Six Nations 2015: Under-fire Jonny May faces being dropped for Dublin as England consider changes to back line

Wing's immediate future clouded by Stuart Lancaster's decision to retain Jack Nowell in the 17-man training squad

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England’s attacking game may be on the upturn – Stuart Lancaster’s men have scored eight tries in two Six Nations outings, and could have registered half a dozen more – but there is a chance of the head coach fielding a remodelled back division against Ireland in 11 days’ time.

Mike Brown, the first-choice full-back, is still showing signs of concussion; the left wing Jonny May is under serious pressure after a couple of error-strewn performances; and the centres Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt are challenging Luther Burrell for the inside-centre role.

Brown, transported from the Twickenham arena on a stretcher following a try-saving tackle on the Azzurri midfielder Andrea Masi early in Saturday’s victory over Italy, will not embark on the “graduated return to play” process until he is free of symptoms, and is not expected to train fully until next Tuesday at best. Alex Goode of Saracens, nothing short of outstanding in his club’s Premiership win over Bath three days ago, will be the hot favourite to fill the vacancy, should it arise.

May’s immediate future has been clouded by Lancaster’s decision to retain Jack Nowell of Exeter in a 17-man training squad that includes the entire starting line-up from the Italy match, along with Twelvetrees, who played all but a dozen minutes of the contest. The coach holds Nowell in high regard and considers him more than capable of playing international rugby on the left wing, even though all his England appearances have been on the right.

 

“The fact that we’re keeping Jack here doesn’t mean Jonny May is dropped,” Lancaster said. “But equally, there is competition for every position, which means players in the side have to perform well every time. Jack is an option for us: he has more power and pace now that the tendonitis in his knee has been sorted, and he’s a very good footballer who is strong in the air, can beat people one on one and finds ways of getting himself involved in a game.”

Given that May’s failure to maximise a glaring overlap against Italy was a topic of discussion at today’s group review session, a change is clearly being considered.

“It was down to simple execution,” Lancaster said when asked about that missed opportunity. “You have a decision to make: you run at the last defender and he either commits to you and you pass the ball, or he doesn’t, and you run over the line and score.” Ouch.

As per usual, there are on-going discussions over the midfield combination. Lancaster was impressed by Twelvetrees’ effort against the Azzurri, and rightly so: Brown’s injury resulted in a restoration of last season’s productive centre combination, with the Gloucester captain performing the inside role and Burrell operating at  No 13. The result? Six tries, with Twelvetrees having a hand in three of them.

Yet with the ultra-reliable Barritt back to full fitness and in fine defensive fettle judging by his showing for Saracens at the weekend, the selection debate has a good distance still to run. While Ireland are hardly tripping the light fantastic – they too have played the Italians, yet are scoring tries at the glacial rate of one a game compared with England’s four – Lancaster and his fellow back-roomers are profoundly wary of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton, the best half-back partnership in the tournament, and expect the game to be decided by the very finest of margins.

Jonathan Joseph, the man of the moment after his performances against Wales and Italy, did not train today after complaining of a “tight back”, but Lancaster stressed it was not a cause for concern. Certainly, the coach did not put it in the same category as the back problem suffered by the Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip, courtesy of the French lock Pascal Papé – an injury that will sideline the Test Lion for at least a month. “Heaslip is an intelligent, high-quality player,” the coach said. “He’ll be a miss for them.”

Another Lions forward, the Scotland lock Richie Gray, will miss the rest of the tournament after damaging a tendon in his arm during Sunday’s narrow defeat by Wales. Glasgow’s Tim Swinson has been called in as replacement.

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