Thursday 21 November 2019

Christian Wade’s decision to quit rugby proves it’s no longer the game for all shapes and sizes

Christian Wade
Christian Wade

Sam Peters

And so, with Christian Wade’s shock decision to quit the sport he knows and take his chances in American Football, rugby loses its greatest unique selling point.

At professional level in England at least, it can no longer can it lay claim to being a sport which is played by all shapes and sizes.

In England, size matters.

Weighing 185lbs and standing 5ft 8in tall, Wade is just 5lbs lighter and an inch shorter than England’s most prolific wing of all time, Rory Underwood, while his vital statistics are almost identical to perhaps the greatest ever exponent of wing play in league or union, Jason Robinson.

But, after being passed over on the international stage for so long, 27-year-old Wade has decided enough is enough. Time to try something new. See if the Americans will value his extraordinary pace and dazzling skills.

And who can blame him?

Wade, English rugby’s most potent attacking force at club level for the past six seasons, will leave the sport in which he made his name with one solitary England cap to his name.

Almost as an afterthought, he was given his chance on England’s tour of Argentina in 2013, playing quite beautifully in Salta as the Pumas were defeated before immediately being called up by Warren Gatland as an injury replacement for the British and Irish Lions tour in Australia.

He has never worn an England shirt in a Test match since.

It is an almost criminal waste of talent and yet another example of English rugby’s dull-headed obsession with brawn over brain, power over skill and one-dimensional brute force over footwork. It is so shorted sighted, it makes you want cry.

No England coach has had the guts to say it but we all know what they’ve thought privately: Wade is too small to cut the mustard in today’s brutally physical international game. He’d get swatted away in defence and would lack the grunt to do the hard yards close in. That’s the theory anyway. Christian Wade was a luxury item English rugby can’t afford.

The message Wade’s departure sends to children playing the game in England today is a dreadful one. No matter how skilful you are, how quick your feet are or how creative you are with ball in hand, if you ain’t big enough, you ain’t getting a look in. England at least are no longer interested in the little guy.

No matter Underwood’s 50 tries in 91 Tests, including six Tests for the Lions, Robinson’s 30 tries in 56 Tests, five for the Lions.

Or even Shane Williams, Wales’s greatest ever winger, who at 5ft 7in tall and weighing 176lbs was both shorter and lighter than Wade but still managed to score 60 tries in 91 Tests.

Underwood, Robinson, Williams? Whatever. Different time. Different game. Wade is too small.

What utter nonsense. Wade had the potential to be as good as any of those three but was simply never given the chance.

Denny Solomona, a 6ft 1in and 214lb cross-code bruiser has already won five England caps in barely a year of playing union while Mike Brown has started 10 Tests out-of-position on the wing.

Yet Wade, a magnificently gifted player who in 2016/17 equalled the Premiership record of 19 ties in a season, is worthy of just one cap. It just doesn’t make sense.

Four years ago I did some back-of-a-fag packet maths and tallied up the weight of the England schools team which played Wales in the Six Nations. To a man (or boy) the starting XV weighed more than the full England team which took the field under Will Carling in the 1991 World Cup final against Australia.

Natural evolution or an unhealthy obsession with bulk to the long-term detriment of the sport in England? I know where I stand.

Rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes? Try telling Christian Wade that. 

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