It’s often said that there are only two types of fly half in rugby. You’ve either got the type of player who plays flat to the gain line, and uses the space and time created to bring the rest of the backline into the game, or there’s the other type who sits deeper and prefers to kick for territory and points. We’ve seen evidence during the current World Cup of an English fly half who sits deep, but ultimately disappoints. What we didn’t see id evidence of the other type of stand off because the powers that be decided not to take him. However, there’s also another type of stand off that you don’t see that often: the type of fly half that sits flat and kicks, but also has the added string to his bow that he likes to get in amongst it at every opportunity and scrap for possession. Tom Eaton, Macclesfield Rugby’s fly half is one of this rare breed. He likes to play on the gain line, but loves a bit of a rumble when the opportunity arises. In the latest player profile, Tom talks to Macclesfield Rugby about his time with the Blues, what he’s learned in his time at the Club, the responsibilities of captaincy and the standards of officiating.
What have you learned in your time at Macclesfield Rugby and has it affected the way you approach the game?
“I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here. I’ve worked with Geoff and Andy before at Rotherham so I knew what to expect. I guess I’ve managed to develop my game since I’ve been here as well, in terms of managing the game whilst sticking to the game plan we’ve developed at the Club. The way we play and approach games is structured, and our game plan is specifically tailored to that approach. So I have to manage and adapt my own game accordingly to benefit the team.”
“The other thing that’s been useful has been getting to know the different Clubs and the players, especially the clubs in the league below us. I’ve learned that’s not the level I want to play at any more. That’s what’s great about Macclesfield – they had the ambition to want to escape that league and play at a higher level. That ambition and enthusiasm inspires the players too: we want to move forward together. It’s also nice to travel to Clubs I haven’t been to before and see what’s going on, as well as going to Clubs I’ve played for previously and sticking it up them!”
What sort of fly half are you, and would you liken yourself to any other player?
“I’m the sort of fly half who really wants to control the game and take charge. Obviously I’d like to see myself in terms of players like Carlos Spencer – the flamboyant type of fly half who’ll throw the ball about a lot, but unfortunately, that wouldn’t suit the way we play here. So I have to be disciplined and stick to what we’ve agreed. I don’t think I could ever compare myself to anyone really, as I suppose I’m kind of unique because I like roughing it up and getting stuck in. I love putting myself about and putting in some big hits. So I guess that doesn’t make me the typical fly half really. I love playing on the gain line and bringing other people into the game. It comes down to taking charge. Fly halves like the game to revolve around them as much as possible, so I guess I’m no different. But with Charlie playing inside me at 9, my job’s made so much easier. He’s been absolutely great and I try to give him the freedom he needs to express himself. Still, the buck stops here, so I can’t give him too much freedom!”
Has the responsibility of captaincy changed the way you play the game?
“Being a captain brings responsibility, so you have to reign in your game a little. It’s well known that I can be a little feisty at times, and have been known to have the occasional scrap, but I‘ve got to be aware as captain that I can’t always act like that: it might be my natural game, but captains need to stay focused. In most of the sides I’ve played in I’ve been captain at some stage, and I like the responsibility. It makes you think more carefully about the way you behave, and I reckon that that must improve my game and ultimately benefit the team.”
“I know when I’m not captain, I’m still in a decision making role at fly half and have a lot of responsibilities, but when I am captain I do think twice about the way I behave. You might not have thought that on Saturday against Tynedale, but it’s true. There were extenuating circumstances, and you could say the guy in the middle didn’t do us any favours, but I was just unlucky in some ways to get carded. He penalised me for pulling back a player and preventing a try-scoring opportunity. Maybe he was right, but I still think it was marginal. I was unfortunate, but also lucky because he missed the 4 other occasions when I’d done the same thing in the match. If I hadn’t been captain, maybe I would have lost my rag, like I used to when I was younger, but I’ve learned to control this.”
Will Saturday’s defeat by Tynedale have any longer term effect on the team?
“I’m sure it will. Any defeat has implications. The thing is, you have to learn from these and respond accordingly, and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The biggest challenge we face is to try and go 4, 5, 6 or 7 games unbeaten. That’s something we haven’t managed to do and go on and win every game. It happened last year and it’s started to happen this year too: we can’t seem to go more than 3 games without a defeat. It’s almost as if we get ourselves into a comfort zone and switch off. As soon as we lose we get our focus back and usually win the next game comfortably. I’ve no doubt we’ll fire on all cylinders against Rosslyn Park, in the same way we did after losing to Blaydon. But we need to be firing all the time, not just after we lost a game.”
What aims have you got for the rest of the season for both yourself and the team?
“I suppose my personal goals actually revolve around the team, so they’re one and the same thing. I want to get a grip on things and lead the team in the right direction. That means making the right decisions at the right times, and most importantly, retaining my position in the team. If I’m playing at my best and playing well, then I think I’ll probably start every week. But If I don’t start, it’ll be because I’m not performing and that’s only fair because Ross can slot in at 10 without a problem. If I am starting every week then I know I must be doing something right. It’s my job to push the lads in the right direction, and at least make sure we do better than last year. How high we can reach this year can’t really be answered yet. We’ll assess that once we’ve played everyone and we know what we’re up against.”