Since Will Greenwood’s retirement and move into commentary, England have tried and experimented with a number of different 12 and 13 combinations. Mike Tindall has been ever present but dogged with injuries which has seen the likes of Matthew Tait, Dan Hipkiss, Riki Flutey and even the decrepit Mike Catt play in the middle.
Shontayne Hape is the latest candidate to don the 12 shirt whilst Tindall has returned from the brink of career oblivion to recapture not only the 13 shirt, but the captaincy as well. Say what you like about Tindall, and many do, one thing he is, is resilient. Johnson seems happy with Hape and Tindall; but it is with this case that we begin to see the evidence of the years Johnson spent sticking his head between Vickery and Thompson’s legs.
Tindall is past it, and although an inspiring figure on the field, he is now way the same player he was in 2003. Long gone are the days of bulldozing crash balls and big hits replaced with average defense, poor hands and a total lack of vision. With potentially the most exciting back three in the World, Tindall, and to some extent Hape, are prohibiting England from playing the free-flowing rugby they want to. Hape has converted to the 15s game well, but lacks the rugby brain and quick hands to play 12 like England seem to want. Greenwood was the ideal, a big strong runner, with the ability to whip the ball out wide when needed and crucially score tries.
Time after time, Hape and Tindall are found to be lacking; the emergence of Chris Ashton’s superb support running seems to be saving them as he is often coming in field where they should be. Having one of Hape and Tindall would be fine, but it is time to see a more athletic 13. James Simpson Daniel is finally fit, and on blistering form for Gloucester and it is about time Sinbad is given an extended opportunity to play for England, an opportunity he so far hasn’t received. Riki Flutey needs to show some form, but he would give more to England than Hape.
Other young options that could be seen are Manu Tuilagli or Northampton’s Jon Clarke; any of these combinations would provide England more defensive security and more attacking flair than Hape and Tindall, a pairing designed for England to resort back to that boring grind it out rugby they’ve played in the past.