Joseph aims to step out of Tuilagi’s shadow

It has not been easy going for Jonathan Joseph over the past season or so. Given the briefest of opportunities in the toughest of circumstances on England’s tour to South Africa last summer, he has since struggled for form and fitness, suffering a series of inopportune injuries that have kept him from a decent run of games.

“Individually it’s been a bit frustrating – I’ve had a lot of niggles, and my form’s not been too great, but I’ve been working hard on it,” he admits. Part of a London Irish team that were in danger of being relegated for large parts of the season, it has been a tough year. Nonetheless, Joseph is keen to remain positive. “It got off to a bad start team-wise, but then come the new year, all the home games we’ve had I think we’ve won and that’s obviously a massive positive for us. There were a few games where we left points out there, which we should have won, but I think our heads were up for the latter part of the year, and the way we’ve tried to play has been a lot better.”

The season actually began in fine fashion for Joseph and Irish, as they won the JP Morgan Sevens series. Joseph was last week named sevens player of the year at the Aviva Premiership awards, and is effusive in his praise for the JP Morgan tournament.

joseph 2“It’s a massive stepping stone,” he says. “For players coming through the academies, it’s a great opportunity to play some rugby at the highest level, and get used to the way things are run. It’s great for them to play in front of a crowd and get used to the professional game.”

Now, however, Joseph has the impending England tour of Argentina to occupy his thoughts. His England career to date has been hindered by many a setback, comfortably the biggest being the presence of Manu Tuilagi in the team. Such are Tuilagi’s unique talents that, even when not at the top of his game, it is very difficult to justify dropping him. With the giant, Samoan-born Leicester centre away on Lions duty this summer, however, the opportunity for Joseph to assert his claim on the England 13 shirt is one he knows he must seize with both hands.

“It’s always an opportunity – when you’re in an England shirt everyone’s watching, aren’t they?” he says. “It’s always that chance to put your marker down, so that’s what everyone’s going to be trying to do.” He does not quite say it, but he must know that Tuilagi’s absence this summer hands him certainly his best chance to step out of his rather large shadow.

He is under no illusions about the challenges that lie in wait in Argentina, either: power, power and a bit more power. “I’ve never played them before, but they’re big and they’re tough,” he declares. “I imagine they’ll be fairly similar to South Africa. It’ll be a huge challenge – it’s going to be very physical, but we’ll go to take them on and we’ll see what happens.”

His competition for that outside centre berth on the tour will be Saracens’ Joel Tomkins, a man who has arguably had a stronger season in the Premiership, but does not have the same experience of the England set-up as Joseph. While Tomkins is a fairly direct runner, with excellent hands a dangerous ability to offload, Joseph’s game is more centred around his quick feet and dazzling acceleration. And as a squad teeming with youth, Joseph’s season around the senior squad almost makes him an elder statesman.

He sets off for pastures new next season, as he begins his adventure at Bath as part of a young and exciting back-line. Indeed, we may even see Bath’s potential centre combo for next year take to the field in Argentina. That Eastmond-Joseph axis is devilishly exciting, and Joseph is understandably excited about playing in a new, exciting environment.

“I think it was time for me to move on,” he says. “I’ve been at Irish for quite a long time now, and I’m just looking forward to the new challenges set at Bath.”

For now though, it is England occupying his thoughts. It would be great for all England fans to see Joseph leave his injury and form issues behind him and get back to his best in the white jersey. His opportunities may have been limited so far, but with no giant, Tuilagi-shaped barriers in his way this summer it’s just possible that we might see more of those dancing feet and fearsome acceleration that helped him make a name for himself as one of the most potent outside centres in the land. Here’s hoping.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

The J.P. Morgan Premiership Rugby 7s Series kicks off at Gloucester on Aug 1 with rounds at Franklin Gardens, Allianz Park and the final at The Rec on 9th August.

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13 thoughts on “Joseph aims to step out of Tuilagi’s shadow

  1. Will he end up as one of those nearly men (like JSD). All the potential, but injuries and bad timing just meant that it didn’t work for them. Hope to see more of him in S. America.

  2. It will be very difficult for Jospeh. Tuilagi is the same age him, and plays in the same position, and is probably Englands most dangerous player at 21, and will always play if fit. Unless Tuilagi moves to 12, which is unlikely, Joseph will always be second choice here.

