Three years and six caps later, Joseph can be Lancaster’s midfield answer again



As another RBS 6 Nations begins, we find ourselves no closer than last year to answering that perennially frustrating question: what is England’s best centre partnership? Since 2003, it’s the one selection area that has generated more debate than all others combined, and never more so than in the last year.

Injuries have decimated Stuart Lancaster’s options in the midfield in the build-up to England’s opening game, a gentle introduction to the tournament next Friday night at the Millennium stadium against Wales. Manu Tuilagi remains unavailable while Brad Barritt is unlikely to return in time. Kyle Eastmond is still being assessed but won’t return until later in the tournament at the earliest, while Luther Burrell is hopefully returning from concussion this weekend.

Injuries are a cruel part of sport but the one silver lining is that they create opportunities for others to step in and step up. This time that man is Jonathan Joseph, although his performances dictate that he should get his chance anyway. The Bath centre has been in exhilarating form in both the Premiership and the European Champions Cup this season, as was recognised by his inclusion on the longlist for European player of they year 2014/2015.

Lancaster gave Joseph his first taste of international rugby as a raw 21-year old on the 2012 tour to South Africa, the head coach’s first overseas sojourn with his new group of players, so clearly saw some potential.

But the seasons since have seen the once-precociously talented outside centre experience his own injuries as well as a a dip in form that meant he has accumulated just six test caps, the last of which came in Argentina in 2013 while the Lions were away in Australia.

Now, the stars seem to be aligning – both in terms of his form and the injuries to his competitors – for a return to the England midfield. It is a notion that Lancaster is certainly entertaining.

“I’ve been hugely impressed with him,” said the head coach at the RBS 6 Nations launch on Wednesday morning. “He’s definitely developed as a player. He was involved in my first overseas tour to South Africa and played in some big test matches, as a young player.

“As with most young players, they go through a period of acceleration and opportunity, and then challenges come their way and they sit and reflect. They think ‘I want to kick on now, and get back to where I was’. That has definitely happened with him.”

It would certainly appear that Joseph is back to his best, rediscovering that ability to kick-start his acceleration with an almost goose-step-like motion and ghost on an outside arc around the defender. There are few outside centres that can still count that outside arc as a true weapon in their armoury, but in truth it is not Joseph’s attacking talents that have been in question for England.

Lancaster and his coaching staff have been most impressed with the developments in other facets of his game, notably kicking and defending. This was never more obvious than in the weekend’s Bath vs Glasgow game, when a superb bit of tracking back saw him snaffle Sean Maitland on his way to the line and hold him up to deny a certain try.

“His all-round game now is strong,” notes Lancaster. “He’s got a good kicking game, he’s a good defender, he’s worked hard at his breakdown with Neil Hatley and obviously he’s got a good attacking threat.

“Clearly, he’s going to be an option for us because of the strength of the performances he’s put in week in week out. And it’s not just been the one or two performances in the past few weeks; consistently, since September, he’s been playing well. He’s one of those players that gives you a good selection headache.”

England’s injury issues may just have eased this headache. It’s time for Lancaster to recall the man whom he rewarded with a first cap almost three years ago.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

45 thoughts on “Three years and six caps later, Joseph can be Lancaster’s midfield answer again

  1. In a word…yes.

    SL has become too fixated with the 2nd playmaker. Bosher at 12 (Burrell/ Manu) and a classic outside centre at 13 like JJ could be great. Works for NZ. And why can’t we have a mix of combinations depending on the circumstances like SCW used to do, interchanging Tindell and Catt?

  2. Think I mentioned this elsewhere but all the noise coming out of the England coaches suggests they’ll pick him. Farrell Snr was very complimentary and specifically picked out his collision work and how much it had improved.

    We know SL likes him – he’s picked him in SA and put him outside Tuilagi which could be great long term! SL only dropped him when he really needed to be dropped so it isn’t like he’s ever ignored him when he’s been on form for a consistent period.

