Austin Healey says it is imperative that England prioritise Max Malins as the next big thing in their backline en route to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
England head coach Eddie Jones has included the talented young trio of Bristol full-back Malins, Gloucester wing Ollie Thorley and Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence in his squad for the Autumn Nations Cup, but it has only been Lawrence who has been handed starts in matches against Georgia and Ireland.
And while mooting Thorley as one component for a surprise centre partnership with Henry Slade he would like to see Jones experiment with, former England wing Healey believes the sky is the limit for Malins as finishing the Premiership season as strongly as anyone at full-back.
“I would say Max Malins is the one to develop right here and now out of those three. I think they other two are great players but the competition they need is there,” Healey told The Rugby Paper.
“The back three, Elliot Daly is always going to be in it. Anthony Watson is always going to be in it. Jonny May, arguably, is always going to be in it. But I would like to see those three compete for the two wing positions and see if Malins could fill the No.15 role.
“He has got something different about him. It is very difficult to get past Daly in that shirt under Eddie Jones and if Watson wants to move back to full-back he is arguably the best.
“But I was super impressed with Malins at Bristol this year. Every time he touches the ball he worries a defence in front of him, so I would like to see Malins.
“As far as Lawrence is concerned, Henry Slade will probably cement one of those centre positions, hopefully 13 and not 12.
“Thorley is a different type of player altogether and I don’t know why they don’t think about moving Thorley to 12. He has the size, his power is incredible and he could really work at 12 – Eddie wants a hybrid player, why not try Thorley at 12?”
And what of the pack that out-muscled and hustled Ireland without Wasps flanker Jack Willis, dropped after the win over Georgia, and Bath captain Charlie Ewels.
England’s back row has bloomed into the same level of competition as the locks, where Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, and until recently George Kruis, have been so consistently elite and so dependable to Jones and his England blueprint.
It is Launchbury who Healey views as an unsung hero of the England team, so great that Lawes and previously Itoje has been shifted to the blindside flank where Tom Curry, Jack Willis, Ted Hill and Mark Wilson are contenders.
“He has got to get past Launchbury first because he is immense. Itoje could end up playing at No.6, which I think all second rows in England are hoping Eddie decide which he may well do. It could make sense because he is such a good athlete in rugby. Could you have Jonny Hill partner Launchbury, he is up there among the best we have. Courtney Lawes could be back fully fit soon, thinking of France in 2023 what is he now, 31?
“But Launchbury is a silent leader for Wasps, he just does everything and is a great player.
“The good thing for Eddie is there is competition all over the pitch and it is going to be about moulding that and the team’s style.”
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