SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Manu Tuilagi can play on the wing, but not when it matters … England must stop playing and just put each player in their best position if they want to build a World Cup winning team.
- England can beat Australia on Saturday with Manu Tuilagi playing on wing
- But will it help them win the World Cup, the Grand Slam, or will it upset the All Blacks?
- Changing it at this stage is a big question and it didn’t work seven years ago.
- Changing Owen Farrell back to 12 is a compromise and could backfire
Will England beat Australia with Manu Tuilagi playing in the band? They absolutely will. I was not impressed by Australia last week and England are able to cope comfortably with this Wallaby team.
But will England win the World Cup, the Grand Slam or will they upset the All Blacks with Tuilagi on the wing? I’m not so sure about that. He’s back in top shape and in great shape, but he’s not a wing. If I were Australia, I would attack him mercilessly, something they would never do if he was playing his usual role inside the center.
I would test it with high balls, starters and try to convert it. I would even try to run straight at him because even though Tuilagi is a great tackler, it’s a very different technique on the wing than it is in midfield.
Manu Tuilagi (center) has been chosen to play in the England band against Australia
Switching him to the wing at this stage in his career is a big question. It didn’t work seven years ago and there’s no reason to see why it would be an outstanding success this time. It comes with considerable risk.
It’s all a bit confusing and picking players, even those as talented as Tuilagi, out of position is not the way to build a World Cup winning team.
On the one hand, I applaud giving Marcus Smith a first outing against a top team and am full of hope and enthusiasm for what he could bring. We’ve seen how he can light up any team and he could be the catalyst for great things for England.
Tuilagi last played in the England band against the All Blacks in Dunedin in 2014 (pictured)
But is the selection of Owen Farrell inside the center a compromise? Now it’s a ‘one or the other’ pick in the mid-flight between Smith and Farrell and changing the pattern back to 12 is a compromise. And commitments sometimes fail.
Turning backs also deprives England of a world-class center-midfield combination. Why would you do that?
Tuilagi and Henry Slade are the dream couple for me. Manu in the second half of his career has a total of 12 and the talented Slade has produced his best test of rugby playing at 13. They have proven their worth in tandem playing outside of Farrell and I have no doubt that he would thrive outside of Smith too. In fact, they would be licking their lips at the opportunities that presented themselves. I and many others were looking forward to seeing that trio get to work.
It is now a selection of ‘one or the other’ in the mid-flight between Marcus Smith (L) and Owen Farrell (R)
Smith is used to playing a big, powerful ball-carrying inside center at Harlequins in Andre Esterhuizen. He likes working with those kinds of individuals, but England is not going that way, at least not yet.
So instead we have Tuilagi out of position on the wing and Farrell in his least effective test position. Then there’s the added disappointment that we’ll have to wait to gauge Adam Radwan’s testing potential, who isn’t even on the bench now.
All of this puts a lot of pressure on Farrell and although he has broad shoulders, it is his versatility that is going to be put to the test.
Eddie Jones must select the players in their best position to build a World Cup winning team.
I expect England to play at a high pace and Farrell has to accept it completely.
You also have to decide when to make the decisions as captain and when to let Smith take the reins as the team’s main playmaker in 10. You’ll get an extremely diluted Smith unless they give you head.
The bench is also interesting because we now have two No. 8 specialists, Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds, in reserve, while open flank Tom Curry occupies that position at the base of the scrum in the starting XV.
It probably won’t make any difference to tomorrow’s proceedings, but England must stop playing their national team and simply play each player in their best position, or not play at all.