A new stop for the Lane Train

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Over the last 18-to-24 months the stock of Owen Lane has risen at a rapid speed. He has gone from virtual unknown to recognised Wales international in the blink of an eye.

Since bursting on to the scene with a try against Connacht in November 2017 he has developed into a fine winger, with speed to burn and a natural finishing ability that has seen him score some fantastic and crucial tries.

Unfortunately some untimely injuries have prevented him making even more progress in such a short period of time, but after his involvement with the Wales squad over the summer he is now set to take the very top level of the game by storm, likely starting with the 2020 Six Nations.

Interestingly though, throughout his development at the senior professional level so far, there has always been a nagging question following him round, ‘when will he move to centre?’.

Lane has come through the system in the midfield. In four out of five starts at the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championships he wore the number 12 jersey, and in 12 of 14 starts for Cardiff RFC in the two years before graduating to Cardiff Blues he was in the centre, mostly wearing 13.

The comparison has been made between him and Jamie Roberts, who also played on the wing when breaking into the Cardiff Blues side before shifting in-field, eventually finding a home as Wales’ first choice inside centre for many years.

Jamie Roberts Wales

Now, whether he will eventually wind up wearing 12 at the professional level, either at the Arms Park or at the Principality Stadium, remains to be seen. The game seems to be trending away from hard running 12s, and they certainly don’t seem to match the styles of either John Mulvihill or Wayne Pivac.

However, it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that we may see Lane donning the 13 jersey at some point in the future, and that future may have just gotten more immediate as an opportunity opens up for both Cardiff Blues and Wales.

Starting at the Arms Park and the use of Jarrod Evans and Ben Thomas at inside centre over the last two weeks have seen Mulvihill nod towards a future attacking shape that has playmakers at 10 and 12. Think George Ford and Owen Farrell in the England team.

What really compliments that set up is a carrying option at 12, straightening the line outside the second playmaker who can take advantage of weak shoulders, keep defences narrow and create space for back three players outside them. Think Manu Tuilagi in the England team.

Owen Lane could well be the player to fulfil that role for Cardiff Blues.

Then with Wales there has been the blow that Jon Davies, arguably the best outside centre in the world at the moment, has been ruled out for what will likely be the season after undergoing knee surgery following the World Cup.

That has suddenly opened eyes to the fact that we actually have very little outside centre depth in this country at the moment, with Owen Watkin, Hadleigh Parkes, Willis Halaholo and Scott Williams all inside centres primarily, while Tyler Morgan has struggled with form and injury in recent years.

Owen Lane could well be the player to step into that gap for Wales.

Jon Davies SA

There is no doubt in my mind that he could wear 13 for both Cardiff Blues and Wales, and do a fine job as an attacking outside centre. His pace, power and reading of the defence would serve him brilliantly as a forward moving force.

However, in the few games I watched him at 13 for Cardiff RFC at the start of the 2017/18 season there were question marks around his defence.

Outside centre is the toughest position to defend in my book. Get caught too narrow and you leave the winger exposed, get caught too wide and you leave a big gap between you and your inside centre. Shoot out of the line and you leave a big gap behind you, stay too flat and you let the opposition move the ball wide too easily.

Reading when to bite, blitz, sit or drift is what makes Jon Davies one of the best outside centres in the world, and is what Lane needs to learn if he is to make that step inside.

Obviously it’s been two years of playing and training at the top level since those appearances at 13 which give me cause for concern about him moving inside, but if he can put them to bed then the time for change is approaching very quickly on the horizon.

The Lane Train may well be servicing some brand new stations.

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