The only answer, writes Lee Calvert, may be to put on 10kg and grow 20cm taller.
Wasps secured their place atop the Aviva Premiership table last weekend with a comprehensive victory over Saracens. Among the tryscorers for Wasps was winger Christian Wade, who took his tally for the season to 17. That number is impressive enough before we even consider that his nearest rival, Exeter’s James Short, has only scored eleven.
Christian Wade’s season numbers are something to behold. He’s at the top – or next to it – on all the attacking measures you would wish to apply to a winger: 17 tries (including six in one game vs Worcester in April), 36 clean breaks, 79 defenders beaten. His overall career tries total is not too shabby either, with 69 in 101 starts since his debut in 2011. Considering he’s still only 25 years old, there are many more to come, injury permitting.
Statistics can tell you some things, of course, but not everything. Many stats make a player look good, but when you actually watch them play, something is simply not right. Wade is not one of those players. When you see him in full flight the fact he tops so many attacking measures makes perfect sense. He manufactures tries from nothing, runs lovely support lines and has that unique ability that only a few have to make defenders look completely rubbish. He’s the type of player who makes you love watching rugby just that little bit more.
Wade has played only one game for England, against Argentina on the summer tour in 2013. He was capped at a relatively tender age, under Stuart Lancaster’s new broom, then both he and his club had something of a dip and he drifted from international reckoning. He has not troubled the England squad since, even during this truly outstanding season.
With another Argentina tour coming up, this time with every first-choice England winger unavailable due to Lions commitments, Eddie Jones has overlooked Wade in favour of Joe Cokanasiga, the young U20 giant from London Irish, a team who played this season in the second tier of English rugby. There’s also Nathan Earle, a promising young winger/fullback from Saracens, impressive rugby league (and nationality) convert Denny Solomona, and Jonny May, the inexplicable Gloucester shambles.
Just what is it about Christian Wade that Jones doesn’t fancy?
The vital statistics we haven’t considered yet could be a key to this. Wade is 1.73 metres tall and weighs under 90 kilos – this puts him in the “small for modern rugby” bracket. In comparison, Earle is 1.86m and 100kg, Solomona is 1.90m and 95kg, similar to May, while Cokanasiga is basically a freakish monster at 1.92m and 112kg. What is clear is that Jones, like many modern coaches, wants his wingers big and has taken the view that for Wade to be an international success he would have to fall into the “exception that proves the rule” category of successful smaller players that contains the likes of Jason Robinson and Shane Williams.
The sad thing for Wade and the game of rugby is that it looks increasingly that players like him will not be given the chance. In truth it has been tricky for smaller players for some time.
Jason Robinson’s exceptional talent was deliberately sought out by Clive Woodward for England, but Shane Williams had his incredible international career almost by accident. Steve Hansen had his hand forced to take the diminutive maestro as a third scrum-half to the 2003 Rugby World Cup and then injuries meant he started on the wing for the game vs England. The rest is history.
Imagine international rugby for the past 15 years without Shane Williams – all the gasps not uttered, all the runs and steps not enjoyed by the fans, all the wins Wales would not have had… Had it been up to the head coaches this would likely have been the case. Without playing Shane at the highest level, his ability to excel could not have been tested.
This is what Jones is consigning Christian Wade and all England fans to, a career of “what if?” This England fan – and a number of others – doesn’t really fancy that scenario. Both for Wade’s sake, and that of the game we love, he should be given the chance just as Shane Williams was. He may always flop, but then again, he may also give us the best part of a decade worth of reasons to keep watching.