Source: Bruce Perkins

That No 12 Shirt – Who owns it?

  • +1

Over the past six England matches these players have worn No 12 on their back: (in sequence) Lagi Tuima, Megan Jones, Zoe Harrison, Sarah McKenna, Lagi Tuima and Helena Rowland.

There’s little doubt that this is the most contentious selection issue facing the management. Of the five only Jones has ruled herself out, having opted for Sevens.

One obvious name to add in is Amber Reed, who has gone on suffering undeserved injuries. The longer she is condemned to spectate from the stand, the more doubtful her reappearance becomes. Only two years ago she was producing some unforgettable rugby with that match-winning off-load for Emily Scarratt in Pau. But time does not stand still.

Lagi Tuima is the one player who still has to prove herself. She has many qualities in attack and defence, but hasn’t yet managed to cast off doubts about the wisdom of her playing options.

10-12

After the Northampton game two keen observers of the women’s game, Nick Heath and Peter Day, agreed that the Harrison-Rowland axis looked good.

Their opinion should please Kiwis, since this pairing resembles their preference for two five-eighths (a strange fraction that leaves only one ‘half-back’, No 9, and one centre, No 13).

Rowland shares many of Harrison’s strengths, a powerful boot, a laser-like reading of the game situation and sound defence. To them she adds remarkable speed, well evidenced in the two devastating covering tackles she performed on Abby Dow last season, as England’s sharpest tack was brought down just short of the line.

Simon Middleton has admitted that he had intended to give Rowland her chance at 10, but Harrison’s performance at Exeter compelled him to keep her there. She rewarded him with her finest performance yet in an England shirt.

With Holly Aitchison at centre England possesses England possesses two midfield players who can scent opportunities and exploit them. Indeed, Aitchison could grace any of the 10, 12 and 13 shirts.

So how on earth is Emily Scarratt going to get back into the side?

Only joking. Watch Middleton’s face as her name is mentioned, and you know it is the first on any team-list.

Selection policies

Over-simplifying for a moment, we can claim there are two approaches to team selection. Either you pick the best fifteen players and slot them in wherever you can; or you look for the best player available for each position.

Middleton prefers the first option, hence his choice of McKenna to play 12 in Lille (the lights-out game), when other avenues were closed to him. She played thoroughly well.

Rowland had little or no experience of playing inside-centre, but both she and Aitchison are instinctive players, with a wide range of skills. They led the Black Ferns’ midfield a merry dance at Northampton.