It’s not too often that front row players appear in articles about players to watch during the Rugby World Cup. However, with Alex Corbisiero, there is a level of intrigue which justifies his selection.
At the start of the 2011 Six Nations, Alex Corbisiero was merely a young and exceptionally talented prop at club level for London Irish. However, a timely back injury to Andrew Sheridan and Alex Corbisiero found himself starting his first Test match for England against Martin Castrogiovanni, who is widely regarded as the second best tight head in world rugby, after Carl Haymann. It was some baptism of fire on paper, but Corbisiero dealt with the pressure phenomenally well. He took everything Castro threw at him at scrum time, carried the ball well, helping England to get over the gain line, and dished out some big hits that have become a trademark of his game. While Ashton and Foden were grabbing their headlines, Corbisiero made the most ardent rugby fans sit up and take notice.
Corbisiero followed his Italian performance with increasingly impressive displays and didn’t seem to show any of the nerves we may have expected from a 22 year old prop getting only his first handful of England caps.
In the scrum, Corbisiero still has some way to go to become a force in world rugby, but he has plenty of time to get there, and in the meantime, he has so far proven he can at least match some pretty good scrummagers. Where Corbisiero stands out, however, is in his defensive play and his loose play.
At international level, we have only seen glimpses of the big hits he dishes out at club level on a weekly basis. However, once he finds his feet and adjusts to the pace of international rugby fully, he is very athletic in prop terms and technically very good in the tackle. He tackles like an extra backrow player at times, which is a very handy bonus for any international side.
In addition, we have seen at international level already that Alex Corbisiero is not afraid to carry the ball and when he does, he carries is very dynamically for a front row forward and rarely fails to get over the gain line.
Alex Corbisiero has tremendous potential and we could see him really grow and establish himself as an international loose head during the World Cup. While some would argue that he is just keeping Andy Sheridan’s shirt warm, I’m not so sure.
Andy Sheridan has had a few outstanding scrummaging games for England in his time, but they are all too few and far between. Sheridan also offers very little else apart from his scrummaging. There will be a huge battle between Sheridan and Corbisiero to start the first Rugby World Cup game against Argentina, but this is one of the few areas that Martin Johnson may be rightly tempted to take a risk and opt for the younger man. Corbisiero can hold his own in an international scrum and his loose play and defence offers England far more overall than Sheridan, and suits their style of play. I would start him and I hope Martin Johnson does. If he gets the nod, he will certainly be one to watch, but one thing is for sure, the battle between Sheridan and Corbisiero for the starting berth will certainly be worth a look.