Five players to ignite England’s backline


Two from three for England this autumn, and most fans will be relatively happy. The pack showed that they can cut it against the best in the world, and there were encouraging performances from young starlets Billy Vunipola and (fleetingly) Marland Yarde, along with the creation of plenty of depth in the front row and engine room. That said, the backs failed to fire all series. Whatever reason that was down to, some changes need to be made for the Six Nations. Here, we look at five players that could add some much needed sparkle to the England back-line.

1. Henry Trinder
The Joel Tomkins experiment did not work. He did not look comfortable at international level, and if, as is looking likely, Manu Tuilagi does not return to fitness in time for the Six Nations, then Henry Trinder must be given a go at 13. He has dazzlingly quick feet and the pace to actually make an outside break – something we haven’t seen from an England centre for quite some time. See below for proof.

2. Christian Wade
Injury robbed him of a chance to play this autumn, and if he is fit he must be given a go come the spring. Regardless of his club form – which has been up and down this season – he has that rare ability of being able to score from almost anywhere on the pitch – in fact, the weekend England so struggled to create anything against Australia, he scored two terrific tries for Wasps. None of England’s wingers really caught the eye this autumn, so it is time for Wade to get his chance. England haven’t had a finisher this good for quite some time, and we can only hope he is given as much of a chance now as Ashton has been afforded.

3. Anthony Watson
Called into the England squad to experience the environment over the autumn, Watson is clearly someone Lancaster has his eye on for the future. And rightly so, because while Brown and Foden are both superb players, Watson brings something just a little different. He is unlikely to usurp whichever of the aforementioned two are starting come the Six Nations (that’s a debate for another time), but would be a great man to bring off the bench if things have gone a bit stale in the second half.

4. Freddie Burns
It is such a shame that he has started the season poorly at Gloucester, but Ben Morgan’s good form for England this autumn proves that actually you can do the business on the international stage even if your club form is lacking. Owen Farrell has not been able to unleash his back-line, something that Burns does very well. If Twelvetrees is the long-term option at 12, Burns should be given a chance at 10 to see if they can combine as they have on occasion for Gloucester.

5. Kyle Eastmond
The recent bad press has not painted him in a brilliant light, but there is no doubting that if England want creativity in their midfield then Eastmond is the man to provide it. If Farrell, as seems likely, is continued to be backed in the 10 shirt, then Eastmond should be given a go outside him. His natural instinct to attack and create would take a little of the pressure off Farrell, who could then focus on managing the game and kicking his goals – in a nutshell, what he does best.

Is there anyone else you’d like to see get a go in England’s back-line come the Six Nations?

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

35 thoughts on “Five players to ignite England’s backline

  1. Definitely Christian Wade, also Luther Burrell both are in cracking form at club level, let’s see if they can step up a couple of levels?

  2. How about Dickson and Farrell at halfbacks, Twelvetrees and Trinder midfield, Yarde, Wade and Brown in the back three? That seems half-decent, and with Tuilagi to return.

    I’m still not quite convinced by Wade, but Six Nations has to be the time to give him a go.

    1. Spot on I say.

      This seems most obvious option at 13. Who else? Burrell and Eastmond are more suited to 12s. I cant seem to forget how bad Trinder was at the back end of last year, which makes it harder. Manu return with 12T would be wonderful.

    2. Hutch, I would rather take a punt on Christian Wade than retain Ashton on the right (not that I think this is likely, whoever else is available).

      To be honest, I think England can afford the luxury of playing someone like Wade, even if there remain some doubts about his all round game.

  3. Any others? No. I think this is pretty spot on. If England are desperate for a like-for-like physical replacement for Tuilagi, I think Luther Burrell is the man.

    It’s just a shame that Farrell – who I am a fan of – will probably need to be injured before someone like Burns is given a legitimate chance.

  4. Agree with Wade, possibly Trinder and Eastmond (as long as he doesn’t go off the rails, last we need is another trouble maker in the squad after Lancaster’s hard work to instil discipline).

    It’s too early for Watson and Burns will only be an option if we have another reliable kicker in the team.

    First and foremost, Marland Yarde MUST start against France. I’d also like to see George Ford given a chance. Jack Nowell has looked sharp for Exeter. Also think Jonathan Joseph should be given another chance considering his form for Bath this season.

    Others might mention Jonny May (haven’t seen enough of him) or Luther Burrell (not sure if he’s ready yet), Elliot Daly (ditto).

    Ashton, Tomkins, Flood and Goode should be dropped.

    1. Which Bath team have you been watching? Joseph’s been rubbish in the games I’ve watched. He’s had his chance with England as far as I’m concerned – Trinder/Daly are better back-ups for Manu with 2015 in mind, I think.

