England tour of South Africa
Throw them in at the deep end
June 13, 2012
Austin Healey believes Christian Wade could be the answer to England's lack of go forward © PA Photos
England lacked some x-factor at the weekend and it was a disjointed performance, but that will improve. Ahead of the Test this weekend, with Mike Brown and Brad Barritt out, the backline I'd like to see, but don't necessarily think will start, is shifting Ben Foden to fullback with Christian Wade coming onto the wing for his first cap alongside Chris Ashton. I'd also switch Manu Tuilagi to inside centre with Jonathan Joseph at outside.
It was suggested that Foden played on the wing last weekend almost to protect Wade and while Ellis Park is a difficult place for your Test debut, there's only one way to find out just how good a player is and that's by throwing them in. He's got that necessary x-factor England are screaming out for and in a game where there are likely to be some turnovers, he can exploit the space with positive chases and stretch the South African defence.
Another suggestion I heard was that Tuilagi may play on the wing. But on Saturday we saw Foden playing on the flank and for the try South Africa scored out wide through Jean de Villiers, I think that Foden was too tight and found himself out of position. So if England were to move Tuilagi to the wing then they would have to change their drift defence to accommodate him because he'd want to step in if given the chance. Sometimes that could work but if you get it wrong then it can cause big issues. And the big question is whether Manu has enough pace to mark the likes of Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen? My suggestion is probably not so therefore I'd keep Manu at inside centre with the massively impressive Jonathan Joseph outside him.
Another option Stuart Lancaster could potentially go for is bringing in another kicking option and maybe shift Owen Farrell to inside centre to accommodate Toby Flood. Although some suggested Farrell was standing too deep on Saturday, I thought he did well and is quickly becoming irreplaceable at fly-half.
While we look at the centre options for Saturday, spare a thought for Barritt. He will be missed at inside centre he has been superb for England over the last year and in the past if Tuilagi goes charging forward in an attempt to make the big hit, then he relies on Barritt to back him up; England will have to get that dynamic right at the weekend. But every cloud has a silver lining - If Manu is shifted to twelve then it'll give England essential go-forward if Farrell is standing flat off Ben Youngs.
Youngs will probably start at scrum-half but he has to revert back to what he's known for. He is quality around the fringes but he has to drastically improve his kicking because England can't get any competition from the box-kicks because that aspect of his game has been below-par. England have to address that in training this week.
Speculation aside, despite wanting to see Wade thrown in and the idea of maybe switching Tuilagi to the wing, with Ugo Monye missing the mid-week match against the SA Barbarians, then it looks likely that he will start. He showed in the Aviva Premiership final that his ability over the ball defensively is top class. And Monye also has the experience of having played in Ellis Park when he won there with the Lions back in 2009 and that will prove to be instrumental.
I have also played there for the Lions, but back in 1997, and the atmosphere is really intense and so is the altitude. You find yourself sweating more than normal and that's the first thing you have to deal with as your hands get sweaty while you're also having to control your breathing. The best thing to do is just get on with it, play your usual game and you will forget where you are. Yes you might find yourself getting more tired than usual but if you're going forward, then that won't cross your mind.
Despite the positives and negatives from the first Test you can't really take too much from the game as both sides will now really up their performance. Come Saturday, England have to go out and really take it to South Africa. They almost have to throw caution to the wind, take a lot more quick-tap penalties, up the tempo of the game and target the South African midfield as that is where England can make ground and that is an area that could prove decisive.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby