New players struggled without Vunipola
but it didn’t happen enough. When Billy is there, it does. He’s their go-to man, and I’m not saying Nathan Hughes had a bad game – because he was actually one of the best players – but he just doesn’t have the impact that Billy has.
That then becomes a problem for the midfield because they can’t get into the game as much as they’d like, and I think we saw that with Henry Slade trying a bit too hard. Because England weren’t getting much of that front-foot ball, he wasn’t able to get the space he wanted. As a consequence, the centres weren’t much of a factor until the end of the game when it opened up more – Alex Lozowski came on, got that frontfoot ball and all of a sudden they were off. Danny Care was a big part of that, too, as the ball quickened up a bit more. But I would have loved to have seen Slade at 13. I can’t remember the last time I saw him play at 12 – he seems to have always been 10 or 13 – and it’s important to bear in mind that it’s a very different position. People think, “oh, he’s right next to the outside-centre, it shouldn’t be too different”, but it really is. This is a fly-half talking here, but it’s like telling a loosehead to play tighthead because it should be pretty much the same. It doesn’t work like that.
With Slade at 13 and being that little bit wider, it gives him that bit more room. On Saturday he was right next to Ford and it didn’t seem to work – the two playmakers cancelled each other out. But having him in the wider channels would be great to see. The fact that there is no big ball carrier in the backs only emphasised how much they missed Billy. In terms of the 10-12-13, they’re all much of a muchness. I know Jonathan Joseph isn’t a 10, but neither he, Ford nor Slade are going to bash down the house. Farrell will, because although he’s a playmaker he’s abrasive.
Additionally, if you have someone like Manu Tuilagi or Ben Te’o out there it makes a big difference, because defences have to watch them more. I’m a big fan of that approach, of having another ball player in the midfield, but having the battering ram in the centres as well. That’s how Samu Kerevi did it for Australia against Wales or Robbie Henshaw for Ireland against South Africa, running these hard lines and
Without Billy the midfield can’t get into the game as much as they’d like