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The problem Clive Woodward sees with starting Tuilagi on the wing vs Boks

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by PA)

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World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward believes there is a major issue with starting Manu Tuilagi out of position on the wing versus South Africa.

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The Springboks come to town this weekend with two wins from two against Wales and Scotland. Jacques Nienaber side will take on an Eddie Jones’ England side that is continuing to experiment with starting players out of position.

It’s a ruse that Jones has persisted with in recent years, with flanker Tom Curry repeatedly selected at No.8 and now centre Tuilagi playing on the wing against Australia.

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This weekend the Australian defended the tactic and branded jersey numbers in rugby as ‘archaic’.

“Even if you put them in their traditional numbers it’s very rare that 12 passes to a 13 who passes to the wingers,” said Jones. “The combinations are all different and the game has become a lot more fluid and transitional. As you saw against Australia, there was a strong set-piece contest and then a lot of transitional play. Numbers are fairly archaic.”

Woodward – a fan of heavily structured rugby – doesn’t agree with Jones’ take and believes that even a leaner, faster Tuilagi could be found out against the Springboks.

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Writing in his Daily Mail column, Woodward wrote: “It is going to be interesting this week to see if Eddie Jones continues with the experiments of playing Manu Tuilagi and Tom Curry out of position.

“Although I’m not keen on either of these great players appearing anywhere other than in their specialist roles, I accept the coach is trying a few things out. It does feel like this weekend could be make or break as to whether they are deemed a success.

“The problem with playing Tuilagi on the wing — or at least asking him to wear a No14 shirt — and then putting him all around the back division is the dislocation it causes to the other backs.

“At times we had Steward or Marcus Smith standing out wide and Henry Slade at full back. I salute versatility and multi-tasking but you also run the danger of nobody being in their best position when the key plays occur. This week, Tuilagi will be confronted with extreme pace on the wing and England could have much more defending to do. It’s going to be a challenge if England continue with him there.”

Woodward Tuilagi
Makazole Mapimpi /Press Association

“It could all depend on whether Owen Farrell shakes off his leg injury. If the skipper is unavailable, surely Tuilagi will revert to 12.”

Woodward is also unconvinced by Curry at No.8, who he believes would be better in his natural position on the flank. “…he [Curry] has done little wrong at No8 but is he having the same impact he demonstrates when playing flanker? I don’t think so. The acid test though will come on Saturday against the Boks’ high-powered back-row which operates off the platform of a fearsome front five.

“Shine at No8 on Saturday and I will be much more convinced of his long-term prospects in that position.”

 

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