    1. Completely agree. I actually hope Tuilagi doesn’t get moved to 12 as I think it is in the open spaces where he is most dangerous. He is a big guy but in the 12 channel it is a lot easier to take him down due to the lack of space compared to 13 (having said that Carter and McCaw didnt do a great job!)

      1. Agreed. I don’t think that Tuilagi has the speed of thought to play 12. You have less time on the ball, and it is not necessarily about stopping him. It is difficult to stop Tuilagi in any channel, whoever is standing there, but at 12 he will be have to be far more aware of what is outside him. This may change as he improves his handling and understanding of the game; but unlikely.

        1. Yeah it could happen with time, scary to think he is still only 21. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t Maa Nonu mainly a 13 during his earlier international career? Then moved to 12 once his understanding of the game and handling skills had improved. Same thing could happen to Tuilagi. Then again I think it is all about finding the right partner for him. Barritt probably isn’t the best foil for him, but could see Twelvetrees and Eastmond perhaps making a real case to be England’s 12 within the next year.

          1. I believe in his school days Nonu was even a winger! So yes it does seem as though Tuilagi could take a similar path.

            I agree that the England midfield should be about the best foil for him. I think that Twelvetrees is perfect for that. As long as they can work as a defensive unit, and there is no reason why they can’t, I’d like to see Burns, Twelvetrees and Tuilagi given a go. Hopefully the Burns/ Twelvetrees asix will be fantastic in Argentina – and then we may see it!

            In reality that may just be a bit of a pipe dream!

          2. Exactly right. Nonu was a winger and then 13 and only ending up at 12 later in his career.

            When he played at 13 he was often derided as just being a crash-ball merchant. Proved all those people wrong

            Of course, it does help the team that he has such a superb playmaker outside him in Conrad Smith.

            I always liked the idea of having the bigger guy at 12 with the faster, more skillful player outside to exploit gaps and free the back 3. That way the 12 can be used as a dummy runner, or on the crash or to off-load in the tackle a al Nonu and SBW

          3. I agree with that. It was always that way with the Nono/ Smith All Black pairing, and of course the D’ary/ BOC for Ireland. It seems ideal. But to be honest, as long as there is an extra playmaker, and a big guy out there; it doesn’t matter if they are wearing the 12 or 13 shirt!

          4. Exactly. If Tuilagi doesnt get the ball, so running dummy lines to draw in defenders, there should be somone receiving it who can either accelerate through the gap or someone who can distribute very well to the other runners. Whilst Barritt can pass well and can very occasionally pick a line, he is not the long term answer. If we were to go with the former option Joseph or Tomkins at 13 could work with Tuilagi at 12, or if the latter was to be adopted then either Twelvetrees or Eastmond at 12 and Tuilagi at 13.

            I personally hope Eastmond does get a chance at 12 in one of the tests vs Arg even if off the bench, and not used as a utility player. From the times I have seen him play this season, whilst his feet and speed are his headline attributes, I think it is when he has ball in hand is when he is most dangerous as his distribution and kicking game has been top class which is understandable given he was a standoff in League. His defence at 12 has been at times shaky which will worry the England coaches however.

  3. Hope Bath’s pack manages to secure more front foot ball next season that they have this. The likes of Eastmond, Joseph and Agulla are such talented players and seeing them on the front foot could potentially be devastating. Huge amount of pressure on George Ford to get the best out of them though…

  4. I think that Joseph may have fallen further down the list. With the emergence of Tomkins it is quite likely that Joseph could be third choice 13. Tomkins is better defensively than Joseph, and although he may not have the quick feet of Joseph, his speed of thought with ball in hand and offloading ability could make a big difference with players like May and Wade in the team, creating that space on the outside for them to exploit. Joseph runs round defenders and this takes up more space pushing your winger inside and leaving defensive gaps. A centre partnership of 12T and Tomkins could be very interesting.

    1. Dazza, with only Tuilagi missing from the England tour party, I would assume that Joseph has every opportunity to show he can be towards the top of the list. I wouldn’t imagine that Lancaster is considering a pecking order amongst his South American tourists just yet.

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