Whilst England’s pack all but picks itself these days, there is still some considerable debate over the exact makeup of their backline. A succession of injuries accompanied by a host of players falling in and out of form has left Stuart Lancaster with a major selection headache just nine months out from a World Cup on home soil.
The same issues look set to present themselves once more during the Six Nations with Manu Tuilagi likely to miss out through injury, whilst the likes of Owen Farrell and Billy Twelvetrees are struggling to find form. This means Lancaster is left with something of a selection dilemma as we approach England’s Six Nations opener against Wales in just a few weeks time.
It appears likely that Lancaster will select a centre combination of Luther Burrell and Brad Barritt, whilst largely sticking with the tried and tested. This means the likes of Jonny May and Mike Brown also look pretty assured of places. However, is this really the way England should go with so little time until the World Cup?
Lancaster already knows what Brad Barritt is capable of, he is a safe pair of hands who will rarely diverge from a set game plan. Granted Luther Burrell is deserving of another chance in the England midfield, however given the form of Bath so far this season, is now not the ideal opportunity to see if Mike Ford’s players can cut it on the international stage?
Yes Kyle Eastmond has been given numerous opportunities in an England shirt, however these have largely been playing in a fairly static backline that do not play to his strengths. Instead, why not give him the opportunity to play outside Bath teammate George Ford to see if they can rekindle some of their club magic during the Six Nations and play to Eastmond’s strengths?
Whilst it may therefore make sense to select Luther Burrell outside the Bath pair, surely given the performance of Jonathan Joseph against Toulouse this weekend he has to finally be given his chance. The Bath trio were absolutely instrumental in pulling apart one of the very best teams in Europe, so how can they not be given a chance on the international stage?
Currently England’s game plan seems to revolve around attempting to not lose, rather than going out to win games. Defensive minded selections see Barritt and Farrell trying to close the opposition out rather than attempting to get on the front foot. Instead, given the dominance of the England pack, surely it has to be worth at least exploring the possibility of playing heads up rugby on the front foot?
George Ford ably demonstrated during the Autumn Internationals that he is capable of getting England playing in the right areas of the pitch, now he just needs players that suit his playing style around him. I would therefore reinstate Danny Care at scrum half so he can provide quick ball to give Ford the chance to get the backline moving.
In the back three I would stick with Mike Brown at full back and hope that he can rekindle his form of 12 months ago. On the wings Jonny May is deserving of another start such has been his try scoring form, whilst on the other wing Semesa Rokoduguni should be given chance to play alongside his Bath colleagues to see if they can create a bit of magic.
On the bench I would select Ben Youngs at scrum half to provide a slightly more solid option should England need to close a game out. Henry Slade is the ideal man to cover fly half and both centre positions, whilst Anthony Watson can cover all back three positions and provide some pace and attacking flair coming off the bench to help change a game in England’s favour.
The above backline represents something of a chance in tact for England, however personally I’d much rather see them at least attempt to win games rather than simply trying not to lose them. There are potentially some defensive fragilities within this selection, however I don’t think this side would be as exposed as some may think.
It’s obvious that such a selection would encourage the likes of Jamie Roberts to come barrelling down the 10-12 channel during their Six Nations encounter with Wales, however instead of focussing on what the opposition might do to England, how about instead concentrating on what this backline could do to them?
Yes, maybe Roberts or North does run straight through Eastmond, however England’s workaholic back row are there for a reason and should provide enough cover to help support the channel (should it be needed). Turn that on its head though and imagine Eastmond and Joseph’s running lines against Roberts and how they could potentially pick a larger, slower Welsh backline apart.
Whilst I don’t believe for a second Lancaster will even consider an approach such as this for the Six Nations game, it seems it should at least be a discussion. We already know what a solid defensive side can do against Wales thanks to previous years Six Nations, so why not now see if a more offensive line can do the job? At least this way England can rule it out as a possibility for next years World Cup group game should it fall apart in Cardiff on 6th February.
Do you think a backline like this would be enough to see England beat Wales in Cardiff?