Josh Lewsey is backing Ben Foden to win battle of No.15s

Ben Foden newBen Foden has seen his full-back throne usurped by two younger pretenders but England’s World Cup winner Josh Lewsey believes the Northampton man will return to seize his crown in the Six Nations.
Such is England’s current strength in depth at full-back, it is astonishing to think that as recently as 2009 two reluctant wingers – Ugo Monye and Mark Cueto – had to fill the No.15 shirt.
Now Foden, England’s most consistent performer over the last three years, faces the prospect of heading into the Six Nations as third choice behind Alex Goode, man of the match against Fiji, and Mike Brown, who has barely put a foot wrong for champions Harlequins.
And while Foden has yet to hit top gear since a return from an ankle injury that ruled him out of the autumn internationals, Lewsey told The Rugby Paper that he should still be considered Stuart Lancaster’s first choice for the Six Nations opener against Scotland.
“Foden is a class act,” England’s third most capped full-back Lewsey said. “Starting his career as a scrum-half gives him a massive advantage in understanding how to read the game.
“He delivered one of the best performances I have seen from a full-back in the defeat to Leinster in the Heineken Cup final. You really saw a guy step up in terms of mental fortitude.
“He is a true competitor and he can deliver when it matters. I see him as a potential world-class player and now all he needs are a few consistent years without injury to be considered so.”
Nevertheless Lewsey has been impressed by the emergence of both Goode and Brown, who played together in the back three for the Tests against South Africa and New Zealand and did not discount the possibility of fitting all three men into the team.
“It depends on if they want to play a less structural game with their best ball-players on the field,” Lewsey added. “If you are playing a more contrived style then you will need to use your wingers more as ball carriers or just out-and-out finishers with full-back being more of a positional linchpin. That’s a question for the coaches.
“Outside Ben we have just seen two guys push their claim very hard. Mike Brown has transformed his game.
“He always had a great kicking game and was an astute reader of the game, but now he has also added an extra yard or two of pace. Now he is really courageous in taking players on and beating them which has really added an extra dimension to his game.
“I see Alex as a hybrid of those two. We like to pigeonhole players but these players are all good enough to play in a number of different styles.
“Alex has that experience of playing ten and has a great step and is a very natural runner. The way I see it is that Ben is the incumbent with some great competition now validly challenging him which can only be healthy.”
Perhaps the truest reflection of the position’s strength in depth is looking at the contenders behind that three-man scrum with Jonny May, one of Gloucester’s bright young things, Nick Abendanon, one of Bath’s most consistent players, and Rob Miller, a shining light in an otherwise gloomy season for Sale, Mathew Tait, England’s forgotten man, or indeed Delon Armitage, of Top 14 leaders Toulon, all ready to step in.
Several of those talents were coached by another former England full-back, Paul Hull, during his time as England Saxons coach and the former Bristol boss believes the door is far from shut on the other contenders.
He said: “Nick has been there of thereabouts for about three years and has been Bath’s most attacking player while Rob finished as top try-scorer last season.
“There will always be question marks against players who have yet to make their debut and sometimes they get over highlighted. But knowing Stuart Lancaster as I do from our time with the Saxons, he will be looking at the bigger picture.
“Mathew or Delon won’t be discounted just because they have not played international rugby for a couple of years nor will he insist on picking players who are playing Heineken Cup rugby.
“Those three [Foden, Brown, Goode] are in the driving seat at the moment but it would not surprise me at all to see that change before the start of the Six Nations.”
DANIEL SCHOFIEL

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