Jeremy Guscott column: Danny Care can make my backline fire for new-look England

Danny CareThe return of Manu Tuilagi for Leicester yesterday is a huge boost for Eddie Jones before he names his Six Nations training squad this week. The new head coach has a number of midfield options available and it’s crucial he finds the right balance at 10, 12 and 13.
It’s question of a number of elements: who is playing well and has current form, who has experience at the top level and how much weight do you put on that experience if the player in question is either short of fitness or not playing at the top of his game – like Tuilagi?
Those are the little dilemmas that will be floating around and thickening the selection plot – and Jones must get it right. Whether he is guided by his coaches Paul Gustard and Steve Borthwick we are yet to know, but it will be interesting when it comes to the debate about Brad Barritt or Luther Burrell because I see only one of those making the squad.
The guys that have played really well so far this season are Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Danny Care, Ben Youngs, Alex Goode and Chris Ashton – but have they done enough to force their way in?
Ashton has been scoring a lot of tries in a Sarries side riding high and full of confidence. However, his defence, although vastly improved on a few years ago, is still a concern and Jones will likely be wary of throwing him back in knowing one missed tackle at this level could be a try. No matter how many tries he scores, his defence must be watertight.
This is the thing Jones must really look at when selecting his wings: who is really good at the aerial battle both in attack and defence? It is a winger’s job to score a try – that’s a given like a prop pushing in the scrum and lifting at the lineout – and special wingers not only score when the opportunity presents itself but also when you think it’s impossible to score.
Ashton’s unique point of difference is support play – no-one else in the league has an eye for a line like he delivers – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the mix. As with the back-three, the entire backline has to have a balance and with Jones’ apparently preferred No.12 Henry Slade injured, it brings greater challenges.
There is talk of playing George Ford at 10 with Farrell at 12 but I don’t see the balance there. Farrell is the form fly-half in the league at the moment and to ask him to play 12 at international level when you have genuine inside-centres playing well seems unnecessary. Particularly so, as Farrell isn’t known for his wiping kicks to the corners, or towering up-and-unders or decisive breaks and offloads, or crashing over the gainline.
It seems speculative to put him at 12. I would prefer to see Burrell or even Brad Barritt in there. Barritt works hard at his game and has bounced back from a poor World Cup. But he has not smashed the door down saying ‘I am so much better’. Farrell is the only one who seems to be ahead of his rivals at the moment. Burrell has been tidy but with Gustard on board, it’s likely Barritt will get the nod.
The scrum-halves are all playing well for their clubs and Jones could really go for any of Care, Youngs, Richard Wigglesworth or Joe Simpson. The crucial thing nowadays for a No.9 at the top level is box-kicking and Simpson has been working very hard on that part of his game. Care has also improved and they both realise now that most international teams play this style.
It’s all very well playing a fast-paced, counter-attacking style for your club but you need to adapt and prove you can pull off those pressure-relieving kicks accurately and consistently, otherwise it puts too much pressure on the 10, or even 15, to step in. Those pin-point kicks let others come into the game and give you attacking options. Without that basic skill, your team has one less option. For me, Simpson has been putting in those towering high kicks and he’s definitely good enough for England. But I would go for Care for the opener with Scotland.
Care’s kicking game has been scrutinised in recent seasons but he has responded well to criticism and developed his skill-set. Wigglesworth got the nod for the World Cup games because of that one simple skill and Care has wised up to what is needed.
With Jonny May missing the remainder of the season, the wings look like being Jack Nowell (injury permitting) and Anthony Watson, with Marland Yarde, Semesa Rokoduguni, Ashton and Matt Banahan the other options. I’d like to see Rokoduguni in there. He’s a powerful runner who loves beating players and making yards. Like Banahan, Rokoduguni also gives you another carrier in the tight to take pressure off the forwards in your own half to hit up and getover the gainline.
Yarde could do a similar job but he’s not been involved for so long now. He was outstanding on that New Zealand tour in 2014 but he really needs to press his case at Quins to get back in the mix.
Full-back is such an important dynamic for the team and with the competition for the high ball so crucial these days, Mike Brown is nailed on at No.15. He’s by far our best player in the aerial combat and counter-attacking is a real strength of his. It’s very different with Alex Goode.
Goode is a tidy player with a rounded skillset and could easily play 10, 12 or 15. But the way Saracens play limits his counter-attacking options. He keeps things basic whereas Brown makes his mark by taking those high balls and making those bustling moves up the middle.
If Jones wants to adopt more kicking, Goode is the man. Brown has a big boot but it’s not as accurate as Goode’s. But for me the counter-attacking dynamic gets Brown the nod still. His instinct is generally to have a go and Quins have built their reputation on that, while Goode likes to smash the ball back down there and play the Sarries way in the opponent’s half.
A lot will depend on Tuilagi’s form and fitness but if the Leicester centre is ready to play, here’s my backline to face Scotland on February 7: Danny Care, Owen Farrell, Semesa Rokoduguni, Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Mike Brown.

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