- Stuart Lancaster discusses performance of centres and fly half Owen Farrell
- “We need to see what is best for the Ireland game” – Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster highlighted the character of try-scoring centre Billy Twelvetrees against Scotland and admitted the performance of his debutant No.12 has left him with a selection conundrum ahead of the RBS 6 Nations clash with Ireland on Sunday.
Leicester Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi, who scored four tries in four games during the autumn QBE Internationals, has recovered from an ankle injury to take a full part in training this week, therefore making himself available for the trip to Dublin.
Gloucester centre Twelvetrees illuminated a sparkling debut with a 53rd minute try and was noticeable for his desire to get on the ball and influence the game, a feature of his play not lost on the England Head Coach.
Twelvetrees (12 carries) and midfield partner Brad Barritt (14 carries) impressed as pairing but Lancaster said he must also remember the quality of Barritt and Tuilagi in the record victory over world champions New Zealand, when the duo both notched tries.
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“Billy’s temperament to go into a big game where there was a lot of pressure, a lot of hype, a lot of focus on him, to then say ‘give me the ball, I want the ball’ when the game is on the line, that’s a good quality to have in a player,” said Lancaster.
“A lot of the little things we’d worked on it training they applied so they’re clearly very coachable as a pair. We also look at who goes into the contact area because ball-retention is important and both Billy and Brad did that.
“It was good combination but equally Manu and Brad played well against the All Blacks. I’ve got some difficult decisions to make but it’s a good position for me to be in, we need to see how training goes and see what is going to be best for the Ireland game.”
One man expected to keep his place is fly half Owen Farrell, who backed up his best performance for England against New Zealand with an arguably better one as Man of the Match against Scotland.
The 21-year-old impressed with the variety of his contribution: 18 points with the boot at 88 per cent success rate; the long, cut-out pass which isolated three defenders for Geoff Parling’s 55th minute try; the aggressive clear-out of Scotland giant Ritchie Gray to create the quick ball for Chris Ashton’s opening try; and his all-round decision-making throughout.
Lancaster said Farrell has been in good form for a number weeks and the test of whether a player world class is the regularity with which they can produce that form on the biggest stage.
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“I’m really pleased for Owen and I think his form has been consistently good for Saracens since the New Zealand game. What he’s done is develop his game and he’s got a more all-rounded view on it.
“He’s still a young player but he brings a lot of unseen qualities in terms of communication, intensity and defence. It was another good game for him but he knows that world class players produce that week-in-week-out and he must back it up at the weekend.”
Italy threw the tournament wide open with their stunning victory over France in Rome, with England’s trip to Ireland now being billed as a potential Grand Slam decider in some sections of the media.
Lancaster would not be drawn on whether the game in Dublin has assumed more significance but knows England must raise their level and pinpointed the final quarter as crucial to get right.
Ireland opened their campaign with a 30-22 victory in Cardiff and Lancaster added: “Both Ireland and Wales had a real go.
“Ireland were outstanding in the first half and backed up their performance against Argentina in the autumn. They’ve clearly got world class players in many positions and their provincial sides are strong so whichever way you look at it, it’s a good Ireland team.
“The last 20 minutes of games are always important and making sure we finish strongly will be critical in this game.”