Johnno’s search for England’s midfield solution

Being my first post on this site, I wanted to pick a topic that would generate some debate. The choice may seem a bit contrived and I have no doubt that you have voiced your opinions on the matter over a few pints in your local drinking establishment, but with a new season comes new inspiration.


Geraghty: the missing piece in England’s puzzle?

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

17 thoughts on “Johnno’s search for England’s midfield solution

  1. Just seen the news that Stirling Mortlock is out of the England game with a torn calf muscle. Shame for him, but probably good news for England’s midfield!

    I would have Wilko, Geraghty and Hipkiss as my 10,12,13 options, subject to fitness of course. If Hipkiss isn’t fit, I’d put Tindall in there, although I am becoming quite a fan of Matt Banahan. I’d pick him on the wing though…

  2. Not sure why everyone is mentionning Hipkiss as an option – what’s he done so far this season?

    Jon Clarke from Northampton is the form 13 and could be an option for the 22 shirt to get him used to the set-up. They’ll probably start with Tindall though. A Wilko-Geraghty-Tindall combination wouldn’t be too bad. The Aussies have a lightweight creative 12 in Berrick Barnes (Geraghty is a very similar player) and a bosh merchant at 13 (will probably be Ryan Cross now that Mortlock is out). It’s Maa Nonu running at Geraghty that I’d be worried about!

  3. For me, a 10, 12, 13 combination of Wilkinson, Geraghty and either Hipkiss or Tait would be outstanding, and a welcome change from the useless lumps like Tindall and Noon clogging up the midfield. Combine that with Hodgson at 9, and a back 3 of Monye, Strettle and Foden, and you have an incredibly exciting back line, without losing too much defensively.

  4. Hipkiss hasnt done anything this season, and tait is a bit of a nothing player at international player, and i reckon tindall would be an able partner for the inexperienced livewire geraghty, and whos on the bench? id have to go simpson-daniel

  5. The problem for selection yet again is the enormous injury list. From the forwards, the following are expected to unavaliable for selection: Sheridan, Vickery, Shaw, Rees, and from the backs: Armitage, Flutey, Hipkiss, Cipriani, Flood, Turner-Hall

    This now means that we will be missing most of our starting front row and half our starting 2nd row. Who do we have to replace Vickery and Sheridan? Hartley will probably get the nod to start and hopefully Kennedy will join Borthwick in 2nd. Back row looks as though it’ll be Croft, Armitage and Easter/Haskell/Crane. No idea who will start at 9, but Wilko will almost definitely reclaim the 10 shirt and it’s looking like Geraghty and Tindall will be the centre pairing, with Tait on the bench as cover. Monye will either be at full back or on the wing, leaving Banahan, Morgan, Abenadanon, Strettle, Cueto, Foden, JSD to fight the last 2 places.

  6. Losing Vickery to injury is a big blow – Mears supporters would say we’ve lost our whole front row, but I think Hartley would have started anyway.

  7. How about a 9 -15 combination of 9. Hodgson 10. Wilko, 11. Banahan 12. Geraghty 13. JSD 14. Monye 15. Abenadanon, with Tindall, Tait and Foden on the bench?

  8. I do like the sound of that, but sadly can’t see it happening. Not sure JSD will be in the mix at all, but would love to see him in the side.

    How about 9. Hodgson 10. Wilko, 11. Banahan 12. Geraghty 13. Tindall 14. JSD 15. Monye ?

  9. Losing the entire front row is a massive loss. Who is there to play now? Payne, Hartley and Wilson? Not exactly a front row that the Aussies and Kiwis are going to lose sleep about.

    Also, with Mears gone, who’s going to bench as replacement hooker? David Paice?!

    England are getting weaker by the day in the forwards.

    The backs will be:

    9. Hodgson
    10. Wilko
    11. Banahan
    12. Geraghty
    13. Tindall
    14. Monye
    15. Foden

  10. I’d go:

    9 Hodgson
    10 Wilko
    11 Banahan
    12 Geraghty
    13 Hipkiss
    14 Monye
    15 Foden

    From the games I’ve seen Hipkiss has had a fairly quiet start, but has had good spells, and I don’t know what Tindall offers that he doesn’t. I’d go for Foden at FB, partly because I’d prefer to reserve Monye for his natural position where he is formiddable. Monye and Banahan on the wing – pretty scary stuff for the opposition. I’d put JSD on the bench, but would be surprised if he even makes that.

    I feel like we should feel pretty comfortable about the back line; compared to recent years, it feels like we have a little more strength in depth and any of the combinations proposed above would be decent in my view. Of far more concern is the front row….

  11. I openly acknowledge I am no expert in front row, but from the EPS and Saxon squads, this is who we have avaliable – Julian White (LEIC), Tim Payne (WASP), David Wilson (BATH), Nick Wood (GLOU), Matthew Mullan (WORC), Tom Mercy (SAR), Dan Cole (LEIC), Alex Corbisiero (LON IRI). My guess would be Payne and Wilson starting, plus 2 others benching – possibly White and Mullan. Anyone know of anyone else in contention?

  12. Banahan is a big lump who will be exposed in international rugby. Are you seriously suggesting that he should come into the autumn internationals against those 3 teams when we have the likes of monye, cueto, strettle and sackey available?

    Tait will bench. Tindall & Easter will step into the front row. 10,12,13 will be Jonny, Geraghty and Hipkiss.

    I think whatever front row we get out for the autumn will do well- no players are going to pass up the opportunity to impress on a 3-match unchallenged stint in an England Jersey. My worry is what players come onto the bench as front row cover…..

  13. I think you are being unfair on Banahan before he’s had a real chance at international level. Strettle has had a few chances for England, and he has been exposed already. Sackey has been injured and Cueto isn’t exactly going to scare anyone…

  14. With Wilko and Geraghty being big fans of cross field kicks, Banahan is perfect – no one beats him in the air. He also offers the direct boosh inpact which none of the other backs in contention really possess. Sackey is a glory boy, nothing more and Cueto isn’t up there anymore. Strettle is very good, but always gets injured. Front row has been worrying me for ages, and now with Sheridan and Vickery out of contention, we are much weaker in the forwards. Fingers crossed with have people who will step up to the challenge and not only play well for the Autumn internationals but also provide us with hope for the future. Think my current XV (albeit due to current injuries) would be:

    1. Payne
    2. Hartley
    3. Wilson
    4. Borthwick
    5. Kennedy
    6. Croft
    7. Armitage
    8. Haskell or Easter
    9. Hodgson
    10. Wilkinson
    11. Banahan
    12. Geraghty
    13. Tindall or Hipkiss
    14. Monye
    15. Abendananon

    16. White
    17. Mears or Chuter
    18. Mullan
    19. Crane
    20. Care or Simpson
    21. JSD
    22. Tait

  15. I think this demonstrates exactly the problem with rugby at the minute the physcality of it is stopping the progress of our national team to have practically 60% of our fowards injured it is no wonder why we have yet to see a good team under Johhno who we all have felt excited at his appointment.(I Know this is a totally sepearate debate but their your go.)
    That said I agree with bringing in Shane at 12 JSD is to small to have at 13 Hipkiss needs a chance to start their and get some game time at International level. I would play Monye And Sacky with Strettle on the bench.foden at 15 would also bring in some good attacking options not sure if his defence is at international level but he deserves a shot.

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