      1. He was excellent on Sunday, admittedly due to the chances Ford created. But I think we should give him another bash. You shouldn’t just chuck players on the scrap heap forever once you’ve given them one or two chances. I’m not a massive fan, just throwing his hat in the ring.

        Incidentally, in that Exeter vs Bath game, Jack Nowell was outstanding – the one Exeter play to do himself proud, he was everywhere. And that is despite Bath outplaying them in every area.

  5. One player in the present Saxons squad is conspicuous by his absence amongst these comments – Mat Tait. I haven’t seen much domestic rugby this season but from what I have read he is playing well at Leicester, and to my mind he has a proven track record (albeit with too many “breaks”).

    Like Daly, he can play 13-15.

    He is still only 27, and unbelievably (to me at least) he has 38 England caps.

    1. Tait has been injured all season, Blub – he hasn’t played yet. Sadly that is the story of his career so far! He looked excellent towards the end of last season, playing at fullback, but after having to have surgery over the summer has yet to feature for the Tigers this year. Such a shame because as you say, he is a quality player.

      1. Not played all season? That will explain that then. I must have been thinking of last season – it all merges into one. Shame.

        Hutch – how very cynical of you…

        Five tries though!

  6. If we don’t have Manu then I think we must have Burrell. I don’t mind seeing Burrell at 13, he’s got enough experience there and, as we do with Manu, he can still run the 12 crash ball line when needed.

    I would go with
    Youngs (I don’t like a Dickson/Farrell pairing, zero running threat, too easy for defenders to drift to the midfield)

    Dickson, Burns and Eastmond on the bench.

  7. Those who have been tried at international level and haven’t cut the mustard include JJ, Goode and Tomkins. They shouldn’t be in the squad again in my opinion.

    Those who have played international rugby and have on occasions done the job include Flood and Ashton. They probably ought to remain in and around the squad.

    Too early for this RWC, probably Ford, Nowell and Daly. Possibly Watson given the players in front of him.

    Need to be given a chance to shine or bomb – Wade, Yarde, Trinder, Eastmond and Burrell.

    Done enough to earn more playing time – Burns and 36. Probably both are actually definites moving forward.

    Definites in the squad moving forward – Dickson, Youngs, Care, Farrell, Barritt (I know that I might get some stick for this, but he is experienced and dependable and in my opinion should be in the squad, given the lack of depth), Tuilagi, Brown, Foden.

    The only trouble is that SL doesn’t have enough games left to work out his best combinations and give them plenty of game/gelling time.

    However we probably have enough centres for a squad if some of these work out, but we are woefully short on the wings. Behind Yarde and Wade IF they work out are Foden and Ashton at present! Who are the other legitimate wing options? May? Strettle and Cueto are two of the other top AP try scorers! No wonder Ashton has had so many chances!

      1. Hmm! Blub I think this proves my point about the wings! Sharples off the pace at the moment and Monye – been there and bought the t-shirt.

    1. JJ shouldn’t be written off at 22. He did OK in SA (didn’t look out of his depth like Tomkins) and filled in on the wing as well. He didn’t advance his cause in Argentina where he was again OK only so I can’t argue with him being cut from the EPS.

      But he’s far too young to be kicked into touch permanently. I’m hoping he does get his form back as with ability to play wing and centre he’s a good candidate for a 23 shirt.

      1. Matt, fair point about his age, but to my mind the best players normally shine when starting out, if given a few games. They may also make mistakes, but something stands out. JJ just didn’t, Tomkins doesn’t. Doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t play international rugby, but England shouldn’t settle for OK, we should search for the best and play them. Who were the only team to try more players in the last year than England – NZ. They give someone a chance, and if they don’t take it they move on, and it’s not working too bad for them!

        1. Completely agree on the quest for the best, and we shouldn’t keep bringing players back in who have had a chance and failed (Strettle, Goode). I do think JJ still has potential though, he had an encouraging debut (not spectacular) against a very good side and has then had an indifferent year in a poor club side and not yet set the world on fire in a good one. I’m hopeful he will come good and be pressing his claim for the first test next summer (when we will be missing a few regulars)

        2. The difference is that NZ has a settled team, so new players in an experienced team have a chance to shine or not. Right now, the England team doesn’t afford that opportunity. England has too many international novices in the backs who are learning to play with each other. It’s a tall order to expect a new player to step in and play well when the player next to them is still in the development stage.

          These players need nurture and patience, especially since they are young players. I believe that the attitude of “giving a player a chance and if they don’t play well in a couple matches, move on,” has stunted the development of the England backs. It’s all about time to gel and getting used to playing at that level. The backs will not gel or adjust to the international game if they don’t get a consistent run of matches. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but they need to be put in the best position possible. Plus, maturity is an issue. Sometimes, a talented young player may not be ready to make the step up. It doesn’t mean that will never be the case. Let them have their growing pains. I have no problem with capping players in their late 20s if they are ready. I don’t get the obsession with youth. They are the most vulnerable and need the most patience.

