New play­ers strug­gled with­out Vunipola

The Guardian - Sport - - Rugby Union Autumn Internationals -

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

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