Who former Test centre Allen would select in England's midfield
England centre Anthony Allen believes the “door is open” for Dan Kelly to become Steve Borthwick’s midfield general for years to come.
Inside centre has been a problem position for England for a long time with Owen Farrell, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Ollie Lawrence and Kelly – on one occasion against Canada in June 2021 – having worn the shirt since the 2019 World Cup final.
With George Ford fit and back on top of his game, Farrell may be forced to revert back to inside centre, where he started the opening game of the Six Nations as Joe Marchant’s midfield partner, to be guaranteed a place in the England starting XV at this year’s World Cup.
But beyond that, Allen sees Leicester man Kelly as the man to give England both the presence and cutting edge they need to move their game forward.
“The door is wide open for Dan Kelly,” said Allen, a coaching consultant with title-winning Loughborough University and Cambridge RFC. “As you saw from his pass for the try at the weekend (v Sale), he has the ability to move the ball.
“He can carry the ball into contact, defensively he holds up strongly and he has the ability to help the 10.
“10s are worried about the ruck and the ball and what’s in front of them, the backfield and space, but they need calls fed into them about shape and the way the team is playing and he clearly does that in a Leicester shirt.
“Also, he knows Steve (Borthwick) and the rest of the Leicester coaches now with England know him and obviously like him, so that is a big help.
“You’ve seen it already with Dan Cole getting brought back into the fray.”
Allen rates Seb Atkinson, from another of his former club’s in Gloucester, and also thinks that Northampton’s Fraser Dingwall, who he worked with at England U20s in 2018, has been unlucky not to get a shot.
But other than those two and Kelly, Allen doesn’t feel there are too many obvious options available to Borthwick.
Rather than see this as a concern, he feels it will help England get some much-needed stability in midfield.
“If that is the case, then actually you don’t have lots of chopping and changing going on.
“The thing that did me was I got my two caps and then the coach got sacked and I was out.
“If you haven’t got a lot of options you need to decide who is the best one or who are the best two for the position and give them time in the shirt to develop.
“I remember watching (James) O’Connor play for Australia and by the time he’d got to 20, he had 25-30 caps. As a result of that he looked so comfortable at such a young age.
“Matt Giteau talked about it. He played his first game and was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t do this, I am well off the pace’. But all of a sudden he realised how hard he needed to work.
“Is Freddie Steward the best fullback? Yes. Well, get him in the shirt and he stays in the shirt and he has played loads, looks like a seasoned pro and he still only early 20s.”
Allen speaks from experience when it comes to the vagaries of selection. He got his big chance against the All Blacks, aged just 20, but was culled after England lost to Argentina for the first time a week later and was never seen again.
History is now repeating itself. As many as 13 different centre combinations have been deployed by England post-RWC 2019 with the longest run of unbroken games by any one partnership amounting to just three.
Allen would go for Kelly and Tuilagi initially, with Lawrence coming in at 13 once he has ironed out some areas of his game.
“If he can stay fit, I’d have Manu for a season or two seasons and then get Lawrence in with Kelly. I think those two (Kelly/Lawrence) would be a pretty dangerous combination. But there’s no doubt there is one area of his game he needs to improve.
“There is no question Lawrence is very good going forward and with the ball, it is on the other side where he needs to have more of an influence.
“If you are comparing him to Manu, defensively he probably doesn’t give you as much. That would be my broad look at it.
“People might say that’s really negative but actually, when you are playing Ireland, France and New Zealand, defensively you have to be very dominant in the collisions and winning the big moments.”
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