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Maturing England reaping the rewards of selection policy

Having been privileged enough to be at Twickenham to witness England’s victories over Ireland and Wales, it is very pleasing to see that Stuart Lancaster has not made any changes to his starting XV to face Italy in the final RBS 6 Nations game of the campaign.

Indeed the only change to the 23-man squad is the introduction of Manu Tuilagi in place of Alex Goode, with Tuilagi, like Goode, starting on the bench.

It is that consistency of selection, of which I wrote about earlier in the campaign, that has been paying dividends for England. It develops a sense of team unity, and as long as you have the right blend of carrot and stick, it helps players to play at their best.

If you are able to play with confidence that your place in the side is not in immediate jeopardy, but not the complacency to think that it is safe, then that magic window is where strong performances will come from.

It is for that reason that while English fans will be delighted to see Manu Tuilagi back in a white shirt, but why it is correct that it is from the bench. The right signal to send to Luther Burrell, or Billy Twelvetrees, is that they have played well and are deserving of their spot in the team, however they must keeping hitting that level or look out the big man is behind you. Not ‘thanks very much but Manu’s back now’.

Reflecting on those two England performances and results, and the centre combination, it was excellent to see Billy Twelvetrees start to grow into his role at inside centre. His England career has been inconsistent so far, an up and down debut Six Nations, followed by an outstanding tour of Argentina, and then a below par autumn, he is now starting to look the part.

His lovely kick through for Luther Burrell on Sunday is perhaps the highlight moment, but perhaps the most telling aspect of his contribution has been the fact that Luther Burrell outside him, and particularly Owen Farrell inside him, have been in outstanding form.

There are many factors to Farrell’s form, most importantly that England area trying, and therefore asking him, to play a more attacking game, but also the spark of Danny Care inside him, the experience gained with the Lions and through Jonny Sexton particularly, the pressure of having a young and attacking fly half in George Ford on the bench, and the fact that the England pack are fast becoming one of the best in the business and are supplying him with good ball.

Having Twelvetrees outside him is another factor though, with two lumps in the centre the pressure is all on Farrell to distribute, create, kick, read the defence, and make decisions. Having Twelvetrees outside him decreases that burden and doubles England’s creative resources.

You could say that all of that is the job of a fly half and that he should not need Twelvetrees, but then look at Jonny Wilkinson his best form for England came with the likes of Mike Catt or Will Greenwood outside him, though admittedly Greenwood did not offer a huge kicking option, his best club form with Matt Giteau outside him.

Does that make Twelvetrees’ place secure? No. He is equally as vulnerable as Burrell when Tuilagi returns properly, but he has earned the right to stay put for now, and that is all you want as a player – to earn the right to play the next game.

It is that blend of carrot and stick again.

What have you thought of England’s performances and of the 10-12-13 axis in particular, would you have liked to have seen Tuilagi back in the starting XV on Saturday? We’d love to hear from you – you can get us on twitter, @FifteenRugbyXV, or just leave a comment below.

England XV:

15. Mike Brown (Harlequins)  14. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)  13. Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)  12. Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)  11. Jonny May (Gloucester)  10. Owen Farrell (Saracens)  9. Danny Care (Harlequins);  1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)  2. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)  3. David Wilson (Bath)  4. Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)  5. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)  6. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)  7. Chris Robshaw (captain, Harlequins)  8. Ben Morgan (Gloucester).

Replacements: 16. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)  17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)  18. Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks)  19. Dave Attwood (Bath)  20. Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs)  21. Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)  22. George Ford (Bath)  23. Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers).

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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