If England boss Stuart Lancaster opts to fill his problem centre-pairing with Bath’s Kyle Eastmond for the forthcoming autumn internationals; he will be taking a huge selection gamble admits World Cup winner Lewis Moody.
While the majority of his starting XV all but picks itself, Lancaster continues to roll the dice at 12 and 13, with a combination of injuries and erratic form seeing a number of options fill the England centre roles.
In the last 12 months Lancaster has handed starts to Billy Twelvetrees, Eastmond, Joel Tomkins, Brad Barritt, Luther Burrell and Manu Tuilagi and still he seems uncertain of his premier midfield combination.
A groin injury will see Leicester Tiger, Tuilagi; miss the autumn Tests, while Northampton Saint, Burrell, is also struggling with injury, meaning Eastmond is now in pole position to stake his claim.
The Bath man has started the season in impressive form but during the summer tour to New Zealand his defensive work was questioned, particularly in the third Test against the All Blacks that saw him hauled off at half-time.
There’s no doubting Eastmond’s class with ball in hand or his ability to make yards in attack but Moody admits there are serious questions marks that need erasing from his defensive game.
“One of Stuart Lancaster’s main worries is around that centre pairing because obviously his potential first-choice centre partnership (Tuilagi and Burrell) is banged up,” said Moody, speaking at the launch of this year’s LV= Cup, with the 2014/15 final to be held at Northampton’s Franklins Gardens.
“Does he go with Eastmond who can be absolutely devastating in attack but who was fundamentally found out in defence on the summer tour?
“I’ve seen him play at Bath and it’s an area of his game that he has worked on. He was more disappointed than anyone else over the summer and it’s about fitting into the team and getting used to playing at the highest level.
“Kyle is a Jason Robinson-style player, so I think he should be paired with someone like Billy Twelvetrees who is solid and steady or Brad Barritt who is even more solid and steady.
“It’s a tricky one for Stuart and there is also someone like Jonathan Joseph pushing for game-time, but there are some good conundrums for him.”
England World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has called on Saracens’ playmaker Owen Farrell – Lancaster’s current first choice fly-half – to be given an extended run in the No.12 jersey.
It seems unlikely Lancaster will move Farrell though this autumn, meaning one of Barritt or Twelvetrees will likely start in the autumn.
Moody admits he can see the sense in opting for a tried and trusted approach of Barritt or Twelvetrees in midfield but insists neither are the long-term solution to Lancaster’s centre conundrum.
He added: “Billy really controls a game well and he’s taken his chances in an England shirt, so I think he deserves to be in the squad.
“But he’s not the future going forward for England – I think he’s a short-term solution. However, Stuart knows that Billy will do a job for him if he’s needed and there’s value to that.
“It’s a similar situation to Brad Barritt – neither of them are the answer but they are secure, solid players who can do a job and that’s maybe what Stuart needs in this first game against the best team in the world.
“New Zealand will be coming up against them and not holding back so perhaps safety first is not a bad approach.”
Be part of the rugby family at the LV= Cup Final at Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton on Sunday 22 March. Visit www.northamptonsaints.co.uk for tickets