In the third part of our series looking at England’s options after their 2015 World Cup debacle, we take a look at the position of centre. Below we look at the options both in the short-term (2016 Six Nations) and longer term (2019 Rugby World Cup);
Seen as the future of English rugby by many, Slade looks a dead cert to be heavily involved with the England first team over the next World Cup cycle, the key question however will be which position he plays in. This will largely depend on which players are selected around him.
The star of the England side over the next 12 months, Joseph was a little quiet during the World Cup but still looks like a key figure for the team. He offers a real running threat, whilst also having the versatility to step out wide and play on the wing if necessary.
Injuries and suspensions have seen Tuilagi become a peripheral figure for England over the past 18 months, however when fully fit he is one of England’s best. If he can develop his all round game he could become a cornerstone which the England backline can be built around for 2019.
Barritt was a major disappointment at the World Cup, although it was no great surprise given injuries hampered his game time in the build up. He is back playing well for Saracens now, however given his age and lack of playmaking skills, we may not see him back for England.
Undoubtedly one of England’s best playmaking centres, however concerns still remain over his defensive fragilities, especially given his relative size compared to other international centres. He has however proved very effective outside George Ford for Bath in recent seasons.
Burrell was one of the most notable omissions from England’s World Cup squad with many fans subsequently criticising his absence. If he is to be a viable option longer term he needs to rediscover his form from a couple of seasons ago that made him so effective.
The Bath man hasn’t received too much consideration having played second fiddle to Joseph and Eastmond. His ability to cover 10, 12 and 13 could make him an interesting option, and his extended run in the Bath side in Joseph’s absence could see him become a serious contender.
Whilst the plaudits have gone to Henry Slade, Sam Hill has been quietly going about his business for the Chiefs and has become a vital component of their midfield. Doesn’t quite have the playmaking ability of Slade, but is a solid ball carrier and defender.
The Wasps man has quite possibly been the best centre in the Premiership so far this season, and has the versatility to make him a key squad player. A genuine playmaker with quick feet and a monster boot, Daly is exactly the kind of player England were missing at the World Cup.
The Sale Sharks center is someway off serious international consideration at this stage, however if he can maintain his current club form, he could become a serious contender for a midfield berth nearer the 2019 Rugby World Cup, especially as he can also cover fly half.
It’s easy to forget that Tait was one of the stars of England’s 2007 World Cup campaign, and would still only be 33 when the 2019 World Cup comes around. A true playmaker who can also cover full back, Tait’s experience could be a huge boost in a relatively new backline.
Despite multiple opportunities, Twelvetrees has failed to consistently deliver on the international stage. That being said, he does have all the necessary attributes to success. If he can find his form on a regular basis for Gloucester there could still be space for him in the England side.
At this stage, the ideal scenario would be for Tuilagi to spend time developing his wider skillset in a similar way to Ma’a Nonu has become the complete package, able to pass around or kick over the opposition just as well as he can steamroll defenders. If he can develop these extra skills, then he could be the inside centre England have been so desperately looking for.
Should Tuilagi develop in this way, playing Henry Slade outside him at 13 would perfectly compliment his style of play, whilst Joseph could come on off the bench to cover either centre or wing. Alternatively Elliot Daly would be able to comfortably step into the 13 shirt in the event of injury to Slade. In the shorter term however, England may wish to consider playing someone like Luther Burrell at 12 with Slade outside him at 13.