Barritt and Tuilagi in a battle of the hard centres
Feverish talk about a possible change to England's midfield configuration for this weekend's Six Nations meeting with Wales at Twickenham was enough to drive Brad Barritt, the Test newcomer from Saracens, into battle-cry mode yesterday. "The Welsh backs are big but they're still people with two legs, and as they can't run without their legs it's up to us to cut them down," pronounced the centre, referring to Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and the rest of the red-shirted brick outhouses.
He might also have been talking of Manu Tuilagi (right), the Leicester centre who completed his return from injury by producing a match-winning performance at Saracens on Sunday – watched, funnily enough, by Barritt himself, who happens to be the man in possession of the shirt to which Tuilagi laid claim during last autumn's World Cup in New Zealand. The two of them will square up in training in Surrey today and if the South African-born contender succeeds in doing to his Samoan-born rival the things he would like to do to Roberts and company, he may yet hang on to his place in the starting line-up.
Which is almost certainly more than can be said for the Paris-based lock Tom Palmer, whose place is under serious threat following scratchy line-out performances against Scotland and Italy. Stuart Lancaster, the caretaker coach who may be one big win away from dropping the "caretaker" part of the job description, is looking hard at his engine-room options and could well make a switch. Geoff Parling, inexperienced but highly impressive in training, was not made available to Leicester for last weekend's Premiership game at Vicarage Road, despite a lack of recent rugby – a sure sign of something afoot. With Courtney Lawes also in the shake-up after recent hassles of the orthopaedic kind, Palmer might not only fail to make the run-on team, but miss out on the bench as well.
Lancaster was not in revelatory mood when he appeared in public session yesterday, bracketing Barritt and Tuilagi together when discussing the midfield thinking. "We're in a great position now, with training as competitive as it is and with additional candidates coming into the equation," he said, without giving the merest hint of who might start.
He acknowledged that Tuilagi was "definitely a contender" for the match-day squad, but that was about it. "I'm just pleased Manu got another 80 minutes under his belt on Sunday," he said.
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