England rugby coach is spoilt for player choice
You can't excuse England of resting on their laurels after what was a pretty honourable test defeat to the All Blacks in Auckland.
Word is they're looking at moving their human bulldozer Manu Tuilagi on to the wing as they go all out for a series-levelling victory in Dunedin.
Attack coach Mike Catt yesterday was giving little away on the exact nature of their plans, but he confirmed that a shift for Tuilagi was among their options.
"It's about whatever's best for the team, it's not about developing a player," Catt said yesterday at the team's hotel in Auckland.
"It's about this weekend and we're going to focus on that. If it's right to put Manu on the wing, we'll put him on the wing.
"We've got a couple of training sessions the next couple of days and we'll make a decision. Nothing is set in stone, we've got six or seven centres to be put into two, the players understand where they're at and they've got to front up in these training sessions."
England's situation was a lot stronger than many anticipated after an outstanding effort from a pretty scratch lineup at Eden Park on Saturday night in a knife-edge 20-15 defeat.
They've now got a fresh group of 16 players, mostly comprising members of Premiership finalists Northampton and Saracens, available to freshen the squad for Dunedin if needed.
Catt said it was a pleasant dilemma to have for a coach.
"It's going to be a tough selection, some people are going to be very happy and some not, but that's the beauty about where we are as a squad. We've got 47 [players] here in New Zealand and it will gives us a clear indication by the end of the tour the people who can and can't perform at international level.
"The more we work with them, the more we'll understand them individually. A lot of guys at the weekend put their hands up and performed admirably."
There's certainly a feeling that England are developing into a quite formidable force ahead of the World Cup on home territory next year. They seem to be building the depth and consistency of performance that has been a hallmark of the All Blacks in the professional era and are not so much a sleeping giant, as an awakening one.
Catt said it was vital that England build on their Eden Park effort, and come back even stronger under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
"What you do is build continuity - it's what the All Blacks will do and it's the same for us," Catt said.
"It's why guys who do come in, depending on selections, will have to be up to speed and at their best.
"We haven't had that luxury of being able to build that momentum with the new faces that have turned up. Whatever team gets put out there needs to perform, irrespective of what New Zealand do. They're the No 1 team in the world, and we're focusing on what we can control and that's ourselves."
Midfield is one area where England have plenty of options with the second wave of players. Incumbent Kyle Eastmond formed a useful first-test combination with Tuilagi, and the higly capable Luther Burrell and Brad Barritt are now also in the mix.
Catt said the England squad was now about developing a healthy competition for places which ultimately would lift the levels of performance.
"What you don't want to do is give your jersey up, and that drives and motivates you even more. I remember I used to compete with Will Greenwood, and if I lost a spot I knew I'd wait six months before I got another opportunity.
"The beauty of this England team at the moment is we're starting to have that competition for places, and players do not want to give up that shirt.
"That's the competition, and that's what really takes you to another level."
And that, from a New Zealand perspective, should have the All Blacks very much on their toes this week in Dunedin.
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