England tyro Elliot Daly has already played in two positions for his country in his fledging international career and could line up for the national team at fullback as well, but where on the pitch would be best for him, his country and his future? We assess his options.
Whilst Daly is a prodigious talent and has been impressive for his club for many seasons and the national side since making his first start, he has already started at both centre and wing and there is the danger he could end up being labelled as a ‘utility back’, a tag that has damaged many careers in the past.
Take England’s Austin Healey or Mathew Tait – both players with excellent all-round skills sets but shunted around the back division during their international careers. Healey played as a scrum half, fly-half, centre and wing for the men in white, but spent a lot of his time on the bench covering several positions. As more and more specialists developed across the park then Healey was ostracised and missed out on World Cup selection in 2003.
In Mat Tait’s case, he played for his country initially as a centre but won many caps as a wing and some as a fullback. 19 of his 38 caps came from the bench, partially because he never really established one position for his country.
However, if we take the case of Australia’s Adam Ashley-Cooper then we can see it is not necessarily a negative thing to be flexible in numerous positions. In his 116 tests Ashley-Cooper played 24 games at fullback, 46 on the wing and the rest in the centres.
Players like Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers, Matt Giteau and even Israel Folau have enjoyed long and illustrious careers in different positions. It seems the Australians don’t care what shirt number you have on your back, just as long as you’ve got your best players on the field.
Maybe Tasmanian-born Eddie Jones has brought that kind of mindset to his England team, and his selection of Daly as a wing to accommodate both the Wasps player and Bath’s Jonathan Joseph in the same team would suggest this.
With England already having a number of high class individuals to choose from on both wings, including Jack Nowell, Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Semesa Rokoduguni, Marland Yarde and more, would Daly fit in the team as a fullback?
After Saracens’ 15 Alex Goode was unceremoniously dropped from both England squads this January, Mike Brown and Mike Haley are the only specialist fullbacks left standing. Although Bath’s Anthony Watson has played there regularly for his club, he has spent almost all his international career as a winger.
But Daly is the kind of player that can craft something out of nothing, offer a spark and an attacking catalyst in a game increasingly dominated by better and better defensive systems. Giving him the added time and space afforded to fullbacks might be an attractive option to any coach, particularly when you already have the gifted Joseph as an outside centre.
The coming Six Nations campaign will certainly give England fans a clear indication of Jones’ thinking regarding the Wasps youngster.
However, most supporters will want to see Daly in a consistent position on the field rather than languishing on the replacements bench waiting for his opportunity to strike.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena