I’ll be the first to admit I’d already made up my mind about Jimmy Gopperth. He was a pretty solid player who was reliable from the tee, decent kicking out of hand, and liked to take the direct route, but didn’t show any real flair as a top level fly half.
I was wrong.
Yesterday’s game against Bath in the European Champions Cup showed a whole new side to his game. Yes he was solid and unflappable, yes he slotted all his kicks, and yes he kicked well out of hand. But on top of that he ran some very clever lines, he targetted the bath defence well, and set up move after move for his team.
He used his liking for getting stuck in to good effect not only scoring a beautifully well crafted try himself, a try that needed the power and leg strength that he has in spades to finish, but he also made a beautiful break through a gap in the line that he seemed to shimmy through like magic before drawing the defence and offloading beautifully to the waiting Alapati Lieua to finish right under the posts.
He directed the team in every aspect, and he did so from the front, never letting up and presenting a real threat to the Bath defence simply by having the ball. For the first time since Toulon we didn’t look like we were half a team without Christian Wade. We didn’t need the guaranteed threat of a magician at the far end of the line because we had one at the start of the line.
The Bath defence were good, but Jimmy Gopperth’s leadership was better. He played a controlled, but effective game from the first minute, and thoroughly deserved his man of the match award.
Of course that makes the dilemma even harder. In Ruaridh Jackson we have a seasoned international who did amazing things leading the team to incredible wins against Toulon and Leinster, in Jimmy Gopperth we have a solid and reliable fly half who stepped up when the team needed it the most, and in Alex Lozowski we have a young gun with more natural talent than we’ve seen for a long time.
For now I will be very happy to see Gopperth starting at 10, with Jackson or Lozowski on the bench to come on and add a little unpredictability and flair if we need it.
Roll on Saracens!