It is hard to believe that Harry Mallinder is only 20 years old given his maturity and composure on the pitch; indeed the 6ft 5in Northampton Saints man is quickly coming to the forefront of Eddie Jones’ mind, despite not being selected for the 45-man extended squad for the November internationals.
Mallinder was one of the standout players of the under-20 World Championships, spending most of the time in the 10 shirt. Given that he has only started one of his 22 Northampton games at fly half, this showed his perhaps unique versatility.
But in the most recent England extended training squad selection last month, Jones has left him out, giving places to uncapped Joe Marchant and Ben Te’o. Te’o has been in and around the squad before, having toured Australia with the side in the summer, but Marchant seems like a strange decision given Mallinder’s omission.
The Harlequins man was also in the victorious England under-20s squad, scoring four tries throughout the tournament, and has played well so far this season.
And although he doesn’t make the squad this time, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that an England cap is not too far away, but the only question is where he will play? The inside centre position has been a major talking point of late for all involved in English rugby. The Ford-Farrell axis aside, there has not been a solid, all-out 12 to fill that gap since 2003. Lancaster’s solution, somewhat adopted by Jones, was to play a second distributor at 12.
With Jones recently saying he’d “never seen a more talented fly-half (than Ford),” and the irresistible international form of Owen Farrell before his injury, it seems unlikely this would be changed given England’s recent record. Mallinder does have the Farrell mould of being big and skilful, but if this position is filled, where could he fit? He has also spent much of his time at fullback, covering Ben Foden while he was injured.
Again, this is not a position of weakness for England. Brown’s rugged reliability at the back has been a hallmark of England’s form of late, and Alex Goode’s abilities needs not to be mentioned, thus Mallinder would fall to third in the pecking order in this position.
So where to play him? Well, if he does deserve to play it should be at centre, whether that is at inside or he starts to compete with Joseph, Daly and potentially Slade for the outside centre slot, it has to be in the centres.
I think that a start is still a long way off, but like Beauden Barrett was considered an impact player from the bench for the All Blacks, this is where I see Mallinder, and despite not making the squad this time, it is not a massive leap to imagine him on the bench for future matches.
Oscar Reilly, Pundit Arena
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