Just like in the first test at Eden Park, Stuart Lancaster is faced with a selection headache before he finalises his England team for the coming weekend's grudge match. But, unlike last time, this headache is a welcomed one.
Lancaster faces the toughest selection process of his career as England head coach, with a full roster back in training including the Northampton and Saracens contingencies, but after a supposedly second-string side put in such a strong performance on Saturday, there are hard choices to be made across the board.
Perhaps the most difficult of these choices comes in the centres, with Billy Twelvetrees back from injury and Luther Burrell back training after his success with Northampton in the Premiership final. The duo proved a very successful pairing in the Six Nations, but Kyle Eastmond had a fantastic game on Saturday, solid in defence and exciting in attack, with that magical step which reminds you of the great Jason Robinson. Manu Tuilagi, on the other hand, simply has to be in the team, being one the most dangerous players with the ball in hand in the world, not just for England.
The solution could be moving Tuilagi to the wing, a position where he has played several times for Leicester, but never for England. This would mean keeping Billy Twelvetrees at inside centre which is vital considering his standing as the best ball-playing centre in the country, and Burrell at outside centre, allowing England to have their best backs all on the pitch whilst keeping the destruction of Tuilagi and Burrell on the pitch.
Lancaster admitted that Tuilagi on the wing is definitely a possibility: “We have got a potential option of playing Manu on the wing. That has been discussed in selection. We have not done that yet but that is certainly part of one thing that could happen. All options are open.
“Manu has certainly got pace. You saw how quickly he tracked back when they kicked the ball through [beating Israel Dagg to the touchdown]. He is one of the quickest in our squad. He has not played there for a while for his club but came through age grade as a wing.
"He would be a significant threat off phase play. But, equally, there is all the aerial work that is part of the equation and that that would challenge him. Defensively, though, he would be fine. He understands the system. But all options are open.”
There is reason to think that Tuilagi may not be as effective on the wing, with his crash balls off the fly-half being a key weapon in England's attack, but Lancaster disagrees again. “The way modern wings are used, like Julian Savea, they create mayhem from the wing and I’m sure Manu could do the same. And you’ve got to look at what centre options get opened up for us then.”
The battle for centre is just one of many which Lancaster and co. face before the team is finalised on Wednesday night, but it is the most significant if England are to win in the all-important test on Saturday and level this intriguing series.
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