By Alan Dymock
POTENTIALLY AS hard to bear as a quintuplets, more than one international side has lost centre options for the upcoming autumn Tests.
England have lost both Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt for their games against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand while Jamie Roberts is unlikely to feature for Wales this autumn, despite his protests from Paris.
The problem that arises from this is that England will have a less predictable centre pairing during the Tests and Stuart Lancaster has a hell of a task narrowing his gaze.
There is a rolling snowball of support for the hot-stepping Kyle Eastmond at the moment, with the Bath centre considered one of the most skilled players in the country at the moment, with feet trickier than a conman at a watch collector’s convention and his ability to throw passes few would expect. He is out injured at the moment, though.
Also heading the pack at the moment is the reliable Billy Twelvetrees. Considered the heir apparent for some time now and having been slowly introduced to international action by Lancaster, it could be time for him to take complete control of running things from inside centre.
What must be considered, though, is how others fit into the equation. Jonathan Joseph may not be as touted as the others, but he has played for England and he has played more rugby at Bath this season so far, with Eastmond not featuring since he limped out of the competition opener in Newcastle.
Then there is Joel Tomkins. He had to pull out of England’s EPS before the summer tour because of injury and Luther Burrell took his place in the squad, but the strong running, offload slinging former league star is an integral part of Saracens’ backline and he could be the key to offering stability and grit to England’s midfield.
If Roberts is out, who replaces him and partners Jonathan Davies?
The problem is that Wales have fallen into a system of relying on stars like Roberts and shifting the spotlight to Davies whenever someone else has come in. There is less shared responsibility in the centre when Roberts isn’t there, with it expected that Davies can do it himself, regardless of who joins him.
Scott Williams of the Scarlets may be the standout candidate to join old cohort Davies in the middle, but Owen Williams and Jonathan Spratt must also be considered after occupying the centre berths during Wales’ summer tour to Japan, even if they lost that last match at Chichibunomiya.
The other home nations
With Ireland and Scotland there are different problems in the centres.
Joe Schmidt had his first camp with the Ireland squad and while everyone was choking on compliments, so steady was the flow, no one wanted to make issue of the conundrum in front of the Kiwi. It is an undeniable boon for the country that Brian O’Driscoll is playing one more season, but while Schmidt will want to use him against Australia and New Zealand but he may not risk him getting blasted into rubble against Samoa. Then there is the question of who partners him as and when he is used. Gordon D’Arcy was part of Schmidt’s first training weekend and the two know each other well from their Leinster days together, but there are questions of whether Luke Marshall will be used again.
In Scotland there is also a low murmur about the chances of young Mark Bennett, who Scott Johnson has singled out for praise this week. With Matt Scott bolted on as Scotland’s 12 and Alex Dunbar one of the most consistent Scots over the last five months, there is a real battle ready to go down for the outside centre jersey. Of course, most will be hoping that Sean Lamont’s impressive work on the wing for Glasgow Warriors means he is considered as a wing only.