After a series of cumbersome, uncreative players attempting to claim the title of heir apparent to Will Greenwood in the past 10 years, the vastly improved England back play has got many a Red Rose fan excited.
The new blood of England impressed over this year’s 6 Nations, with the centre partnership of the ever maturing Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell impressing and possibly surprising many a supporter. An obvious question going forward for Stuart Lancaster is what to do with Manu Tuilagi. Twelvetrees and Burrell’s form and the balance they have added to England’s game surely leave them deserving to further press their claims as the men to hold the 12 and 13 jerseys going into next year’s World Cup. But a talent like Tuilagi cannot be ignored. For all his critics regarding his perceived inability, or reluctance to pass stopping him from being a top test centre, his ability to get England to get over the gainline is an invaluable asset, as is his very healthy strike rate of 11 tries in 22 tests.
So for me, the obvious option for England is to field Tuilagi in his school boy position of wing. Although not possessing the blistering pace of some other wide men, I don’t think this is a problem. We all love a winger who can take the ball and blitz his man on the outside within mere inches of space, but this just not happen in the test arena. Jonny May’s somewhat disappointing 6 Nations campaign is testament to this. A genuine flyer, May was not afforded the space required to put on the after burners on the test arena like he is at Premiership standard.
This bought other aspects of his game under scrutiny, namely the ability to beat a man with footwork or raw power, neither of which was evident. The quality of defence at international level does not lend itself to this type of player, hence why speedster Tom Varndell never got beyond a handful of test caps despite being prolific at both Leicester and Wasps. The best wingers at international level aren’t necessarily the quickest. Wales legend Shane Williams did not possess the raw speed of his wing partner Mark Jones, but his superior footwork took him to over 50 tries.
If England go to New Zealand this summer and send out a back 3 of Tuilagi, Brown and Jack Nowell, it may not be the quickest in the world, but it will make many a line break, and crucially, put England on the front foot. And from there, anything can happen.