England will benefit from the talents of Alex Dombrandt this autumn after he was named in Eddie Jones’ latest squad, and Harlequins coach Jerry Flannery thinks the player ranks among the elite
The No. 8’s inclusion coincided with Billy Vunipola’s omission from the latest Red Rose squad, signalling a potential shift in the international pecking order.
And if that wasn’t enough praise for the 6’4″ star, Harlequins’ line-out and defence coach Flannery has piled on by ranking Dombrandt at the top of his list in regards to technical talents he’s mentored.
“He is probably the most skilful forward I have coached, ever. He is so good,” Flannery said.
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“You are never going to turn him into say, for instance, Tom Curry who is a phenomenon around the tackle area.
“Alex has done a lot of work on his defence. He reads the game really well and I thought the Bristol game was incredible.”
Dombrandt scored in both the semi-final comeback victory over Bristol Bears and the final win over Exeter Chiefs that followed last term, evidence he’s more than capable on the big stages.
He was back on the score sheet this season when Quins demolished Bristol 52-24 at The Stoop earlier in October, one of two tries he’s recorded in four outings to date so far this campaign.
That performance led to comparisons with No. 8 greats like Kieran Read and Sergio Parisse, such was the astute combination of destructive carrying and deft build-up play from the 24-year-old.
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Former Munster and Connacht hooker Flannery—who earned 41 caps for Ireland and was named on the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa—hasn’t required much time to reach such a complimentary conclusion.
The 43-year-old only arrived at the Twickenham club in June 2020, having spent five years as scrum and forwards coach at Thomond Park, but no forward matches up to Dombrandt in terms of skill as far as he’s concerned.
“He had four turnovers in that game [against Bristol] – he stole the ball four times – and his tackle-count is up there because he reads the game really, really well. It was a real complete performance from him.
“Another thing people probably don’t see from outside Harlequins is his leadership. The players love him here, they absolutely love what he is about because that’s what Harlequins are about.
“From a technical point of view, he is always going to be known for being probably the most skilful number eight in world rugby.
“And I think he is improving hugely as a defensive player, which Eddie Jones will have been feeding into him, because if you want to play Test rugby, you have got to be physical and be able to defend.
“Alex had the best performance I have seen him play against Bristol.”
The next objective for Dombrandt will be replicating his Harlequins form under the international spotlight, and his debut display against Canada posed positive signs of what’s to come.
Vunipola’s omission from the squad leave either Tom Curry or Sam Simmonds as the more senior choices at No. 8, although Newcastle Falcons ‘ Callum Chick is another prospect in Dombrandt’s position.
England open their autumn schedule at home to Tonga on November 6 in a fixture that’s being considered as an opportune testing ground for some of Jones’ fresh-faced selections.
Joe Marchant is another who has the potential to shine for his country after he was called into the squad as cover for the injured Anthony Watson.
Flannery may be partisan on the matter considering his work with Quins over the past year or so, but it speaks volumes that Dombrandt has made such a substantial impression in that time.
His climb to the heights of Test rugby is remarkable given he was studying at Cardiff Metropolitan University as recently as 2018, a mark of the intelligence he brings to his on-field performances on a weekly basis.