SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Manu Tuilagi can play on the wing but not when it matters… England need to stop messing about and simply play every player in his best position if they want to build a World Cup-winning team
- England can beat Australia on Saturday with Manu Tuilagi playing on the wing
- But will it help them win the World Cup, Grand Slam or trouble the All Blacks?
- Switching him at this stage is a big ask and it didn’t work seven years ago
- Shifting Owen Farrell back to 12 is a compromise and it could backfire
Will England beat Australia with Manu Tuilagi playing on the wing? Absolutely they will. I wasn’t impressed with Australia last week and England are well capable of comfortably dealing with this Wallaby team.
But will England win the World Cup, Grand Slam or trouble the All Blacks with Tuilagi on the wing? I’m not so sure about that. He is back to full fitness and in great shape but he is not a wing. If I was Australia I would remorselessly target him, something they would never do if he was playing in his usual role at inside centre.
I would test him with high balls, grubbers and try to turn him. I would even try running directly at him because although Tuilagi is a great tackler, it is a very different technique out on the wing than in midfield.
Manu Tuilagi (centre) has been picked to play on the wing for England against Australia
Switching him to the wing at this stage of his career is a big ask. It didn’t work seven years ago and there is no reason to see why it would be an outstanding success this time round. It comes with considerable risk.
It is all a bit confusing and to be selecting players, even those as talented as Tuilagi, out of position is not the way to build a World Cup-winning team.
On one hand, I applaud handing a first start to Marcus Smith against a Tier One team and I am full of hope and excitement as to what he could bring. We have seen how he can light up any team and he could be the catalyst for great things for England.
Tuilagi last played on the wing for England against the All Blacks in Dunedin in 2014 (pictured)
But is the selection of Owen Farrell at inside centre a compromise? It is now an ‘either or’ selection at fly-half between Smith and Farrell and to shift the skipper back to 12 is a compromise. And compromises sometimes misfire.
Switching around the backs also deprives England of a world-class centre combination in midfield. Why would you do that?
Tuilagi and Henry Slade are the dream pairing for me. Manu in the second half of his career is an out-and-out 12 and the talented Slade has produced his best Test rugby playing at 13. They have proved their mettle in tandem playing outside Farrell and I haven’t got the slightest doubt they would prosper outside Smith, too. In fact, they would be licking their lips at the opportunities that would come their way. I and many others were looking forward to seeing that trio go to work.
It is now an ‘either or’ selection at fly-half between Marcus Smith (L) and Owen Farrell (R)
Smith is used to playing with a big powerful ball-carrying inside centre at Harlequins in Andre Esterhuizen. He enjoys working off that kind of individual but England are not going down that route, at least for the time being.
So instead, we have Tuilagi out of position on the wing and Farrell in his least effective Test position. Then there is the added disappointment that we will have to wait to gauge the Test potential of Adam Radwan — who now does not even feature on the bench.
All this heaps pressure on Farrell and although he has broad shoulders, it is his versatility that is going to be tested.
Eddie Jones should select players in their best position to build a World Cup-winning team
I hope England are going to play at a high tempo and Farrell must fully buy into that.
He must also work out when to call the shots as captain and when to let Smith take the reins as the team’s main playmaker at 10. You will get an extremely watered-down Smith unless he is given his head.
The bench is also interesting in that we now have two specialist No 8s — Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds — in reserve while openside flanker Tom Curry is occupying that position at the base of the scrum in the starting XV.
It will probably make no difference to proceedings tomorrow but England need to stop messing about with their selection and quite simply play every player in his best position — or not at all.