Joel Tomkins states his case for England defence

Joel TomkinsThe defensive prowess of Joel Tomkins makes him a genuine contender for an England call-up, says Saracens team-mate Dave Strettle.
With England boss Stuart Lancaster, right, due to name his revised Elite and Saxons squads tomorrow, former Rugby League man Tomkins, 25, is sure to be under consideration.
He has bucked Saracens’ rotation policy by starting 11 of 12 Premiership games at outside-centre this season, helping the Londoners concede a miserly ten tries as they chase a second title in three seasons.
Tomkins also starred in his side’s historic recent Heineken Cup victory over Munster, prompting Strettle to hail the impact of a man who made his Rugby Union debut for Saracens against Worcester in the LV= Cup just 12 months ago.
“Joel’s done exceptionally well so far,” Strettle told The Rugby Paper. “Anyone who’s played 13 in a back-line will tell you how hard it is to defend, and for Joel to come in from Rugby League, which is very different, and having to defend at 13 in Union, well, I think what he’s done is phenomenal.
“I think the coaches have realised that he needs to play a lot and when you’ve got a player like Joel, who every week is showing improvement, you don’t want him not to play because you’re wondering just how good he can get.
“It’s not like he’s just a defender, either, because that’s just the second part of his game. He’s got such a big stride, can beat defenders and he’s got great offloading skills as well, so if he did make the England Saxons squad, no one would question it.
“They say if you take care of your club form, the country will take care of itself. Well, Joel is playing very well at the moment and England coach Andy Farrell, who was instrumental in bringing him from League, will be keeping an eye on him.”
While Tomkins waits to discover if he will be the latest Rugby League convert to play for England, Strettle has Test ambitions of his own ahead of the Six Nations.
Back to his marauding best after a summer hernia operation, the Warrington-born wing is desperate to add to his 12 caps, the most recent of which came in the second Test of last summer’s tour to South Africa.
“England knew I was struggling with my hernia and wanted me to get my operation done and then come back with all guns firing,” Strettle, 29, explained. “They know what they get with me and it’s a case now of taking care of the club stuff and be playing so well that they can’t say No.
“Stuart Lancaster wants people to know that if they’re playing well enough they’ll warrant a start, which is exactly how you want it to be.
“In days gone by you might have been playing out of your skin but they’d be picking someone who’d been playing out of their skin three or four years before, but under Stuart you know that if you’re
playing well they’ll be looking at you.
“If you look at the lads who were playing in the autumn internationals, you couldn’t really complain about selection because everyone was playing well in the Premiership.
“I’m feeling sharper now and my goal is to force my way back in.”
Strettle’s case is potentially not being helped by Saracens’ shyness in front of the try-line, which has seen them notch just 11 five-pointers in the league.
But the wing makes no apology for his side’s conservative approach, believing it to be the right way to go at a time of year when conditions are poor. “People slate the way we play but it’s effective,” Strettle said.
“You don’t want to shut up shop, but you do want to put pressure on your opponents and the best way to do that is through an effective kicking game.
“You want to play a bit of rugby but we did that against Northampton after we built up an 11-0 lead and let them back in, so it’s a bit of a Catch-22.
“Every team wants to score four or five tries and play amazing rugby, but we have our methods and it’s about making the right decisions.
“It’s about balance and we’re getting to a level with our game now where we’ll start taking the opportunities we create and score tries.”
NEALE HARVEY

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