Latham Best in the World ?
16th November 2005 By Munster Rugby
“I think he’s (Chris Latham) pretty close to being the world’s best fullback at the moment and there’s no reason why over the next couple of years he can’t get better,” – Eddie Jones.
Portmarnock, Ireland: It’s not the Burleigh Heads under-7s but Wallabies backs coach Alan Gaffney is relieved Chris Latham defied him with a controversial backflip to now be rated the world’s best fullback.
In 2003, Latham defied then Munster coach Gaffney by reneging on a deal to leave Australia for the famous Irish club in a move that would have ended his Test career. The exciting fullback had signed a letter of intent but backed out after a concerted and passionate campaign by Queensland.
A furious Gaffney let rip at Latham at the time, saying: “I told him I didn’t give a f— what he wants to do. I told him if he wants to go and play with the under-7s at Burleigh Heads, go and play with them.”
Now, back in Ireland after Latham lit up Australia’s attack against France and England, the wily backline mentor’s only regret is swearing at the time.
“I love Latho,” said Gaffney, who coached Randwick from 1989-95. “I reacted at that time for a particular reason because I was Chris’s first coach in Sydney and we go back a long long way. He was a great player as a kid. He’s a much better player now, he’s like a good wine.”
If not for the Reds’ campaign, which included renaming Ballymore’s famous embankment the “Don’t Go Latho Hill”, Latham’s fluctuating international career would have ended well before his ambition of 50 Tests.
Latham, who spent seven seasons battling with Matt Burke, then Mat Rogers, for a starting berth, finally nailed down the spot during last year’s European tour.
“I think my game has improved immensely and I’m definitely happy with that decision,” said Latham, who will play his 58th Test, against Ireland on Saturday. “But that’s out of my mind. A few of the boys give me a bit of a ribbing when Riff (Gaffney) is around. But I don’t think he could hold a grudge against a mosquito.”
Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who has likened Latham to former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh for shedding flamboyance for astute and pragmatic option-taking, can’t think of a better No.15 going around at the moment.
“I think he’s pretty close to [being the world’s best fullback] at the moment and there’s no reason why over the next couple of years he can’t get better,” Jones said.
John Connolly, Latham’s first Queensland coach, also lavished praise on the fullback, believing his positional play, kicking and timing in his attack had all improved significantly of late.
“Of all the Australian players, he’d be one of the few who would be world-ranked No.1 or No.2 in his position,” Connolly said.
Reds and Test teammate Drew Mitchell has been forced to shift from fullback to wing to make way for Latham, but finds it easy to produce his best next to him.
“What makes him so easy to run off and to adapt to is his communication,” Mitchell said. “He’s very vocal and he lets you know where he is and where you need to be.”