England's midfield could change for Six Nations 'game of chess' with Ireland

England play Ireland in Dublin on Sunday

Just as Ireland were worrying themselves sick over two of their three front-line centres ahead of this weekend's Six Nations meeting with England – both Gordon D'Arcy and Keith Earls have been struggling for fitness since the opening-round victory over Wales – their opponents spent much of the day in a midfield maelstrom of their own. The fact that the red-rose problems resulted from an embarrassment of riches rather than a shortage of bodies did not make them any easier to solve.

Manu Tuilagi of Leicester, close to full fitness after recovering from the ankle injury that prevented him participating in the comprehensive demolition of Scotland, was in the thick of a fiercely combative double training shift, as were his fellow centres: Brad Barritt of Saracens, who has been running England's defence since breaking into the side this time last year, and Billy Twelvetrees of Gloucester, who added so much to the attacking game on his debut at Twickenham four days ago.

Unless the coaches get seriously radical and stick Tuilagi on the wing – far more of a possibility in the long term than in the here and now – a hard call will have to be made. Listening to the address by Mike Catt, it is a selectorial knot of Gordianesque proportions.

"It's a great headache to have from the team's point of view," the attacking skills coach said, the smile on his face darkened by the merest hint of a grimace. "Each player has his special attributes. It was great that Billy came along and played as he did against Scotland. Brad? To take him out of the equation would be very difficult. Manu? He hasn't played for four weeks and we need to see him train, because if someone is going to come back in when other guys have played exceptionally well, he has to show he can pick up the tempo and intensity. There again, there's nothing wrong with Brad and Manu partnering each other, just because Billy has turned up.

"This is going to be a game of chess. Our attacking game went pretty well against the Scots, but one of the reasons for that was the speed of ball produced by the forwards. Ireland are extremely good at slowing down opposition ball, so we'll have to bear that in mind. It's also the case that, with Brian O'Driscoll playing as well as he is in the Irish midfield, we can't afford to get carried away with our offloading. It's an area we need to get right."

England released their "not wanted on voyage" personnel last night, in good time for them to train with their clubs ahead of this weekend's Premiership matches. In so doing, the hierarchy gave little away on the selection front. Permitted to retain 25 players for an away game, rather than the 23 allowed for a home match, the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, retained all three centre contenders along with two challengers for the back-row substitute spot: Thomas Waldrom of Leicester and the uncapped Wasps forward Billy Vunipola.

The threat posed by O'Driscoll, the nearest thing to genuine rugby great currently playing in these islands, was highlighted by the England scrum-half Ben Youngs, who is expected to see off the challenge of his closest rival, Danny Care of Harlequins, for this week's game. "O'Driscoll is probably the best centre in the world when it comes to getting over the ball in the tackle area," the 23-year-old, with 29 caps to his name, admitted. "Come to think of it, he's a world leader in most of the things he does."

Youngs identified the breakdown as the key element in England's strategy – an area they won hands down against the Scots, but one in which the more aggressive Irish forwards frequently excel. "It will come down to mentality, attitude and technique," the half-back said, "and while we were good technically last weekend, this match will be a big challenge.

"We know the Irish like to scrap and hustle, so it's down to us to understand the animal we're up against, win the collisions and the tackle-area 'space' and play in the right areas of the field – especially in the first 20 or 30 minutes, when the environment is at its most hostile."


Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine