Planet Rugby

England's midfield race starts now

16th October 2013 12:10


billy twelvetrees england

Key man: Billy Twelvetrees

Three uncapped centres picked on form shows that Stuart Lancaster is a man of his word. Now he must choose who to start.

Joel Tomkins, Luther Burrell and Henry Trinder have all been included in the squad for the November Tests, as England look for the right combination to replace the injured Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi.

Billy Twelvetrees has impressed enough in his brief opportunities that there were calls for him to start ahead of Barritt anyway, so inside centre is at least less of a dilemma.

Burrell has enjoyed a stellar start to the season for Northampton, offering a contrast to the playmaking abilities of Twelvetrees with his carrying and offloading skills.

Kyle Eastmond, the exhilarating Bath back, is another 12 contender after playing there for England against Argentina back in June following Twelvetrees' call-up to join the British and Irish Lions.

Diminutive but with clever hands and a burst of true pace that Twelvetrees and Burrell lack, Eastmond has qualities that England can benefit from.

Lancaster though has always expressed a preference for a second playmaker at 12, so Twelvetrees appears the obvious candidate to fill the void - leaving a space outside him.

Gloucester's opening to the new season has been mixed but Henry Trinder has played little part in it, missing the last month of the season due to injury. It says plenty of his talent that England have included him not based on the most recent of form, although he started the season with aplomb in the 13 channel pre-dominantly outside - guess who - Twelvetrees.

Taking the familiar Gloucester combination into a Test series against the world's best in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand certainly gives England comfort, but safety does not guarantee success.

Where Trinder benefits is that his all-round skill set is strong, with no major aspects of his play on either side of the ball coming under scrutiny. He also has the kind of pace that England do not always receive from Tuilagi's grunt.

Tomkins on the other hand possesses all the qualities required for Test rugby - excellent defence, a fine offloading game and pace and power to boot.

Destined for an England shirt since he crossed codes from Rugby League to join Saracens, the balance of a Twelvetrees-Tomkins combination appears to tick all the boxes for Lancaster - giving England the right combination in terms of distribution, power and defence.

Injuries and impressions in training over the next few weeks will ultimately determine selection, but that pairing arguably holds the most appeal and is guaranteed to create enough chances for England's back-three, which will certainly include Marland Yarde and probably Chris Ashton on the wings with either Ben Foden or Mike Brown at full-back.

Brown was excellent for Harlequins in their loss to the Scarlets last weekend and his left boot offers variety, but England have missed Foden's pace. The lack of a spot for the Premiership's other joint top try scorer along with Yarde, David Strettle, is surprising.

Elsewhere the recall for Tom Johnson at blindside flanker comes after an outstanding start to the season for Exeter Chiefs. Before being forced off against Cardiff Blues, Johnson was everywhere and on his way to Man of the Match performance.

England's back-row remains undecided as the debate continues over whether Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood or even Geoff Parling will be captain, but Johnson will be in contention for the six shirt. Billy Vunipola, for now, has the edge over Ben Morgan at number eight.

The concern over Alex Corbisiero's knee reiterates his importance to England - his work around the field being good, but his scrummaging is unrivalled. Mako Vunipola offers plenty but is not as technically astute yet at the coalface, whilst Joe Marler's form matches the slump that his club Harlequins currently find themselves in.

Losing Corbisiero deprives England of a weapon. Having had his knee drained, again, the hope if that only a two week lay-off will see him return to play some role this November.

Bar the absence of Corbsiero and Tuilagi though, Lancaster's squad appears in good shape and most importantly in-form. 16 days now remain until England host Australia at Twickenham.

Possible England XV: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Chris Ashton, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.

by Ben Coles

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