International Scout Notes: 15th April

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Manu Tuilagi

Tuilagi was back to his destructive best against Wasps, scoring two tries that few other players in world rugby could have finished with such nonchalant ease. If the second one was all about power, the first included an impeccably timed run into a gap, not a man – something he has not always been keen to do. Intriguingly, and for the first time in a while, the Tigers employed Tuilagi as a 12 – he certainly did not look out of place being used as the go-to man in the first few phases of possession. England’s midfield was one of the great success stories of their Six Nations, but Tuilagi possesses physical attributes the likes of which others can only dream. Simply put, Lancaster has to find a place for him in the side somewhere.

Gareth Steenson

Exeter’s win at Worcester has gone somewhat under the radar, but it was a cracking game of rugby down in no small part to the willingness of the players to play an open game. This was true of no one more than the Chiefs’ fly-half who put in one of the performances of the weekend, seemingly beating defenders at will as he ducked and darted over the gainline time and again. He bagged a try himself and set up a few others, as well as missing just one kick from seven. Realistically, he is probably a fair way away from Ireland’s radar, but given Ian Madigan’s struggle to nail down the Leinster shirt and subsequent lack of game time this season, should Steenson be in Ireland’s thoughts? Probably.

Billy Vunipola

With injury depriving Vunipola of a run of starts in the Six Nations, it is hugely encouraging to see him back to somewhere near his best so soon after returning to action. He was a menace against the Saints at the weekend, and perhaps most impressively managed to come through the full 80 minutes – accusations in the past have been made that he is not an ’80 minutes man’, claims which look increasingly silly these days, so credit to Sarries for working on his fitness. Ben Morgan deputised very well for him during the back end of the Six Nations, but Vunipola is the man opposition would prefer not to face, you suspect.

Jonny Gray

Glasgow shocked Munster at Thomond Park, bringing and end to their run of 13 straight victories, and the younger of the Gray brothers was one of the standout performers on the park. He scored the opening try for his side, cleverly identifying the weak shoulder of JJ Hanrahan in front of him and barging his way over the line for what was, in the end, an easy finish for a man of his physical capabilities. He also finished top tackler for his side with 15 made and none missed. He could potentially form an incredibly dynamic partnership with brother Richie at international level.

Dan Biggar

One lesson that came out of the Six Nations for Wales is that they need to sort out their fly-half spot. Rhys Priestland does not seem to have the confidence to nail down the shirt for himself, and while Biggar himself has shown patchy form in the national jersey in the past his performance for the Ospreys against Leinster will have been hugely encouraging for Gatland to see. He finished with 20 of his side’s 25 points in a display that brought to the fore his game management abilities. He also defended manfully, making 12 tackles without missing any and three turnovers, as Leinster looked to target his channel. With young Owen Williams pressing his claims with several eye-catching performances over at the Tigers, this was a good time for Biggar to impress, and he must now have leapfrogged Priestland in the pecking order as we head into the summer tours.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

30 thoughts on “International Scout Notes: 15th April

  1. […] ‘accusations in the past have been made that he is not an ’80 minutes man’, claims which look increasingly silly these days’.

    Yeah its not like Therugbyblog had anything to do with these claims at all is it?

  2. Any professional player can last 80 mins, and I’m sure they can all empty the tanks completely in the first 50 as well if this is what they are asked to do. It’s not about how long you are on the pitch, but how much work you are doing whilst you are on it. Regarding Vunipola what is clear is his fitness is progressing so the total amount of work he can get through (over 50, 60 or 80 mins) is increasing, which is a great to see. He’s now a lot more than a dynamic ball carrying 8, he’s developed a really good engine, remarkable for a guy that size.

    1. I really hope Billy can stay fit. His improvement this season has been really impressive, and he hasn’t really shown any signs of slowing down in his progression. I eagerly await the day when he and Tuilagi can share the ball-carrying duties in England colours.

  3. Video of the week suggestion would be when Billy steamrolled Lawes. It was classic to watch live, but would look great in slo-mo!?
    At the moment the back row of Wray with Brown or Burger and Vunipola is going to take some stopping.

    1. Burrell played at 12 for Saints on Sunday as well, and scored a try. Which way round would you play them?

  4. Ah now that’s a very good question, Personally I’m a fan of the Kiwi way of having your big man at 12 (although I know there’s more to Nonu than boshing it up) and your faster, more skilled man at 13

    Burrell is no Conrad Smith but his distribution is good and the lines he ran in the 6 Nations were excellent.

    I’d also prefer Burrell at 13 for his defence as Tuilagi has a habit of rushing up and leaving the line exposed on the outside.

    With Tuilagi attracting a lot of attention at 12, it would give Burrell and the back 3 more room to work with

    1. Yeah I agree. A back line of Care, Farrell, Yarde, Tuilagi, Burrell, Wade and Brown would be awesome! With Youngs, Ford and Watson on the bench.

