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'He's the best attacking 12 in the league' - giant centre backed for England

By Chris Jones

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Gloucester boss George Skivington rates England new boy Mark Atkinson as the best attacking No12 in the Gallagher Premiership and is backing the 6ft 5ins centre to win a first cap in the Autumn internationals.

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At 31-years-old, Atkinson is a very late bloomer but at 16st 7lbs, he offers the kind of mid-field threat that has made Sale’s Manu Tuilagi – when fit – a key member of the England team. Atkinson was instrumental in helping Gloucester into a 33-15 lead mid-way through the second half before Sale stage a late rally that saw young outside half Tom Curtis narrowly fail with a difficult touchline conversion that would have won the game for the visitors who ended up with two bonus points.

A pass, backwards over his head to set Jonny May free on a 50-metre gallop and superb pass of his left hand that gave Lions wing Louis Rees-Zammitt the room to create his second try in a 33-32 bonus point win highlighted the skills Atkinson possesses along with his physical strength.

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Atkinson was included the first England training squad of the season by Eddie Jones and Skivington the Gloucester head coach, believes his tall centre is ready for international recognition. He said: “Aki’s quality and rightfully he is in the England squad. He’s the best attacking 12 in the league, in my opinion. I think he finds holes, he reads the game and bosses things really well. He is crucial for us – he’s been outstanding – and he’s a great 12 to have on your shoulder if you are a 10 managing the game. I’ve got my fingers crossed that he’ll be picked in the autumn.

“I have met Eddie and Martin Gleeson ( England attack coach) and they like what they see. Aki is untried at that level, so they want to keep watching him develop a bit more. Now he knows that he’s in the fold, it’ll be interesting to see how his game goes but they are positive about him. There are probably two 12s in contention for that shirt and everyone at Gloucester is hoping Aki gets it.”

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'He's the best attacking 12 in the league' - giant centre backed for England

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