          I find it appalling that England had to start a midfield with 11 caps in the midfield when their are capable guys in the Premiership who have been a part of the England setup before, given a chance and dumped. It shows the lack of faith and shortsightedness. Killed talent before it had a chance to show.

          I’m really impressed with Lancaster’s selections. I admire his ability to be patient when so many are not.

          1. Agree about nz being more settled, but we don’t have that luxury. Also what I am saying is that if they show a spark, like 36 did to start with, persevere with them like you say, but if they don’t move on. Personally I hope jj proves me wrong and goes onto become a star, I just don’t think he will and any further caps he gets means one less for someone else who could be worth persevering with. Also not a coach, so not saying I know best but it is my opinion.

          2. I’m not a fan of one cap wonders, one chance and your out, but I think Lancaster has handed out too many caps to people who just don’t look anything like international class. None of his investments in players that didn’t look like they were up to scratch in their first few caps have paid off (Strettle, Goode, Brown out of position, Dowson also often out of position, Barritt etc).

            The reasons 36 has so few caps and Wade has one, for example, are that 36 was dropped for being good (to persist with someone who wasn’t) and Wade wasn’t selected so that Brown and Ashton could continue conceding more tries (several) than they are scoring (one) on the wing.

            In Lancaster I think we’ve hired a plumber when we needed an architect. He repaired some leaks but he can’t design a new house. Our first 2 games under Lancaster were full of grit, determination, endeavour, work ethic, desire to play for the shirt (the leak was plugged) but we’ve hardly moved on since. In banging on about culture and desire to play for the shirt he’s talking about problems that no longer exist. He needs to focus on the problems that do exist, our complete inability to construct try scoring opportunities from open play for one, and our physical conditioning still being behind the Welsh for another (though the gap has closed).

  8. Firstly can I just say that anyone who doesn’t think Tomkins has any pace needs to see some of the tries he scored in his league days. Let’s not forget he has only been playing union for three seasons.
    Secondly the video you’ve shown for Trinder is not a great example of his ability, it’s a simple intercept pass and run round a couple of defenders. I would like to think that nearly any 13 in the Premiership could score that try.
    I’ve no doubt that Trinder is worth a shot, I’m just not sure he will prove to be any better that Tomkins or Joseph at the top level. Tomkins is definitely better in defence, and has better passing and offloading ability. Trinder definitely has better feet, and a bit more pace, but I would worry about his defence, and I’m not sure about his offloading. Joseph has been poor so far for Bath and I don’t think he deserves another shot on current form.
    Wade is definitely worth sticking in for the 6 nations, and if Tuilagi is not fit I would think about trying Burrell at 13 outside Twelvetrees. He has played 13 for Saints, and has a similar playing style to Tuilagi.
    Eastmond is a tricky one, as he seems to blow hot and cold. And if you believe the recent stories, could possibly have an attitude problem, which SL will not tolerate. There’s no doubting his ability, but where would you play him? 12, 13 or 15?
    Burns is another one who seems to blow hot and cold, and playing in a Gloucester team struggling for form is not helping his case.
    I also think we have more options on the left wing. Jamie Elliott? Miles Benjamin? (if he stays fit) Adam Thompstone was on great form a little while ago for Tigers. Don’t know if he’s currently injured but is very capable.

    1. Dazza, if the stats are to be believed Tomkins made a grand total of four passes and zero offloads in three games this autumn. That’s quite shocking, and I know he didn’t see that much of the ball, but he still managed to carry 17 times… to not be able to get an offload away at all in 17 carries, for someone who is supposed to be an excellent offloader, is not good enough. To be honest I think it’s a real shame as I always think he looks like a really good player at club level.

      Also not sure he would have finished that Trinder try, and to say it was an easy finish is pretty harsh! He’s beaten two defenders without them even laying a hand on him – not many players can do that whilst still keeping up the necessary pace to get away from any defenders chasing back.

      Re Thompstone and Benjamin – former has struggled with injury a bit this year but agree that he is hugely underrated – only thing that would worry me is I’m not sure he’s enough of a footballer for international rugby. Can imagine him being turned by some clever kicking and not really being sure what to do. The latter has been injured for two years and has had two senior games back, in which he has looked very rusty!

    2. Dazza, have to agree with Jamie here – the Trinder try shows sumptuous skill to beat those two defenders in quick succession. You would expect both to stop him, but he made them look like covering tight-heads.

      Jamie Elliot is not a bad option, and Topsy Ojo is still around?

