Saracens fan Ben Ireland analyses England's back line dilemma ahead of Six Nations clash against Ireland

Picture: Action Images

Picture: Action Images

First published in Sport by , Saracens fan

This Six Nations will go a long way to defining Stuart Lancaster's England side.

The watchwords of 2012 - "laying the foundations", "needing time to develop", etc - no longer provide a safety blanket.

The New Zealand game, which you could see retrospectively as a culmination of the words above, has just set the bar of expectation very high.

Although last weekend's action suggested a much higher quality of rugby than usual, the Six Nations is still a competition which must be seen as eminently winnable by a team with aspirations for world glory in two years time.

Certainly it is a pre-requisite for Lancaster's stated ambition to be a top two side by the end of 2013.

In many ways, this England side looks very strong - e.g. set piece, defence, the gain line, and especially - and crucially - the breakdown, where the likes of Wood, Robshaw, Cole and Launchbury make us almost unmatched.

The big question is whether we can reap the rewards of these foundations - which brings us to the all-important midfield and, finally, to Sarries.

In a few months, England have gone from having a real paucity of midfield options to a richness and variety. Farrell and Burns contest the number ten shirt, with Barritt, Tuilagi, Twelvetrees and Joseph - with plenty more in reserve - fighting for the two centre shirts.

Of that list, the Sarries duo probably top the charts for media opprobrium. In most eyes, they epitomise the England team: solid but uninspiring.

So now that the England team is looking to evolve into a free-flowing, try-scoring one - where does that leave Owen and Brad? The results are starting to become apparent.

Farrell's biggest improvement in the last two months has been in what was his weakest attribute: the ability to "attack the line".

He either didn't have the pace or the confidence to threaten the defensive line as a ball carrier; as a result, by the time he'd passed, the tacklers were already set to line-up the recipient.

Now though, he stands much closer to the line and looks for half-gaps. His short passing game has always been snappy, but now his longer passes are flatter and less premeditated.

His tactical kicking is still pinpoint, but his decision making has got sharper and harder to predict - making his game control more effective.

And for nerves of steel and metronomic goal kicking, there is no one better in Europe.

As for Barritt - his defensive capabilities are well known, both as a one-on-one tackler and as an organiser. If you value defensive line speed - and you should - again, there's certainly no one better in England.

But it's in attack where the questions are posed. His main rival for the number 12 shirt, Billy Twelvetrees, is certainly quicker in a straight line, but I'd argue that Barritt's footwork in close quarters is sharper.

This ability to change direction, allied to a low body position, allows him to hit defenders off-balance and cross the gain line by several metres, almost every time - even if it is less spectacular than a Tuilagi crash ball.

And his try against New Zealand showed his ability to operate in the wider channels - by which I basically mean reading a defensive line and picking a line which pierces it.

As a second distributor, Barritt is perfectly competent and accurate - the issue is over the way he attacks (or doesn't attack) the line before passing.

With both England and Sarries, this problem has been overcome by having Alex Goode at full-back, entering the line as an alternate second distributor.

The presence of Twelvetrees - and his seeming comfort on the international stage - gives Mike Catt new options to juggle.

What's for sure, though, is that our Men in Black trio will feature heavily in the balancing act.

Comments

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree