In the wake of the selection puzzle now facing Stuart Lancaster this autumn, we’ve trawled through the archives to find an article from a few years back when then head coach Martin Johnson faced a similar conundrum. As it turns out the three centres he ended up using that autumn were Shane Geraghty, Dan Hipkiss and Ayoola Erinle, so if whoever Lancaster picks don’t gel, just remember – it could be worse.
“England’s back line has caused ME back trouble. The range of movements I go through in a typical 80 minutes, from jumping off the sofa in moments of inspired brilliance to the all too familiar head in hands, crumpled on the floor post match pose I have perfected, seem to have caused me some sort of repetitive strain injury. I imagine that some of you reading this are suffering too.
England have struggled to find consistency in the back line ever since the World Cup-winning combination of Wilkinson, Tindall, and Greenwood. According to Sky Sports, since the team of 2003 there have been 6 players making 10 appearances or more in the centres, with a further 15 making starts or coming on as substitutes.
Granted, it has undoubtedly been a time of trial and error for selectors, but one would hope that after 6 years there would be a more solid 10, 12, 13 combination ready for the Autumn Internationals. With the rugby heavyweights of the world arriving on our shores in November, I’d like to think that we had a back line that could not only stop them in their paces, but perhaps knock them back a bit.
It may be a little naïve to think this way, but in my eyes Martin Johnson has a great opportunity to find this missing piece to England’s puzzle. He does have options, with several players proving themselves worthy of selection already: the question is which is the right combination?
Northampton’s Shane Geraghty has dazzled already this season, with 34 carries, 3 clean breaks, and 75 points to his name, putting him firmly in contention as a versatile back. Jonny Wilkinson has also returned to fitness, with a commanding performance against Saracens on Thursday, showing the kind of composure that put him at the top of rugby’s most wanted. Riki Flutey would be an obvious choice after his performances for the Lions but like Toby Flood and Dan Hipkiss, injury may prevent them when autumn rolls around.
Of course Andy Goode, Mike Tindall and Jamie Noon can play the experience card, but do we need more dynamism? Do we want to go for pace and agility or have the classic big bosh merchant at 12 to carve the holes? If that’s the case why not bring Bath’s Matt Banahan into the equation, off the wing and into the centres?
So there are a few of the options, and you can see why Johnson’s head might be hurting. I just hope that after the tests in November there will be a clearer picture painted for us all.
Who would you choose at 10, 12 and 13 for England this autumn?
By James Bass”
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images