Opportunity knocks for Henry Trinder
October 16, 2013
Henry Trinder has enjoyed an impressive start to the season © Getty Images
Form, fitness, merit. They were the recurring buzzwords uttered by Stuart Lancaster when rationalising his squad for the autumn internationals with the headlines from the announcement all revolve around the problem centre spots.
The three autumn Tests are one of opportunity for the 34-man squad. They also give the uncapped Joel Tomkins or Henry Trinder a chance to claim the outside centre shirt and carry it into the World Cup.
According to Lancaster, when looking for someone to replace the injured Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi, they looked at "points of difference and X-factor". In his view, both Tomkins and Trinder have those traits. Trinder's addition to the Elite Player Squad was the surprise move with the centre leapfrogging himself into the reckoning from outside the 65-man group named back on August 1.
Andy Farrell is no fool when it comes to what makes a good outside centre and his description of Trinder as a "big box of tricks" is more than faint praise; it is a glowing endorsement for his form.
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Like Mike Brown in Harlequins' game against the Scarlets, Trinder's stock has risen despite his team backpedalling at times. He scored in their opener against Sale and has since carved defences apart and teeing up his team-mates in the process.
But to borrow Jim Telfer's words, "being picked is the easy part". Now comes the real challenge for the Trinder, getting in that Test side.
Crucially, one of his rivals for the outside centre shirt Luther Burrell has been added as 'injury cover', suggesting Trinder is in a straight shootout for the No. 13 shirt with Saracens' Tomkins.
The injuries to Tuilagi and Barritt are unfortunate, but with them comes an opportunity to put down a marker. Lancaster, forever the optimist, is looking at the positives from the situation.
"You can sit there and feel sorry for yourself that you've lost one or two key players, or you can see it as a positive," he said. "Rarely have we had a situation where we've promoted someone and they have not dealt with it. We are confident they are ready. There will be a new centre partnership but when you get to a World Cup and you have to go through pool stages, quarters or whatever, you need a big squad and you have to trust all your players."
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Blooding an uncapped player with 23 games until the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup can be perceived in two ways. Either it shows England are still floundering in selection or they have seen something special in Tomkins or Trinder and will use the two remaining Six Nations and the other 13 Tests as a chance to get them up to the speed expected at international level.
What may work in Trinder's advantage is who Lancaster picks at inside centre for England; at present that man looks likely to be Billy Twelvetrees. Both Trinder and Twelvetrees are familiar with each other's talents and traits having played at No.12 and No.13 for Gloucester and with the pressure on Lancaster's team to deliver against Australia on November 2 with just a week's training as a group, then he may opt for the tried and tested rather than seeing if Tomkins can work outside Twelvetrees. That may be kept for the game against Argentina.
Tomkins offers a different skill set to Trinder. The Gloucester man is more a head down and charge centre, to great effect, while Tomkins is more gangly and offers an offloading game which England have seldom seen in the past. He also knows Chris Ashton from Saracens and understands his running lines.
So there's plenty to ponder for Lancaster. In the past they have opted for conservatism in the centres but picking either Tomkins or Trinder should excite the England faithful, both look to attack rather than defence.
With just two weekends of domestic rugby until the start of the autumn series, Lancaster will keep his selection cards close to his chest until he names the team on the Thursday before the game against the Wallabies. He admits the backroom staff are "some way away from narrowing down selection", but you feel he will have a good idea of who will be starting.
Do not be surprised if Trinder is the man chosen at outside centre. Combinations are key at Test level and due to the limited time the England coaches get with their squad, chemistry is something difficult to establish with just 23 games until the World Cup.
In New Zealand, if the All Blacks lack depth in a position there is a collective willing from the franchises to help nurture that spot. England do not have that luxury, but when you have two players running out week in week out alongside each other and constantly developing an understanding, then the chance to see that blossom on the Test stage may just prove to be too attractive for Lancaster.
Joel Tomkins offers something England have seldom seen recently - an offloading game © PA Photos
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.