Rugby Union

England's centre debate ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup

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During Stuart Lancaster's tenure as head coach he has been faced with a perennial question: what is England's best Centre partnership?

Fly-Half changes and injuries have meant that consistency of selection in this area has been far from ideal.

Manu Tuilagi's discretions have also caused issues. For the premise of this article I will be assuming that George Ford will be the starting fly-half, and Jonathan Joseph will be starting at outside centre given his club form and Six Nations performances. But who will be the man in the middle?

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Kyle Eastmond:

The most poetic aspect of this selection means using the Bath 10, 12, 13 combination which has been deployed to such great effect in the Aviva Premiership. Eastmond is undoubtedly the best running threat at Inside Centre but has developed massively in terms of distribution and defence.

His performances in an England shirt have been few and far between, and notably outside Owen Farrell; a fly-half who plays a lot deeper than Ford. Having his Bath team mate bring the ball to the gain line as only he can should open up defences for the nimble League convert to show his ability.

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The issue with this line-up may be a lack of overall size in the backline despite Eastmond's underrated power when facing the top international sides.

Brad Barritt:

The Saracen is the most conservative choice to start but his value is proven. In a World Cup one cannot overlook the worth of an out and out defensive rock. The issue with Barritt has always been his creativity and when compared with others he lacks the x-factor.

However, much like Eastmond, he has only played outside Farrell who lacks the running threat of George Ford.

With the Bath man adding that flair to the backline, and JJ tearing defences to pieces, there may be room for the consistent presence of Barritt.

Henry Slade:

Slade is a classy youngster who demonstrates what it means to have time on the ball. He has a strong kicking game, fantastic handling, and good footwork. He is undoubtedly one for the future but can he do a job in 2015?

Any concerns about his physicality are being voiced by critics who clearly did not watch his game against the Barbarians last year; or the way he shut down Manu Tuilagi in their Premiership clash.

With ball in hand he is somewhat reminiscent of a young Dan Carter, which is high praise indeed.

His current value may be as a bench man given his competency in multiple backline positions.

Sam Burgess:

By far the least proven commodity in the England camp having only played 20 Rugby Union matches, and many of those have been at Flanker.

He provides a physical gain-line carrier option that England do not have in abundance. His offloading ability gives him a "Sonny Bill" potential; but he is far from that level from what we have seen.

His physicality makes him a useful addition to the defensive unit and he has shown good leadership and work ethic since joining Bath RFC which are traits highly sought after by Stuart Lancaster.

Billy Twelvetrees:

The Gloucester captain has struggled for form in recent times making him something of a forgotten entity in this discussion. His critics have been vocal but the fact remains that he is arguably the most complete inside centre in England.

At his best he has pinpoint distribution, an enormous boot, and a physical presence that can take England over the gain-line. However, having lost favour he will have to be consistently exceptional to pose a realistic threat of securing the 12 berth.

Owen Farrell:

The final option that shouldn't be overlooked is the former fly-half shoe-in. Farrell has experience at centre and would be a strong leader within a youthful backline. He would be an excellent help to Ford in terms of game management and his distribution and kicking game would help involve the threats out wide.

Although one presumes faith would be in Ford; Farrell is a strong backup from the tee. My main baulk to this selection is that Slade offers similar traits but with a stronger running game.

There are plenty of questions heading into the warm up games, and you can't help but feel that every minute of game time will be crucial to the players mentioned.

Chemistry and consistency are going to be the two biggest factors. Personally I see Slade taking a place on the bench and Barritt filling the starting jersey, but come selection there's only one opinion that really matters.

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Topics:
IRB Rugby World Cup
England Rugby
Rugby Union
Manu Tuilagi

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