    3. I’m not convinced Trinder would have fared any better. Although I think he’s a much better player than Tomkins I don’t see he would have found any space to do anything in. We would just have seen a fairly small guy getting smashed backwards by walls of defenders.

  9. I’ve been thinking a lot about this – and whilst I do think our backline needs work, I do think it’s being blown out of proportion.

    As options:
    Scrum half – Youngs, Dickson, Care
    Fly half – Farrell, Flood, Burns
    Inside – Twelvetrees, Burrell, Barrit, Eastmond
    Outisde – Tuilagi, Trinder
    Wings – Yarde, Wade, Ashton
    Full back – Foden, Brown, Watson (long term)

    It’s actually not that bad. Our first choice back line is ok – I would like to see more strength in depth at 13 and wing, but its not dire.

    I’ve decided to believe that SL would have played both Yarde and Wade if they were fit so hopefully we will see them in the 6N. We do need more depth here but I’m ok with Foden being on the wing if need be, and whilst Ashton isn’t firing, I would still have him over Monye,Strettle etc. in the pecking order. They’ve looked even less convincing that Ashton at this level.

    A centre pairing of Tuilagi and Twelvetrees works very well for me. That could genuinely be exciting; again though, its a bit of depth that we lack here.

    Before anyone gets too excited about Trinder playing, I would not be surprised to see Barritt play 13 if Tuilagi isn’t fit. Twelvetrees/Barritt played the Scotland game together and that went well.

  10. Twelvetrees/Barritt also played in one of the Lions games if memory serves. Not that it would be my preferred pairing. By a long shot.

    Ashton? I have been a supporter of Ashton in the past (ignoring his silly “splashes”) but I still think that there are better options. Even after all of these last chances he keeps getting, he is not improving. I thought he did OK on Saturday, apart from that silly kick. But that kind of summed up what form he is in, it smacks of “hit and hope”.

    The only different thing he can offer is his tracking ability, and he appears to have either lost that or been “found out” by the opposition.

    1. I think you’re talking about the Rebels game where Twelvetrees and Barritt played 10/12 if I remember correctly.

      Ashton is a difficult one. I would definitely have Yarde, Wade and Foden on the wings before him – but I’m not sure anyone else really convinces me.

      Strettle, Monye and even Sharples have had a chance and looked worse off than Ashton.

      Jonny May I would like to see maybe. Not sure who else though?

  11. As far as I’m concerned b youngs and tuilagi are our only world class backs.

    I have been an Ashton fan and still thinks he is treated differently by the media, but he has now failed to put very good club form into practice, so i’d rest him. Here would be my group going forward.

    Youngs, Dickson, care
    Farrell, ford, burns
    Twelvetrees, Burrell, eastmond
    Tuilagi, daly (trinder whilst tuilagi injured)
    Yarde, wade, may, Watson, nowell
    Brown, foden

    I think twelvtrees and tuilagi, with daly to come on and shift Manu to 12 is the way forward.

    Watson and nowell look to be excellent future wing/fb options – lets get them in!

  12. IF (& it is a BIG IF) Burns, 12trees and Trinder got picked they have got the massive advantage of playing together week in week out at Glos. When under pressure that strength of relationship can make the difference

  13. My 5 to light up the back line for the 6 nations in 2014 would be:


    Unfortunately it seems to be that English rugby is sorely lacking in exciting back line players. That’s not to say we haven’t got any, more that they are few and far between. Having said that if SL selected some of the younger players such as Nowell, Watson, Ford and started their senior international careers early we could see a very different picture in two years time at the world cup. However I am not an international standard coach and am probably not the best person to speak about how best way to develop young talent. But would it hurt too much to maybe give them a run against the likes of Italy/Scotland in the 6 nations and see whether they have what it takes?

  14. There are some great young guys coming up and given the right opportunities and development could tear it up with the best.

    Jack Nowell at Exeter is a real flyer, with great feet, good work rate and is deceptively solid defender.

    Sam Hill also at Exeter is a well rounded 12, strong, quick, effective on the crash ball and through gaps and has an offloading game to optimise half breaks.

    Elliot Daly for me is one of the most exciting prospects available to England, imo. Can cover wing,13 or fullback, has huge gas, safe hands, eye for the gap and a nice step. He also has a huge boot and is a very handy back up kicker, capable of knocking them over from his own half.

    Add in guys like the above mentioned Watson, Wade, Yarde, Henry Slade, Eastmond (providing he stays) Tuilagi, May, Ford, Farrell and we have serious potential.

  15. Just thought this was an interesting read in the Independent… championing Daly like most of us on here, and revealing that apparently Daly had been the 24th man at Twickenham for England (against NZ). One pulled hamstring in training was all it would have taken to see him in an england shirt.

    Oh well. At least we know hes on the radar!

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