      1. Yup – although I’ll be unsure about Watson until I see him play some games at this kind of level. Happy with Nowell as well

        Don’t think any international centre partnership would much relish lining up opposite Tuilagi and Burrell.

    2. I would stick with them in their most familiar positions. Burrell at 12, getting his hands free in the tackle, Manu getting on the end of the offload and dishing out some pain to anyone is his way.

      We can then use Care and Farrell coming round the corner to get the ball wider off second phase, recognising Manu is not likely to be fizzing out long passes. Was really impressed with Farrell’s play attacking the line at the weekend (extra coaching sessions with Catt in the week apparently), really encouraging. It’s a lot of eggs in one basket, especially when Courtney Lawes does his best to (legally) create a vacant tour spot for Myler, but thankfully Farrell seems OK.

      1. Can absolutely see your point, but for me Tuilagi dragging in defenders to stop him in the centre of the pitch leaves more space for the fast men out wide than having tuilagi doing the same 3/4 of the way across the pitch.

        Would imagine they would be very much interchangeable though

        Do you think Lancaster would plump for Myler if Farrell got crocked? Or would he go for Cipriani?

        1. I hope it’s Cipriani, astonishingly he was Sale’s top tackler against Quins! Just the sort of game when he’s not getting much to work with historically he may have gone AWOL.

          The downside of Tuilagi at 12 is we’ll see him in contact, taking 2 or 3 defenders with him, battling to stay on his feet, therefore producing quite slow ball. We’ll be going forward but not sure we get a platform to really attack from. If Burrell is putting him through then I suspect we’ll see more clean breaks where he can really cause some damage. No harm in them interchanging, whichever way round they are they can create some space for each other as neither are a one man proposition when it comes to stopping them.

          1. Never thought I’d see the day, but I think Cipriani should be next in line as well. Think Burns has really dropped out of contention now.

            Am actually quite excited about the prospect of Tuilagi and Burrell – whichever way round they play! Just concerned that we won’t see it and 12Ts will play regardless.

            1. I think the current line up for FH is Farrell, Ford and then Cipriani. I’m really hoping Lancaster takes Cipriani on the tour. As you say Burns is in a no win situation at Glos at the mo. 12T’s has been starting at 10 lately, and Burns is falling further and further behind the other guys. I think Myler is a bit old now (30 this year) and has missed his chance. With guys like Farrell and Ford in their early 20’s and Cipriani still only 26, why would you pick Myler when we’re preparing for a WC next year? Hopefully once Burns gets to Leicester he will get sorted out, and be back on the radar.

              With the likelihood of either Farrell, Ford, Tuilagi or Burrell playing in the Prem final it makes Lancaster midfield look interesting for the first test!

              Leaving out all the potential players from the current top 4, a back line of Care, Cipriani, Yarde or, 12T, Hopper or Daly?, Nowell or Wade and Brown looks pretty good. Only position I’m not sure about is OC. Once you’ve taken Tuilagi, Burrell and (potentially) Barritt out of the equation, it leaves us a bit short.

  5. People seem to be forgetting that we’re going for a two sided attack. A luxury afforded to us precisely because 36 is a decent ten in his own right whilst being big enough to straighten play. He also seemed to lead our defence whilst being the highest tackling back I believe.

  6. 12Ts form is still good even if the team is imploding! 3 centres, and can’t decide who to play. That is at least a positive problem, which we didn’t have 12 months ago – when it was who to play with Tuilagi. Hope nz gives us some clues as to the best combination, which, it must be said, might not be the two best players!

    Burns has surely played himself out of contention for a while. Needs a fresh start and some confidence.

  7. I really feel for Burns, he had the world at his feet, then got injured and it all started to tumble down. I genuinely believe he’d have been our starting 10 had that injury not occurred. He got the last 20 mins against NZ in 2012, and looked very good. He had a better kicking % than Farrell, and far more in attack, his defence isn’t as good, but it’s not due to lack of desire, he is willing to put his body on the line. Hurt his knee, missed the 6N, lost his kicking ability, then lost his nerve, then lost his head completely :(.

    Thankfully Farrell has really impressed me this season, paired with 36 I think we’ll be looking rather special :).

  8. Burns needs to go away a regroup – he can’t even be thinking about English right now. He is third choice at Gloucester! Cipriani has more than proved himself this season, BUT, he must be told that he only gets one chance, then he’s out. Myler just looks to me like he lacks international class.

    On current form. I’d for Farrell, Cipriani, Ford. In that order. The only reason Ford will be above Cipriani in the pecking order is potential, as no one can tell me that Cipriani is not in better form.

    In the centres I still want to see 12Ts and Tuilagi together. I honestly think that’s our best option moving forward. It isn’t that I don’t rate Burrell, I just think that those two will be the best pairing we have.

