'An inspiration to so many being the lightest pro rugby player'
Pat Lam will allow himself a hearty chuckle when it is confirmed later on Thursday that Harry Randall has made the England matchday 23 and will feature in a Six Nations match for the first time this Saturday when Eddie Jones’ squad take on Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations opener. If size alone was the decisive factor in Test level selection, the 24-year-old would be a million miles away from getting recognised by the country.
After all, he stands at just 5ft 8ins and weighs a meagre 74kgs on a battlefield dominated by giants. England, though, know full well what they will be getting if and when Randall steps off the bench for Ben Youngs at some stage at Murrayfield in what will be his first cap in the Six Nations after two toe-dipping appearances during last July’s Summer Series.
“Tempo, energy, very good basics,” said Bristol boss Lam when asked what international rugby fans who haven’t seen Randall in action before can expect when Jones decides to throw him into the England fray in Murrayfield. “But tempo and speed would be the two things I would say.”
Randall will also bring a lot of ticker, defiance that left Gonzalo Quesada gobsmacked when Stade Francais lost to Bristol last month at Ashton Gate in the Heineken Champions Cup. “Gonzalo spoke to me after the game and he said he was in shock,” recounted Lam. “He goes, ‘Oh my gosh, Randall’. He said, ‘(Marcos) Kremer is one of the biggest boys from Argentina and Randall back-to-back stopped him on the line’. He couldn’t believe it and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s tough’.
“Harry has got great tackle technique but he has got a massive heart and he has been one of our big tacklers. There are so many examples, tackling forwards and driving them back. No worries at all. When I first saw him in my first Bristol game against Hartpury in the Championship I said, ‘Geez, that’s a small fella at nine’. He was phenomenal in that game and that was why I said straightaway, ‘Who is that player? I want that guy here’.
“Now working with him he is an inspiration to so many people being the lightest professional rugby player. He is only 74, 75 kilos, but that size doesn’t matter. It’s about the size of the heart but that is channelled into technique. He can tackle because he knows how to tackle. That is one side of it, the heart takes it to another level.”
Quickly tapping a penalty and taking off is another warming trait. “He reads the game so well. He knows when it’s on and when it’s not. A lot of our guys know and read Harry. He has got a really good feel for the game. It’s one of his strengths.”
What has especially helped Randall to raise his game for Six Nations inclusion with England after he missed the Autumn Nations Series because of a paddleboard injury is his fierce club competition with Andy Uren for the No9 Bristol jersey.
“If you look at selection over the last two, three years with Harry and Andy, you couldn’t really say who is the number one nine because one week Harry would start and the next one Andy would and their performances would push each other. It’s like international rugby and that is what you want to create – that ‘if I don’t play well the next guy will take my place’.
“If you get a place that you are comfortable that you are always going to play, it can lead to a tendency of being relaxed whereas what it has had actually done between Andy and Harry, they are such competitors. Even in these (extra) kicking sessions they have, they play for coffees and stuff. It is just absolute competition driving them, they are competitive guys and that has brought the best out of Harry, which means that you are naturally improving.
“I had never ever subbed a player off before half-time before and I took Andy off on about 33 minutes. He was having a shocker against Jersey and he sobbed for a couple of days, but it was the making of him. And then, I think it was last year, I ended up subbing Harry Randall at 38 minutes because he was having a shocker and he sulked for a couple of days as well.
“But they laugh (about it) and they compete, ‘at least I wasn’t 33 minutes or 39 minutes’. The two of them are the only two players I have done that to but the thing I loved about it is the way they bounced back from that, and it was also a little reminder to be on top of your game.
“The speed and tempo of the way I want them to play the game as nines has improved their fitness as well. It got to a point where if you go back and look at some of their earlier games, they were blowing hard after 50, 55 and now both of them can comfortably play 80 minutes and you look at their physiques, they have trimmed down.
“Particularly Andy, he has trimmed down and their repeated speed is so much better. I have had Andy five years, Harry four. They have got a really good relationship going and have really improved as rugby players.”