TOM BRADSHAW: Kyle Eastmond could cause mayhem with the British and Irish Lions
Gary Gold was put on the spot recently when a fellow journalist asked the Bath Rugby head coach whether he felt Kyle Eastmond should be Warren Gatland’s wildcard selection for this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.
Gold’s reply was simple: “Kyle would cause mayhem if was picked.”
A taste of that mayhem was unleashed last Friday when the former rugby league international produced a head-turning performance against Gloucester.
It would be an audacious Lions coach who picked Eastmond after he has had just one full season in union but the rate of his progress has been stunning – a fact plenty of Gloucester fans were happy to admit after the game.
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A lot of Eastmond’s attributes are plain to see – the explosive pace, the jinking feet, the bullet pass.
But what has caught my eye this season is the speed at which he has adjusted to the breakdown.
For obvious reasons, given the contrast between the 13 and 15-man codes, not all players who make the switch from league to union adapt well – if ever – to that aspect of the game.
In league, the defender makes his tackle and his job is done. In union, the tackle is only the beginning.
But whether in attack or in defence, Eastmond is already a canny practitioner at the breakdown. His ball presentation as a tackled player is excellent and he has shown an almost instinctive grasp of what is needed as a defender once a tackle has been made.
Shontayne Hape, one of a long line of League converts who preceded Eastmond at The Rec, admits he initially struggled to know when to commit and when to back off at the breakdown. Eastmond, by contrast, seemingly comes with that instinct already well-developed.
A related asset of Eastmond’s is his ability to strip the ball off opponents. When people recall his performance against Gloucester on Friday, no doubt most will think of the sure-footed skinning of Charlie Sharples on his way to the try line.
But for me, the way he dispossessed Mike Tindall at full steam was equally memorable – and more skilful.
Eastmond’s first year at the club – the 2011-12 season – was essentially a write-off from a playing perspective. Injury meant he was restricted to a brief cameo off the bench and the odd Bath United game.
But the quality of Eastmond’s play at the breakdown this season suggests he soaked up plenty of union’s complexities during his time on the sidelines.
And the exciting thing – or frightening thing, depending on your perspective – is that Eastmond is still only 23.
Go on, Warren, I dare you. Take a bit of mayhem with you to Australia.