Robinson should be centre of attention
March 19, 2003
Jason Robinson could be used in the centres, rather than on the wing or fullback © Getty Images
When Clive Woodward first took over as England coach/manager he was refreshingly enthusiastic but horribly naïve and far too gung ho for his own good.
First there was the ridiculous over confidence when he took a group second and third choice players, most of them scarcely out of their nappies, on the 'tour from Hell' in 1998. When they were slaughtered by the southern hemisphere giants - record defeats from Australia and New Zealand - he asked people to, 'Judge me on the World Cup.'
He must be thanking his lucky stars they did not take him at his word.
Now that he has a team which really does look capable of beating the world we see a far more relaxed and composed Woodward. All the hype has been replaced by substance. The confidence is real.
You have only to look at the latest England selection to see why. 'This is arguably the strongest side I've put out in the championship,' he said after announcing the side to face Scotland. 'Arguably' emphasises just how much he is picking from strength.
There are quality players queuing up for a place in every position bar one. I am still not sure about the centre combination which is why I would have picked Jason Robinson at outside centre against the Scots.
That would have been tough on Mike Tindall who has only just recovered form and fitness and certainly looked the part against Italy but we know what he has to offer - he is a good, honest, powerful, predictable, battering ram who lacks creativity - and with England short on penetration in midfield there was the chance to try something different.
Ironically, Woodward almost went for Robinson at centre in the same match two years ago. He had played there for Sale against Bristol a week or so before with devastating effect, twice dumping Australian World Cup winner, Jason Little, on his backside to score one try and create another.
According to England insiders Robinson was in Woodward's team at the beginning of the week only to be relegated to the bench when the team was announced. He came on to replace Mike Catt for the last 20 minutes with Scotland well beaten and one dazzling run presented Will Greenwood with a try on a platter but we have never seen the experiment repeated.
That seems strange because nobody in the world can touch him when it comes to beating a man and in the ever more crowded mid-field that is a priceless quality. When he takes the ball behind the rest of the team at full-back he invariably slips one or two men but is eventually swallowed up, when he does it against a single line of defence it is devastating.
Just remember the try against France last season when he appeared on the blind-side from a set scrum. The French must have known it was the likely point of attack but were powerless to do anything about it.
The only possible weakness in Robinson's game is a lack of straight-line pace over 60 or 70 yards rather than the first 20. That could be a factor in finishing from the wing (although his foot speed at close quarters more than makes up for it) but would not matter in the centre. Having made the hole there would always be a support runner - wing or full-back - to score the try.
'I don't care where Jason plays as long as he's on the pitch,' said Woodward yesterday. 'As long as there are quality full-backs around to take the No. 15 shirt for England he can play on the wing.'
You also have any number of quality wings, Clive, so think even more laterally and give him a run in the centre. You will not regret it!
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh
"Some people have it from day one and Brian did." Tom Hamilton talks to the two players who made their Ireland debuts alongside Brian O'Driscoll back in June 1999
Despite having lost all four of their 2014 Six Nations games, the future of Italian rugby is bright with the team showing a new youthful core, argues Enrico Borra
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column