Why Saints star Myler merits a key role for England

COOL CUSTOMER - Stephen Myler has been one of the stars of Saints' season so far (Picture: Linda Dawson)
COOL CUSTOMER - Stephen Myler has been one of the stars of Saints' season so far (Picture: Linda Dawson)

Stephen Myler will link up with the England squad at Pennyhill Park on Monday hoping to make the kind of impression that will secure him a place in the Six Nations picture.

“It’s obviously nice to get involved and be in that squad,” said Myler. “I’m really looking forward to the training squad and showing the coaches what I can do and hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to play.

“Myself and George (Ford) are in there as new members of the Six Nations squad and that (10 shirt) is up for grabs. I’ll go to train well and show what I can contribute.”

But the chance to train with the Red Rose and the Test cap he received as a replacement on the tour of Argentina should not be the ceiling of the player’s achievements with his country. Because, as it stands, the 29-year-old should be more than in contention for a role in the Six Nations and next year’s World Cup on home turf.

There is the argument that Bath’s Ford and Gloucester’s soon-to-be Leicester fly-half - if reports are to be believed - Freddie Burns are more dynamic. That they offer more by the way of creativity.

The statistics seem to back that up with those men miles – not literally - ahead of Myler when it comes to metres gained in the Premiership this season, with Ford on 490 and Burns on 333 compared to the Saints man’s 73.

But England’s No.1 and Lions fly-half Owen Farrell has just 62 to his name, and you don’t hear too many complaining about his lack of adventure.

Why? Because Farrell does lots of things very well. He’s a largely polished performer, a leader and, crucially, his kicking is extremely assured.

Myler is no different.

And unless you have a Leigh Halfpenny in your side, who can slot every tee kick that comes the team’s way from full-back, your No.10 must be someone who makes the crucial penalties and conversions.

Myler can do more than just kick, though, and under the tuition of highly-rated attack coach Alex King, a summer acquisition from Clermont Auvergne, his all-round game is improving week by week.

His game management is getting better and better and he continues to put his team in the right positions across the park.

He does the simple things well, with Saints’ success so far this season built on how their fly-half keeps adding to the scoreboard, making the right passes at the right time, giving other players in the pedigree-packed backline the bullets they need to shoot opposition sides down.

The likes of scrum-half Lee Dickson and inside centre Luther Burrell, who could both play key roles in the Six Nations, have benefited from their partnership with Myler.

“He’s the sort of player who likes big players around him to shift a bit of pressure, to get us over the gainline and to keep the team going forward,” said Burrell.

“For me he’s been brilliant in getting me over the gainline.

“He’s been brilliant for me and hopefully he’ll get his shot in the Six Nations.”

The worth of a cool, composed customer in the 10 shirt has been highlighted over recent weeks.

A notable example came at Adams Park just before Christmas, when Saints put in a lacklustre performance against Wasps but still won the game by two points.

Why? Because Myler stepped up and landed a tricky late penalty from wide left in horrible conditions to give his side the victory.

He was quickly hailed as the ‘Iceman’ by team-mates and fans alike, who appreciated he had got Saints out of jail.

In contrast, when Leicester Tigers roared back to draw level with Bath at Welford Road earlier this month, Owen Williams, who had endured a mixed day from the tee, sent his conversion wide, letting the away side claim what could be a vital two points in the race for the top four.

Kicking, of course, is not the be-all and end-all, but it has to be the priority for a backline which possesses no other option with the boot.

Farrell and Myler are both above 80 per cent from the tee in the Premiership this season, with the Saints player’s 84 per cent success rate the highest in the league.

It is no coincidence that their teams sit one and two in the current standings.

“We’ve done pretty well at the end of last season as a club and a squad and we’ve carried that on this season,” said Myler. “We feel like we’ve taken steps forward again and I think I’ve been a large part of that.

“I’m not naïve enough to think it’s all my doing, I contribute to the team and when I do my job well it helps us.

“As an individual and as team-mates we’re constantly trying to improve and it’s nice when you get that recognition and the stuff you’re doing is noticeable.”

Meanwhile, Farrell and Myler’s England rivals each possess a kicking average below 70 per cent, meaning you’d be hard-pushed to put your house on them if it comes to a World Cup knock-out game and you need that final kick to win.

Truly world class fly-halves ally flair with reliability, but England, currently, do not have a plethora of men who can claim to do that.

That is why Myler, whose mentor Paul Grayson was 33 when selected in the successful 2003 World Cup squad, deserves to be given his chance in the coming months.

“It would mean a lot to play a part in the Six Nations,” said Myler, who is second to Grayson in Saints’ all-time points scorers list. “That’s a massive understatement, actually.

“I was obviously involved in the tour of Argentina last summer and it’s a massive honour for anybody to represent their country. I’m no different to that and having had that taste of international rugby it would be an awesome feeling and a massive honour to be involved in the Six Nations with your country.

“Playing for your country at home would be a massive feeling.”

The biggest event on home turf comes next year, and, if he is given the chance he craves, Myler is capable of playing a part in the pursuit of the William Webb Ellis trophy.