bit of a mouthful) might be coming back into fashion. Its good to see too. They not only offer a higher range of skills at 12 as individuals but it takes the pressure off the 10 and offers the team more attacking options.

    Matt Giteau is a good example of a player that can open up defenses. His passing is a nightmare for the defending teams and Leinster and Munster struggled against Toulon mainly down to him as much as Wilkinson and Basta.

    I’ve not seen much of Olding but he looks like a terrific player in the making. Noel Reid is coming along nicely and Hanrahan can play there too. All creative players and gives Ireland options in future, especially Olding and Hanrahan.

  11. Darragh Conboy

     /  May 28, 2014

    On the subject of talented Ulster backline- Where is Stuart Hogg going to fit in? Its up in the pack that Ulster need reinforcements, not around the backline. Assuming someone has to make way to fit Hogg into the picture, who will it be? Cave to Munster? Payne to Leinster? Gilroy either?

    • Stevo

       /  May 28, 2014

      Payne to outside centre, (or is it simply centre in the world of second five-eighths?) Cave to fight him for the jersey.

  12. Damning Paddy Wallace (a little) with faint praise. There are very few players who settle into International rugby straight away and being the reserve for 3 all time greats (ROG, Dorce and BOD) meant that Wallace never really got the chance to do so. On the eve of Dorce’s 50th cap, Fester speaking on OTB cited Paddy Wallace as the next most elusive footballer he’d ever played against. Had Wallace been in my year at school and not my kid brother’s, he’d have 50+ starts and been a well regarded international 10 cum 2nd 5.

    As for under-powered, just ask Tom Croft.

  13. Seymore

     /  May 30, 2014

    Jesus, can we please finally move on from Paddy Wallace, he was as ill suited to international rugby as Anthony Horgan. He would somehow find his way onto NZ tours and get trampled on for two weeks before they’d gather him back together and ship him home – brave player but Jesus H…….

    Madigan will not make it at international level at 12, he simply cannot tackle forcefully at 12. Stuart Olding or JJH inside Henshaw, that in two years time would be a very strong midfield – I’m hoping JJH makes it at 10, Olding at 12 and Henshaw at 13…….all have something special.

    Watching Keatley versus JJH, you can see Keatley is a straight up SCT outhalf, good at the basics but plays by the numbers – JJH has the spark of something special about him, awareness, time, hands and can run like stink.

    Watching Olding’s step and pace is like watching some old welsh footage, absolutely class in the making. Marshall is not even in the same conversation – I’d expect Olding to play inside Payne next season – and a possible 12 for the world cup if D’arcy slopes off badly next year.

    I’m pretty happy with our Midfield options, in two years time. How we get through the WC is the problem.

  14. montigol

     /  June 3, 2014

    Agree about Olding’s injury being a disappointment to all this season. It was a knee ligament wasn’t it? Meaning he probably has another season of getting back to where he was beforehand, but where he was beforehand was pretty fucking exciting. The word that always struck me when seeing him for the U20s was “natural” – it just seemed to come to him so easy, very balanced and graceful and quick. Great combination.

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