Rugby Union

Stuart Lancaster's dilemma at centre

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I suppose as a neutral, you could say the two centre slots for England are fairly up in the air right now, and England have a vast wealth of talented midfielders at their disposal, many of whom enjoyed very successful domestic campaigns with their clubs last season.

England have Brad Barritt, Jonathan Joseph, young Henry Slade and slammin' Sam Burgess to choose from. And, if push comes to shove Owen Farrell can operate as a ball playing 12, an extremely useful facet in a game where George Ford might be struggling to run the show.

We assess each individual option and decide who would prove the best bet for Lancaster and his coaching team.


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The phrase 'cut him and he'll bleed ...' can be overused in some cases, but I assure you, if you cut Brad Barritt he would bleed white and red (obviously red anyway!).

Every game, you see the Saracens man throwing his body on the line and pushing himself to his limit for his Queen, country and team-mates. As solid as anything, the South African born centre will always be making copious amounts of tackles and solid carries.

But I often find myself wondering whether he has the skill set an international 12 needs. His ball in hand is good for a certain style of play, but if England stuck with that, they would become far too predictable, and they need a 12 who can offer that wow factor or win you the game in some cases. His kicking game not much can be said of, as he rarely kicks, which is often an admirable trait for a centre, but again it's a useful outlet if in danger in your own 22.

All in all, in the tight games, he can be that rock in the middle of the park, but for me, he doesn't make the cut. Brad Barritt - No.


For me, Joseph is a class act. He’s pacey, he’s tricky, he makes his tackles, he can pass the ball of both hands, and I think he has the 13 shirt nailed down in the eyes of Stuart Lancaster, but then again I’m not the England coach.

Joseph is part of Bath’s up and coming team of stars lead by Mike Ford, and has really come into the frame over the past couple of years. He offers something very different to the long-absentee Manu Tuilagi. Physically, they are very different, Tuilagi nearing 20 stone and Joseph more around the 15 stone mark at a push. Tuilagi is your crash ball centre and Joseph, not only is willing to do the same, but can leave defenders for dead with his lightning pace and fancy footwork.

I’m excited to see who links up with Joseph, and I hope it’s one of Slade or Burgess. Jonathan Joseph – Yes, definitely a starter at 13.


Certainly one for the future and many believe that he is certainly one for now, and he brings youth and exuberance to Lancaster's side. The young man from Plymouth has enjoyed a couple of very successful seasons with Exeter Chiefs, with last season being the one that launched him into the frame for one of those centre jerseys.

I'm fortunate enough to be very close friends with a couple of his best friends, and I'm told everything he does is to the best of his ability, a true young professional in the making, as equally an example for aspiring young players as someone with bags of experience like Brad Barritt.

He has not only demonstrated his skill with ball in hand, but he has an innate ability to run a game, and can operate at both 10 or 12, and evidently 13 as seen recently in the first of England's World Cup warm-up games against France, linking up majestically with Sam Burgess.

To add his skill with the ball in hand, his kicking game isn't half bad either! He can kick restarts, and his penalties, conversions, and place kicking from hand are up there with the best in the league, despite playing second fiddle to Gareth Steenson at Chiefs.

All in all, yes some would see it as a gamble for such a young man, but against France we saw snippets of what he is capable of in front of a capacity Twickenham, so why not give the lad a go?

I think him and Burgess are the exciting combination England fans are calling out for. Henry Slade - Yes.


Many sceptics were questioning how seamless the lad from Wigan's transition from the NRL and Rugby League across codes to Rugby Union would be, and I'm sure if people are being totally honest they didn't know what to expect!

But I for one get excited when the ball is around him. Will he make a big smash? Will be bosh through the midfield with a big carry? Will he come up with a cheeky offload that nobody thought possible? It's that excitement that gives England unpredictability and makes them harder to play against.

Running into a guy like Burgess would be like getting flattened by a freight train, and if you were to ask any man who had been on the receiving end of Slammin' Sam, I'm sure they'd advise you against it.

However, it is a similar situation to young Slade in that it's a gamble, this time in the sense that he doesn't have a lot of Union experience. But we saw what he can do against France, with big carries and even bigger hits, notably his first of the game on Dimitri Szarzewski, which sent cheers round Twickenham.

I think he would link up best with Slade, Farrell or Cipriani because he is similar to Barritt in that he is not known for being a ball player, and with one of those three around him, he constantly has the chance to be as dominant as he was while playing league.

Sam Burgess - Yes, why not give him a shot, but only with a ball playing 12.


Personally, I don't think Farrell will be of the mind-set ‘I want that 12 shirt’. I think he will be pushing for the 10 position, acting as a back-up at 12.

Farrell is now playing second fiddle to the majestic George Ford, but it cannot be forgotten that Farrell was one of the top 3 outside halves in the world for a number of years, behind Sexton and Carter. He can add stacks of experience and I still believe he has that level in him, that he reached when he was Lancaster’s number one.

In summary, you can't really take George Ford out as he's proved he is the top man, but Farrell can be the man England turn to if they're struggling after 50 minutes, or even in another position, but I think in terms of the centre positions: Owen Farrell - No, he should be pushing George Ford to the limit.

All in all, I think the mix and the depth of the midfield England possess can be oh-so dangerous over the next month and there is a good balance of power and skill within the ranks, and the passion and desire to win for their country can never be faulted.

If I was coach, I think I’d pick Slade at 12 and Joseph at 13 in the big games against Australia and Wales, and I’d give Slammin’ Sam a run in the remaining group games to see what damage he can do.

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