Peter Bills: Ben Foden provides quandary for England - News & Comment - Rugby Union - The Independent

Peter Bills: Ben Foden provides quandary for England

The outstanding Heineken Cup final in Cardiff at the weekend may not have provided great news for English rugby.

Northampton’s complete second half implosion underlined the impression they have been giving for the last two seasons: good, sometimes very good but against the very best opposition, not quite good enough.



Much the same has applied to the national team. Given England’s failure against Ireland in Dublin at the end of the 6 Nations and now Northampton’s demise in the Heineken final at the hands of Irish province Leinster, it is probably a wondrous turn of fate that England has been paired with Scotland in their World Cup group, not Ireland.



The latter would really have creased the furrows on Martin Johnson’s brow.



But if Northampton fell agonisingly short of the finishing line last weekend, one of their players more than emphasised his great quality, huge attacking threat and solidity, especially at the back and under the high ball.



For the outstanding Ben Foden to finish up on the losing side was cruel. It was Foden who had cut down Brian O’Driscoll when he burst clean through the Northampton defence in the first half. The full-back’s speed closed down the opening and flattened O’Driscoll in a trice.



Foden’s courage and spring-heeled jumps to catch the downfield ‘bombs’, was superb. On almost every occasion, he gathered cleanly and dealt highly efficiently with the threat.



Then in the second half, as Northampton desperately sought a way back from Leinster’s Tsunami-like rush of 27 points in just 25 minutes, Foden came roaring out of defence, beat his man with a classic step and outside break and released Chris Ashton down the right touchline.



Few full-backs in world rugby right now can match all Ben Foden’s talents. And yet, having said all that, I wonder whether England might not look at something highly radical for the World Cup.



Foden confirmed in Cardiff he has the skills and pace to move forward from full-back to outside centre. I especially like the way he can ‘hold’ a defender by a clever, straight step and then beat him convincingly with his speed off the mark and ability to sway outside a challenge.



Given that there is a terrible dearth of quality, fast, ball handling, running centres in England right now, the idea of pushing Foden forward is one that might merit consideration. At an innovative European club like Stade Toulouse, the notion of asking players to perform in a variety of positions and roles is long since established. For example, full-back Clement Poitrenaud has adjusted smoothly and successfully to the No. 13 role.



Stade Toulouse men are bewildered as to why national coach Marc Lievremont has excluded Poitrenaud from France’s preliminary squad of 30 players for the World Cup.



With the best will in the world, you have to say that neither Mike Tindall nor Shontayne Hape will scare anyone at the World Cup later this year. Tindall, now a veteran prone to injury, never was any sort of a passer of the ball. Hape is a good club player, little more.



England will take Leicester bad boy Manu Tuilagi to the World Cup squad. And his power in taking up the ball will be useful. But could it not be deployed at inside centre? With Foden outside him, there would be some real power, pace and penetration in the England midfield, something that has been lacking for a long time.



The downside? Well, full-back wouldn’t be too much of a problem. At his best, Delon Armitage is a fast, dangerous runner from the back. But the bigger difficulty is with Tuilagi at 12, for all his defence-breaking qualities, not to mention pugilistic talents.



Tuilagi is no real kicker of the ball, and with Toby Flood more of a running outside half, England would be pretty thin on the ground in terms of a true playmaker at 10 and/or 12. A No. 12 who can kick, especially if he is left-footed compared to a right-footed No. 10, offers great value in terms of strategy and variety.



It’s true, Hape is not great kicker either but Tindall is useful in that regard.



No-one should put the family silver on the idea coming to fruition. Just four months out from the World Cup, it would require a quantum leap in adventurism by Martin Johnson and his coaches to put together a Tuilagi/Foden midfield partnership.



But if, post World Cup, England wanted to experiment in their search for a thoroughly dynamic midfield pairing for the future, they could do a lot worse than study Tuilagi and Foden together.



With the likes of Flood at outside half to set up the back line plus the speedy Chris Ashton and Delon Armitage in the back three to capitalise on the opportunities, England would have a highly potent back line on their hands.



Alas, it certainly won’t happen for the World Cup. Safety will rule for that tournament as far as England is concerned.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week