“Where do you see Wycherley’s future – lock or blindside? If Cloete is injured POM could move to 7 to allow him (or Botha) to 6.
“If he does play 6 how does the game plan change as he is much more of a traditional blindside to POM’s 6?” – OTHP.
Interesting question. My first instinct on this one is to fudge it because the path for a guy who doesn’t scream “tighthead lock” with his frame immediately can take two paths depending on a few things.
Jean Kleyn, for example, isn’t anything other than a tighthead lock based on his frame and height – 6’8″/120kg. Wycherley looks like he can slot between both depending on where the coaches play him and where he stands out when he’s given a chance.
Size wise, I think Wycherley can go either way – loosehead lock or blindside flanker. He’s somewhere between 6’4″ and 6’5″ and right now he looks to be in athletic, trim shape.
That would suit that loosehead lock/blindside flanker more than tighthead lock in my opinion but he’s only just turned 21 and has a lot of physical development yet to do.
So far this season, Wycherley has made 14 appearances, with five coming off the bench in the #19 shirt, two in the #4 jersey (both against Zebre) and seven in the #6 shirt, most notably against Leinster in December where he got, let’s just say, closely acquainted with Johnny Sexton.
As I wrote last week, the lines between blindside flanker and loosehead lock are narrowing all the time in the modern game, so I’d expect to see Wycherley float between the two positions for the next season or two.
At the same time, you don’t want to be a player that falls through the cracks in that you aren’t dynamic enough for the back row but you don’t have the heft required for the second row.
Versatility is fine – and it’s something that coaches love – but it can hurt a player after a while. The “jack of all trades, master of none” thing is a bit of a cliché but it stacks up once you get to a certain level.
That said, when it comes to young players who are narrowing in on a positional area – midfield, lock/blindside, back three, backrow – I think there’s value in allowing them to get a variety of experience in different slots but that specialisation has to come in sooner or later for the player’s sake and that’s particularly true in the back five of the pack.
All players will have a natural role and, in an ideal situation, the coaches needs will align with playing them in the role as long as it fits in with the style the coach is looking to develop.
To assess Wycherley properly, I think we have to look at what his qualities and questions are and then go from there.
Qualities: Excellent counter jumper and lineout target with a good, fast vertical; good timing, “edge” and physicality at the breakdown; big defensive work rate; Handy passer of the ball; Really good, aggressive maul defence; very mobile; abrasive, aggressive mentality.
Questions: Is his ball carrying impact where it needs to be? Is his ball presentation as clean as it could be at this stage in his development? Could his footwork in offensive contact be sharper? Can his scrummaging in the second row get to where we need it to be?
All of those questions are easily answerable as he matures but his qualities look like those of a second row forward to me. It remains to be seen if Wycherley becomes a heavy ball carrier as I’ve described in these pages at length.
But his work as a heavy support player with his counter-jumping and offensive lineout capabilities give Munster some freedom to mix and match in the back-row.
I think Wycherley has international potential if he specialises into the second row and he only needs game time there combined with – maybe – 2kg of muscle mass over the next few years to settle him into the position as long as it doesn’t hurt his explosivity in the lineout too much.
He’s got the frame for it and, as long as he keeps his agility and speed into the air, being sub 6’6″ won’t be a problem. One thing is for sure – Wycherley is a serious talent.
As for game plan changes, I think Wycherley fills out one of our heavy support slots in the pack and wider strike zone ball carrying, while giving us excellent attacking and defensive lineout options.
Be he selected at #6 or in the second row. For the time being, he’ll be used in a broadly similar manner to Beirne with regards to where he takes the ball.
In a year or two, I think Wycherley could be a real option for Munster up the middle of the field as an occasional heavy hitter with ball in hand but mainly as an aggressive ruck support player and set piece specialist.