Miller Time – Thursday 7th April 2016

The role of the full back has transformed over time. Once the last line of defence, yet now so much more. The modern day full back has to be an all rounder, adept in all aspects of the game, yet any weakness is there for all to see and readily exploited by video savvy opponents. There is no hiding place.

England are well catered for in this department. Mike Brown is the man in possession – determined, tough, feisty, belligerent at times yet with a turn of foot that surprises many a defender. He is always wholehearted and committed and certainly will not let anyone down. He has made the shirt very much his own and it is really his to lose.

His understudy, Alex Goode, is arguably a better ‘footballer’, as the pundits like to say, but he is a little more inconsistent. On his day he can be delightful to watch as he carves up opposition defences with his artistry but too often he is ineffectual. This is often as a result of the ‘kick first’ philosophy of his Saracens team, where he is often forced to play according to structure rather than adopting a more ‘heads up’ approach. Furthermore he has an increasing tendency to ‘hop and skip’ when in possession when a more decisive approach might serve him better.

Ben Foden is another who promises much. He is a very talented individual who has maverick tendencies and can be a matchwinner but, unfortunately for him, persistent injury seems to have robbed him of his explosive pace. Now he seems to have returned to the category of ‘very good’ as opposed to ‘exceptional’.

Two other full backs of searing pace and no little skill, Delon Armitage and Nick Abendanon, are now plying their trade with the big boys in France. It could be argued that their games have developed far more than they would have done had they stayed in the Premiership yet their overseas soujourns have cost them a potential place in the England set up, a situation that they knew and acknowledged when making their French moves. Lives arguably enriched yet international ambitions scuppered. ‘You get paid your money, you take your choice’ many would say and that is the reality of the English selection process in this day and age.

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Which brings us onto Rob Miller, a largely unsung jewel in the back line of the resurgent Wasps. Miller came to Wasps in early 2014 from Sale with high expectations but, until this season, his potential has been largely unfulfilled. Confidence is crucial in an exposed position like full back and Miller has been in and out of the Wasps team as the management have fluctuated with the likes of Masi, Daly and more recently Charles Piutau in the number 15 position. As any sportsman will tell you, their performances are significantly better when their place is assured in a team without forever looking over their shoulder. Only then can they feel truly part of the team, which gives them confidence to go out and perform. Miller has now made the position his own for the past few weeks following Piutau’s injury and he has grasped the opportunity with both hands. The Wasps supporters and England selectors are now seeing Miller’s true talents. Furthermore, the ethos of a team is crucial to any player’s ability to really make their mark and Miller is perhaps fortunate that he is playing in a Wasps team where the philosophy is very much about playing on the front foot with pace, devil and attacking from distance. Why not with the pace of the likes of Daly, Wade, Halai, Robson and Simpson, yet it is Miller who has made the difference in recent weeks. His defence and ability under the high ball is solid yet it has been his attacking from deep, support work and lines of running which have really caught the eye, allied to his deceptive pace. Against Northampton last weekend, in a staccato Wasps performance that was riddled with errors and turnovers, his performance stood out and he really made the difference. He scored two glorious tries showing dexterity of hands and feet as well as electrifying speed as he tore the Northampton defence apart and his hat trick was only denied by a hair’s breadth and a TMO review.  There could only have been one man of the match, despite the strong competing claims of the perfect link man, George Smith.

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Miller’s emergence as a player of undoubted class takes many a Wasps supporter back to one of his many predecessors in the full back position, Mark Van Gisbergen. ‘Giz’, as he was affectionately known, was another hugely underrated player who played for Wasps for 9 years, featuring prominently in their golden era of the mid 2000’s. He was similar to Miller in many ways, a natural footballer with a deceptive turn of pace who scored crucial tries in big matches, played with a certain calmness and had nerves of steel. He was a crucial cog in a team of many superstars, yet was never one to be in the limelight. He won a single England cap as a replacement in November 2005 yet that was that.  If Miller is to achieve half of what Van Gisbergen achieved in terms of trophies and points then the Wasps faithful will be happy. However, whilst he has yet to wear the red rose, he unquestionably has the ability to go one step further on the international stage. A good run at this ‘business end’ of the season, and who knows. The Miller’s Tale may need to be re-written.
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