    I’d actually be surprised if he didn’t play against Wales.

  3. Well everyone else appears to be injured.

    However England have over a dozen professional teams whilst Wales have 3 sides and a poor relation on terms of the Gwent Dragons. Scotland have 2 sides and Ireland have 3 sides with Connacht as a poorer relation there.

    So stop complaining England fans and pick from the 60 million population you should have at your disposal and that’s WITHOUT all your SH imports.

    You have more living people in Greater London than any of the 2 Celtic Nations combined!

    Hell even then you’ve picked so many non-English born .. no make that non-UK born or better still make that non-European born CENTRES for years as it is!

    Barritt, Tuilagi, Flutey, Hape to name a few off the top of the head.

    And it has got you NOWHERE for years.

    1. Literally every comment you post is anti England.

      “SH imports” “non-English born” “non-UK born”. Change the record mate, every nation does this, including your beloved Wales.

      1. To be fair to Enoch, he can have a fair rant at his own lot too, particularly when Priestland is picked!

        However I do like the way that he calls Connacht and NGD’s the poor relations but doesn’t mention London Welsh!

        Also anyone else for a foreign born Welsh 15? I can make a reasonable start!

        Finally though, he does make a fair assessment of the centres being pretty much last man standing, bit like the second row. All I can say is thank goodness for a large player base, if we didn’t have that we probably would have had to pull out of the AI’s through lack of front row cover!

        Interesting to note that the way the Welsh are piping up on all social media, it will probably be a disappointment to them if Wales don’t win by a 30 point margin again. I’ll be happy with no more injuries.

      2. Yeah to same extent? Really. Name them.

        Faletau? Attended Trevthin COMPREHENSIVE school in Ebbw Vale and grew up in the town from the age of 8.

        Unlike Barritt, Hape, Botha, Foudrie, Fatt Stephens, Thomas Waldrom etc etc etc

        As far as the WRU giving Anscombe a dual contract that was a total joke and something I totally oppose.

        Even the Vunipolas grew up in the Gwent Valleys so check the facts and see for yourself.

        As far anti-English ..I and the guys I watch international and regional rugby with despise the English Rugby team and all they represent.

        Always have and always will.

        1. Ball, Amos, Charteris, Cuthbert, J.Davies, Faletau, Jarvis, King, Lydiate, North – none born in Wales.

          This is such a pointless debate in rugby – everyone does it.

              1. Let’s not stop there. A quick internet search gives me the following who were not born in Wales

                Ian Evans
                Brett Sinkinson
                Aaron Shingler
                Brent Cockbain
                Sonny Parker
                Hal Luscombe
                Andries Pretorius.
                Jason Jones-Hughes
                Colin Charvis
                Graham Price
                Paul Thorburn
                Paul Ringer

                None of whom were born in Wales. Mercenary b*st*rds eh?

                I’m sure I could find many more as well

                Utterly pointless debate. Debate the rules by all means but everyone does it.

                1. Agreed that this is a non-debate. Jacques Brunel said yesterday at the 6N launch that he was baffled as to why so many people in England talk about this. With the rules as they are, coaches will pick anyone at their disposal. Why say any more? I agree with him – professional rugby is a business etc etc. Pick the best players available to you.

            1. Cheers Jacob, I was looking for that list myself to post it here. This “overseas players” is such a tiresome and boring thread when it gets serious. I myself have enjoyed ribbing English fans about their South African team in the past, all meant in jest but the laughable Welsh militants have meant I can’t even joke about it anymore as they’ve turned it into another supposed example of English Imperialism.

              My serious take on it is that I dislike the rules as they are. I want a 5 year residency rule and also anyone who has played any adult representative (18+) rugby for one country is now limited to that one country. I think, for example, this would rule out Anscombe.

              I wouldn’t change the grandparent rule as in a country like ours (Britain – yes, I call it a country which will no doubt annoy some) people move all over the place and even die hard welsh nationalists will likely find their lineage doesn’t go all the way back to Llewelyn.

              All this “Wales is a colony” tosh is only a way for the inadequate to blame any inequity in their life on others. It’s just another form of racism and is a tiresome drag on Wales being a vibrant, modern, successful and self sustaining country.

        2. Why did you write Comprehensive in capitals? Wales have probably the worse record of all the home nations when it comes to picking foreign born players.

          I guess hypocrisy really is the bed fellow of all Welsh rugby fans.

          1. Alan, when you say “I guess hypocrisy really is the bed fellow of all Welsh rugby fans.” you get to the point about the pain these discussions create. Seriously, no one Welsh rugby fan speaks for all of us, least of all those with their heads rammed so far up their prehistoric behinds that they cannot see past their own jingoism.

        3. As you so eloquently put it, we, “have more (players) living people in Greater London than any of the 2 Celtic Nations combined!”

          No wonder then, that it is to a greater extent. See Jacob’s list.

          As for your comments about despising the English rugby team, and by extension the English as a whole, are borderline racist and I’d suggest you take your biggoted opinion elsewhere, such as football, if that’s your attitude toward rugby.

          1. The English team for us (my rugby circle and I) represent all that is wrong with the establishment, the monarchy and the class system.

            That plus the fact that Wales was England’s first colonial possession and will end up being England’s last possession.

            As a truly great and unique politician once said…..

            ‘Britishness…is a political synonym for Englishness which extends English culture over the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish.’

            Or you could say that…

            Britishness is what the English tell the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish to aspire to be.

            All the while the English continue to call themselves English.

            1. OK Enoch Powell, Not a lot of good ever seems to come from those that define themselves by where they come from rather than who they are.

              If Wales win you aren’t getting one up on the Queen, it’s irrelevant.

    2. Enoch, please invest in a carbon monoxide detector. It’s probably too late to stop the brain damage, given your recent comments, but will hopefully save your life.

      Get well soon.

  4. To be fair iv seen th headlines about th injuries but I havnt read an article using it as an excuse if we lost, in fact there was one saying just the opposite in the telegraph. Neither have I read it being used as an excuse in these blogs, slightly ironic though that you bemoan us having a large playing base whilst feeling sorry for yourself that you have a tiny playing base to chose from.

    I don’t generally agree with the whole larger playing base idea either, if that was the case China, India and the USA would be superpowers at football. But they’re not. They’re shit.

  5. So that’s the 13 shirt sorted, but who gets the 12 shirt? Please, please, please don’t give it to 12T!!! Can Easter play in the centres?
    I personally think that if Burgess plays well tomorrow night, I wouldn’t be surprised if SL puts him in the senior squad for the second game. With the amount of players we have injured, and someone with Burgess’ ability waiting in the wings, we could do a lot worse.

    Anyone know when they announce the squad for the Saxons vs Wolfhounds game?

    1. I think with this injury list SL is going to have to pick 36. At least he can tackle, which is going to be pretty important against Dr Roberts.

      Hope JJ gets picked and has a blinder, got a lot of time for him (and that’s coming from a Bris fan!) However if he DOES have a great 6 Nations, doesn’t that just add to SL’s RWC selection headache?? Although with the rate they’re dropping at the moment, we may well be calling up Flutey and Hape by then 🙁

      Enoch has a fair point about England’s talent pool (although rugby is a much bigger sport in Wal/Ire). But the injury list is playing havoc with SL’s RWC development plan (assuming he has one…) And having arguably the biggest talent pool in the world is no good if half of your most experienced players are broken.

      And I’m not just getting the excuses in early, I hate the inevitable “injury-ridden England” headlines, and I personally think even our first-choice XV would struggle at the Mill Stad. The big game is at HQ in September 😉

      1. “At least he can tackle”. Are we talking about the same player?! I’m sure he can tackle (probably looks better in training hitting a pad), but he’s missed some easy tackles in the past for England, and I’ve watched people run through him, over him and round him before. Not what I would want from my 12. Especially outside Ford, who’s going to need plenty of back up from his 12. 12T/36 (whatever you want to call him) is not who I want to see lining up against Jamie Roberts.
        But who else is there? I still think with the injuries we have in the midfield, you pick the best players you have, and right now I think with Eastmond, Barritt, Tuilagi, Farrell and still possibly Burrell out for the Wales game, Burgess is our best option. If you’re picking Ford and Joseph it just makes perfect sense. He plays with them week in week out, and at the highest club level he can. Second in the Premiership, top of their pool in the Champions Cup!!

  6. I am fully expecting us (Wales) to win this. I don’t care who you are, missing so many 1st choice picks will disrupt, regardless of the quality of player you have to step in. Wales should pretty much be fielding their 1st choice XV.

    A couple of reasons to be optimistic though if you happen to be English.

    1. Wales are crap at starting the 6N. Our 1st game win % in the 6N is abysmal.
    2. Wales are crap on Friday nights. I think we’ve won one of all our 6N Friday night games? (France last year).

    1. Anarky, interestingly with each new injury concern for England (I think Wilson is the latest), the chances of Wales win increase just a little. This will put pressure on Wales, which i’m not sure is a position that Gatland likes to be in.

      Should make for some good “copy” from Warren “Fergie” Gatland over the next week or so.

      1. Blub and Anarky – you’re both right, we should win this and this puts the pressure on us. I don’t like it. That magnificent last victory at the MS was not expected. We thought we had a chance to overcome the 8 pt deficit (I know some on here mistook my excitement about that as assuming a win was a banker, I wasn’t, I was just excited that it wasn’t the 30-40 pts that most were predicting – 8 pts made it a real game) but nobody in their wildest dreams expected what happened.

        Nobody expects it again but we do start the game as favourites and to be honest I don’t like it. I’m not comfortable with it. I hope the players are.

  7. I agree with Dazza here, I think Burgess, as long as he comes through the Saxons should be seriously considered.

    Firstly, he has the most developed understanding of the remaining options with JJ and Ford and secondly if he is to be a realistic RWC option then he needs pressure games now to see where he is.

    Lastly, if he plays then 12T doesn’t!! I don’t even think he should be in the squad.

  8. Every forgets that England’s top level is still a club game – imagine if we did play a regional game and drop relegation, and meaningful competition week in week out.? Interesting to ponder Prophet Enoch.

  9. Egg Chaser
    Try being a New Zealander here then Egg plant! You may see Enooch as anti, but in his article, is he telling the truth or not? I’ve had this NZ picking ‘Islanders’ bs since Agoncourt. The implication is, let’s be blunt, that NZ won because they were ‘cheating’ by picking hordes of these Islanders, APPARANTLY more numerous than those of Ghengiz. Like England are doing currently & have done for some time now, NZ picked within IRB rules (sorry Enoch). So it’s pots & kettles. IMO England pick these ‘foreigners’ because they think they’re better (bigger also being better btw) players, but the ‘secret’ is mainly in better coaching. It makes the better players even better. England are a bit slow in keeping up, that’s all (in both picking & coaching).

  10. Benjit
    You’re simplifying. Nonu has more to his game. You’re not watching enough S. Rugby. England need a ‘footballer’ who has all court skills, not a bosher & a non bosher, that’s misunderstanding the game.

  11. Jacob
    If JJ is that good (& I’m not saying he isn’t) why was he ignored for… how long has he been a ‘regular’ now? Why’s it taking injuries (ho, hum, who doesn’t) to push him into the frame? Does SL really know what he’s doing? Or perhaps he could even put him on the wing like that other 1 off experiment, Tui!

    1. Don – because Jacob wasn’t that good for quite a while. His form went seriously off the boil. However, he seems to have got it back and in spades, which is why he is now being considered.

