Mike Brown’s days as England’s first choice full-back are numbered according to Matt Perry, who reckons it is time for Bath and England to stop pussy-footing around and hand Anthony Watson their No.15 jerseys.
So convinced is former Lions and England star Perry of Watson’s full-back potential that he suggests the 23-year-old Bath man could even usurp Stuart Hogg and Leigh Halfpenny by starting there for the Lions against New Zealand this summer.
Watson flourished in the position for England U20s and Perry believes it is time for England boss Eddie Jones to bite the bullet and promote Watson.
“Mike Brown’s done a fantastic job for England and is a real stalwart who is a better footballer than people give him credit for, but he’s starting to lose that critical yard of pace,” Perry told The Rugby Paper.
“He’s beginning to lose that edge and when that happens the game is so quick now that it’s harder and harder to recover.
“It’s time to give Anthony Watson that 15 shirt at club level to give him the confidence he needs to do it internationally – then Eddie Jones needs to say, ‘Right, let’s get this bloke into the England shirt this autumn’.
“I like Watson at full-back because it’s his more natural position,” added Perry, who toured Australia with the 2001 Lions.
“He is quite strategic, he can see space and he’s got the footwork, pace and dynamism to get into it. He’s also got a better kicking game than people think and he will provide a cutting edge because while England have a wealth of wingers, they’re not well blessed at 15.”
Perry says Watson must now force the issue, adding: “Bath need to make a decision but Anthony’s also got to step up and say, ‘This is where I want to play’. He’s filled in at full-back for Bath but now he’s earned the right to pick his position.
“I think he would add another dimension to the way Bath and England play, just because he’s so quick. If you’ve got a Jonathan Joseph and an Anthony Watson roaming at fullback, who can pick lines off Joseph, it will open things up a lot more.”
While Perry believes picking Watson at full-back is a must for England, he reckons Warren Gatland’s Lions should also take note of the talent at his disposal.
Perry explained: “Stuart Hogg and Leigh Halfpenny have shown consistency in their performances, not just across the Six Nations but over the past few years, but Watson is a wildcard and over a long tour he might just emerge as the best option at 15.
“Hogg is positionally very good and while there might be some doubts about his one-on-one tackling, he’s quite mercurial footwork-wise going forward, while Halfpenny is a proven Lion who’s a complete team man and a great goal-kicker.
“It depends what Gatland’s looking for but if he’s looking for a team that’s going out there to play football at pace and with width, Watson is your man. He hasn’t really been talked about but I think he could be the ace up Gatland’s sleeve.”
Meanwhile, Perry says he would lick his lips were Watson and Halfpenny to team up at Bath, with speculation mounting that the Welshman may be heading to the Rec rather than take up a Welsh dual-contract with the Cardiff Blues if he leaves Toulon.
Perry said: “In 2001, myself and Iain Balshaw were the two full-backs on the Lions tour and we both came through Bath’s second team. We both wanted to play 15 and were highly competitive, but we had a far greater desire to see the team win so we were able to collaborate on the pitch and the way we interchanged worked well.
“If you had Halfpenny and Watson in the same side, regardless of the numbers on their back you can utilise the skills of two intelligent guys by working it out. We had guys like Mike Catt and Jerry Guscott who could fill space anywhere and numbers were inconsequential, so it could work well with Leigh and Anthony.”
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