Following on from yesterday’s look at England’s 10 best options at fly-half I thought it would be worth taking a look at another of their most debatable positions, the number 12 shirt. It seems that no single player has been able to hold down the England inside centre position since the days of Will Greenwood, so with that in mind here are what I feel are the 12 best options for England at inside centre ranked in descending order.
12. Jonathan Joseph
As far as the number 12 shirt goes for England, Joseph must be considered the absolute last choice option of all those on this list. That’s not to say there isn’t space for him in the squad but realistically he should be getting played in his more natural 13 position, although could cover the 12 channel should the need arise.
11. Manu Tuilagi
Tuilagi has virtually all of the attributes necessary to be a world class 12, and yet somehow still looks more at home in the number 13 shirt. He certainly provides some top class coverage for the shirt but should now primarily be seen as an outside centre after previous experiments with him have failed dramatically.
10. Anthony Allen
Allen seems to have been one of the most woefully underused players in England over the past couple of years. He has proved time and again that he is capable of performing on the biggests stages and has a proven track record of working with Manu Tuilagi so must at least be a consideration before the world cup.
9. Henry Slade
Slade’s versatility may also be his downfall as he has now proven that he can comfortably play in the 10, 12 or 13 shirts. The concern is that he could find himself filling bench and squad spots rather than starting for England for this very reason. He could be useful to have in the world cup squad however where he could cover inside centre.
8. Kyle Eastmond
For me Eastmond is one of the most exciting players in English rugby but has a huge amount to prove this season after the final test in New Zealand in June. Unless he can prove he is capable of defending against top qualit sides then he should only be considered as an impact option for England.
7. Billy Twelvetrees
It seems many people are now growing wearisome of the Twelvetrees experiment with him showing flashes of talent but failing to do so with any consistency. We are now too close to the World Cup to continue playing Twelvetrees in the 12 shirt unless he proves his quality for Gloucester over the next couple of months.
6. Sam Hill
Hill is looking like one of England’s brightest prospects in the centres, having started the season for Exeter in fine form. If he can continue improving at this rate for the rest of the season he could be an outside bet for a place in the England squad, although his lack of international experience is likely to count heavily against him at this stage.
5. Sam Burgess
Burgess is the big unknown for England heading into the World Cup. If he can adapt quickly and settle into union he could well find himself fired straight into action for England, however if there is the slightest question mark over his ability to adapt then he shouldn’t be anywhere near the squad as England can’t afford to take that risk.
4. Ollie Devoto
Devoto has become a key man for Bath over the last 12 months and looks destined for England honours sooner rather than later. For me he should leapfrog Twelvetrees in the pecking order and be given a shot during the autumn internationals to see if he can cope with the demands of international rugby.
3. Owen Farrell
One position where England certainly aren’t short of options is at 10, where the likes of Ford, Myler, Cipriani and Burns are all pushing for a start. With that in mind it may be worth trying Farrell in the 12 shirt alongside a more inventive fly-half as this would provide a secondary play-making option for England.
2. Brad Barritt
Barritt may not be everyone’s favourite player, but nobody can questions his consistency for both club and country. He may not be as flashy as some of the other options available but he will keep the defensive line solid and put his body on the line, he has also proven he can work effectively inside Manu Tuilagi.
1. Luther Burrell
For some reason the combination everyone has been crying out for is the one England are yet to trial. A 12 – 13 axis of Luther Burrell and Manu Tuilagi could be absolutely devastating for England, and with Burrell’s ever expanding repertoire it could prove an inspired move by Stuart Lancaster.
Who do you think should start at 12 for England during next year’s World Cup?