      PS – please don’t mention Tuilagi on the wing, it still gives me nightmares

    2. Standard Don P nonsense argument. He wasn’t picked when he got injured. Then after injury he really struggled for form. This season he has come back to form and been selection.

      Not really sure what is confusing about that.

  12. Jamie states; ‘…we find ourselves no closer than last year to answering that perennially frustrating question: what is England’s best centre partnership?’. Well, a bit harsh. I mean, it’s only been 3+ yrs!

    & ‘Injuries have decimated Stuart Lancaster’s options in the midfield…’. This 1 is getting sooo boring! Everyone has injuries! Ask J Schmidt. He got on with it & won the 6N title @, was it his 1st, attempt? But, on the bright side, @ least we won’t have to endure watching the abysmal Farrell playing there for the foreseeable!

    On the other hand however, it’s also a pity to be deprived of (potentially @ least) seeing Kyle Eastmond & Luther Burrell have a run out; in @ the deep end. What much better NH opportunity 1st up?

    Also, as SL opines; ‘I’ve been hugely impressed with him (JJ)’, if the former has the right structures, tactics & game plan (& please don’t tell me going to use the relatively positive Ford to kick for the corners all game again!) in place, surely it ought not to be such an albatross to slot JJ in. Afterall; ‘His all-round game now is strong…He’s got a good kicking game, he’s a good defender, he’s worked hard at his breakdown… and obviously he’s got a good attacking threat’. JJ MUST have working like a Trojan over the last 3 yrs! Why didn’t Lancs hone these skills of JJ’s when he was in prev England camps then?

    1. Rather generous of you to say that the centre partnership has been an issue for 3 years. As far as I can tell England haven’t had a good centre pairing since 2003 – it just seems to be a continually problem position.

      JJ looks like a top player though. SL (or anyone on here) really shouldn’t have to justify why JJ wasn’t picked when injured or returning from injury and out of form.

  13. Staggy
    ‘All I can say is thank goodness for a large player base’. Right, the largest in the world. Must be the system & coaching then.

  14. Jacob

    ‘This is such a pointless debate in rugby – everyone does it’.

    Thank you. Playing better rugby is 1 thought.

  15. Jamie
    Excuse my wry smile, but, as aforementioned, I’ve endured this ‘non-debate’ since the beginning of the universe. I find it ironic that you (presumably), an Englishman, stating this in light of all the previous comments here and made contrary to the be-bafflement of Jacques Brunel, no less. Could it be some of the irony that SJ of the ST was pontificating about?

    And indeed, ‘why (ARE) so many people in England talk(ing) about this? What, ‘With the rules as they are, coaches will pick anyone at their disposal. Why say any more? Pick the best players available to you’.

    You heard it here 1st folks & it only took a generation! What was that I said about catching up?

    But, well done anyway sir. You’re clearly a gent & a scholar.

  16. Don for all the England boshing going on about us moaning about overseas players, can I please point out that it was a Welshman who started this current non debate. I then pointed out a certain hypocrisy in his argument! Anyone would think that you had a chip on your shoulder about islanders playing for NZ.

  17. Staggy
    Ok, so technically Enoch did kick this off here, but If you re-read my comments, this ‘overseas’ player bizzo is a generation old chip paper thing & yet it STILL arises! As mentioned I’ve heard this from almost every English person (& not a few Welsh) in almost every pub or game I’ve watched since forever. And as prev mentioned elsewhere, it must be a micro chip I have then as I’ve been pretty happy with NZ’s selection policy. It’s been effective. I also believe it’s a ‘cyclical’ thing. A decade or so back there were more players of Maori, Samoan or, if you prefer, ‘Island’ extraction within the AB teams, now there are less. They simply pick the best available at the time (within IRB rules) & that’s it. So as for ‘boshing’, you could try looking from the other side, i.e. from outside in, rather than the reverse.

Comments are closed.