Elliot Daly is the most gifted individual Northern Hemisphere three-quarter because he has the whole package in terms of skill set. The news this week that he has signed a new contract extension with Wasps is great for the club and their supporters – and also for their hopes of becoming champions after finishing as runners-up last season.
Daly is the focal point of a Wasps backline which is as talented and gifted as the new Leicester line-up – although I would put Wasps ahead because they have played together longer and know what’s required.
He has also returned to his club this season as a success in a successful Lions tour, and there is no better boost. For me, being selected by the Lions brought a different feeling each time. The first tour was one of surprise at being selected. It is a commendation of your talent, and you feel chuffed.
The next step is to get into the Test team, and to give a good account of yourself – and he did both in New Zealand. Your big question before the tour is, “am I good enough to be here?” Daly now knows that he is good enough to live in that company. At 24 he knows that at the highest level he can beat players with his pace and footwork to create tries, and that he can kick 50 metre goals under intense pressure.
However, in this game the beat goes on, and the start of a new season brings new challenges. Now he will be asking himself if he is going to keep his England place, and whether Wasps are going to take the next step.
Returning from a Lions tour is a challenge in itself. It feels great, but in a way it is low-key when you come back simply because being part of a successful Lions tour is electrifying. Against that, it’s great to catch up with clubmates who have played an important role in you getting on that tour.
You also have to deal with your status having grown – and with it there is even greater expectation of you. There is the added difficulty that you are more of a marked man, although for a player of Daly’s ability that should not be the biggest obstacle.
The Wasps team that Dai Young has put together will now be determined to lift the title, and Daly is well-placed to inspire them when he comes back after sitting out the first two games to protect him from burn-out. He is talented enough to play anywhere in the backline outside scrum-half and fly-half, and it’s good that he is picked at outside-centre for Wasps.
Playing on the wing for the Lions, and England, will have shown him the responsibility and the importance of when and where to get that ball to the wing when you are playing at 13. Daly is a smart rugby player in every respect, and those 50 metre kicks are a ‘USP’ that even the best place-kickers do not have.
However, the way Wasps play is that they aim to score seven points rather than three – although when it comes to picking the right option he will have learned a huge amount from playing alongside Johnny Sexton, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams for the Lions.
The only way for Daly to take it on this season is to be consistently good, which means to be at or near your best every game. That’s much harder for an outside-centre or wing than it is for a 9 or a 10, mainly because you get many fewer chances to be on the ball.
Daly is deeply embedded in the Wasps culture having come from the academy into the first-team as an 18-year-old, and he has benefited from being in very good company. I suspect he loved playing alongside Kurtley Beale last season.
The Aussie is one of those players who can go off either foot and often he is unreadable because he has so much edge and cut, but it is exhilarating and a great learning opportunity for those linking with him. Before that it was Charles Piutau – so Daly’s gleaning bits and pieces from some of the best players in the world.
While Wasps may have lost the unpredictability of Beale, and the speed and ease with which he beat defenders, they still have stacks of talent both inside and outside Daly. I see Jimmy Gopperth as the silent assassin in midfield, and one of the most important components in this Wasps side.
Gopperth is the glue in the backline just as Fraser Waters was a decade ago.
This season I’d also expect Willie Le Roux to step into the Beale role, which he can do if he rediscovers the counter-attacking flair which shook up South Africa when he first came on the international scene. Christian Wade is another absolute beaut to have in your team because he not only scores brilliant tries but links exceptionally well.
Danny Cipriani has matured at fly-half, and is now in the place where he has freedom and probably wants to enjoy his last few years in the game by expressing his ability. He should enjoy and embrace the opportunity to play alongside someone like Daly.
So should scrum-half Dan Robson, and the three of them should recognise that they cannot expect to score from everywhere all the time, and that sometimes Wasps need to do the simple thing.
That may be the case when, minus Daly, they meet Worcester at Sixways this afternoon, because first and foremost Warriors rugby director Gary Gold gets his team set up to win at home.
Even so, Wasps will take some stopping – especially when Daly gets back in the swing.