    Ideally;
    Care, Farrell, Yarde, Twelvetrees, Tuilagi, Wade, Brown.

  9. I really want to see Burrell and Tuilagi together, I don’t really mind which position they line up in, you’d expect to see them switching during the game. I haven’t been overly impressed with 36. I think the improvements Farrell has made have been more to do with his own game, and playing outside Care than playing inside 36. 36 definitely has the advantage over the other centres in terms of kicking, but I just don’t view him as much of an attacking threat, certainly not in comparison to Burrell and Tuilagi.

  10. Having watched a bit of Bath recently, and particularly having seen him come play at 10, and assume the kicking (from hand) responsibilities, I wouldn’t discount Eastmond.

    because of the obvious similarities with Jason Robinson, and his ridiculous try in Argentina I have tended to view him as more of a O/C, wing or FB.

    BUT, I am rather drawn to his distribution skills, and feel that he could be a more than adequate replacement for Twelvetrees in this regard.

    Twelvetrees problem is that he does nothing flashy, like these other 3 do, and the odd mistake he has made has left the impression that he is a little ordinary, when the truth is that he has been very consistent. As a comparison, I thought that Burrell’s passing in the Italy game was generally quite poor, but because he set up one try and made a couple of barnstorming bursts, he was considered unlucky to be replaced by Tuilagi. To me, it made perfect sense.

    That is not to say that I would not be very interested to see Burrell and Tuilagi paired together, I just think that Twelvetrees provides a lot more to the team that is always evident.

    Would really like to see Eastmond given a proper go at 12 though.

    1. I guess depending on who makes the Prem final you may get the chance to see Eastmond somewhere in the back line for the first test. You would think either Burrell or Tuialgi will be in the Prem final, or maybe both? It would be interesting to pick a starting 15 without any players from the top 4. Which I guess is almost what Lancaster is doing in preparation for the first test.

  11. 36 isn’t as much of a straight line runner, though he’s big enough to make a dent. He also had a lot of chances to get the offload away, but there was no one to receive it.

    Burrell had a lot of success in the 13 channel, but it came from one of two things most the time. The first was that the 13 channel has a bit more room to work with, and he could go round the outside. The second was him picking good lines. You can only have one guy picking those lines or that space, and you’re going to choose Manu, maybe Yarde can offer the dummy option in some cases.

    36 offers better vision and distribution than Burrell I believe, and this makes it very hard on opposition defences when they can’t predict where the ball will go. The whole point is that 36 or Farrell will pick the side with the greatest advantage.

    36 makes a better attacking threat for me, not as an individual necessarily, but due to his option taking.

    1. Good points Dan. Essentially, with 11, 13, 14 and 15 all offering strong running lines, you don’t need another at 12, as it puts a very narrow focus on the 10 (and possibly 9).

      Twelvetrees clearly balances this well.

      I guess that my interest in seeing how Burrell and Tuilagi would fare together would be to see whether he can play the distribution game at this level as well. I think that – generally – Burrell has gained all of his England plaudits from playing the “great running line, clever offloads” type game. I think (though I don’t “know”) that there is more to his game than this.

      As an aside, Goode at 15, provides the opportunity to play another runner at centre.

      1. Goode at 15 offers nothing but poor defense and a running style that gets him smashed behind the gain line time and time again

        We don’t want to go there

        As for 36, its just my opinion but he seems to play by the numbers rather than by what’s in front of him. and for a guy who is meant to be pretty much a second fly half, some of his passing was rather ropy in the 6 Nations

    2. The question mark I have over how effective 36 will be inside Manu is that I didn’t see him put Burrell through with his passing game. I saw 36 looking up to distribute, being nullified by a rush defence, deciding nothing is on and turning back inside and carrying to the gainline.

      He ran some decent decoy lines, and put in one sublime chip for the Burrell try, but other than that I didn’t see anything too special.

      Agree with the comments that the best partnership may not be the best two players, but I would like to see us try the best two players to see how they go as a partnership first.

  12. I agree 36 has been pretty consistent, but his errors have really stood out in my mind, although I’m probably glossing over all the good touches he has shown too.

    I too would like Eastmond to get a look in. He offers a different type of threat to any other English centre, and I think would work well in a partnership with a big ball carrier like Tuilagi. For me he suits the bench option well, as although SL seems to only view him as a centre, he’s got the skills needed to cope pretty much anywhere in the back line.

  13. England need to have a good passer at inside centre, for no other reasan than our 10 isn’t th best playmaker in the world.

    We will get injuries before and during the world cup so to develop Eastmond and 36 at inside and Burrell and Manu at outside gives plenty of options.

    At the moment it has to be 36 and Manu, 36 passes better than Burrelland manu has more power and scores more tries.

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