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Decision time for Lancaster

06th February 2013 08:00

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SKY_MOBILE Manu Tuilagi Brad Barritt England v Ireland 2012 Six Nations

Waiting game: Recall for Tuilagi?

Searching for improvements after back-to-back victories could be dismissed as pedanticism, but England are not beyond modification.

Last weekend's victory over Scotland was a bright, positive start to an important Six Nations in their development in Stuart Lancaster's second year, with many holding the belief that this is a tournament they are capable of winning.

Scoring 38 points for the second consecutive match reiterated that England know their way to the try-line, but despite the convincing victory there was an overwhelming sense coming away from Twickenham that they could and possibly should have done more. Going above and beyond is after all the mark of a great side rather than a good one.

England's dominance of possession and territory against Scotland was down to good work at the breakdown, winning 93% of their rucks and completing 194 passes. In the first-half especially they created ample space on the left wing for Mike Brown to attack, but despite making more metres than any other player - 133 - there was a feeling that with more pace on the left flank England could have been more clinical.

The inclusion of Billy Twelvetrees at inside centre has added a different angle to the debate regarding the make-up of England's back-three.

Alex Goode was heralded throughout the November Internationals for his ability to act as a second receiver, but given Twelvetrees complete skill-set England now have more distributors than strike runners.

Brown has been the best full-back in England for the last 18 months and proven so time and again for Harlequins in key matches. If Ben Foden was in greater form than his extra speed on the wing would have been ideal.

Behind Foden there is a queue of specialist wingers in Christian Wade, Ugo Monye, Tom Biggs and Charlie Sharples waiting to make an impact at Test level, yet Brown and Foden's talents are too great to ignore. Taking the example of the All Blacks with Cory Jane and Israel Dagg - Jane may have the speed of a 14 but his aerial and footballing abilities make him adaptable. Foden can do the same, but has been released ahead of the clash in Dublin.

Lancaster will spend the next few days deliberating over whether to retain Twelvetrees or reunite the centre pairing of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi that defeated New Zealand in November.

The quality of Twelvetrees' debut has put a spanner in the works - his performance was so encouraging that dropping him seems a poor call. The Gloucester centre is the type of player Lancaster has always stated he wants in the 12 channel, with a combination of his playmaking abilities and Tuilagi's power appearing to have the perfect balance.

Barritt however has been a warrior for England in every Test so far. A defensive lynchpin, Barritt has only missed one game in the Lancaster era but despite his try against the All Blacks doubts remain about his creativity.

Against the magic of Brian O'Driscoll however, England need their best defensive weapons. Ireland's record try-scorer was lethal against Wales and Lancaster will have taken note.

Tight calls will also be made over the next 48 hours at hooker and scrum-half, whilst the temptation to release the uncapped Billy Vunipola will tempt Lancaster and his coaching team.

England are not short of options and the victory over Scotland created plenty of positives, but as Lancaster stated immediately after, "there is work to be done." Carry on at this rate and they will be one of the favourites for the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

By Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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