Danielle Waterman looks at who should play full-back for Eddie Jones’ England

Former England international Danielle Waterman looks at who should play full-back for Eddie Jones’ side in her first column of the Quilter Internationals…

Which position do you think is the most influential position on the rugby field? Full-back of course!

I grew up as the fourth full-back in my household, so I was always going to say that. As for the question who should play there for England on Saturday against New Zealand, well that is slightly more complicated.

As for the significance of the man or woman wearing No 15, consider the damage created by Willie le Roux during South Africa’s iconic win over New Zealand recently; or the influence of Stuart Hogg at full-back for Glasgow and Scotland; or the brilliance of Jessy Tremouliere who masterminded the 2018 Grand Slam victory for the French women’s team.

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All these players have a world-class ability to punish an opposition through their running ability, kicking, or passing. The backfield coverage of the full-back, and their defensive positioning determines the success of the opposition’s kicking game – increasingly used as an attacking weapon.

Counter-attack is one of the best weapons to open a team’s defence, and a successful catch and “positive” collision provides the platform for a team to launch an attack.

But who should wear the No 15 jersey for England? Unfortunately, some of the above strengths are missing from Elliott Daly’s current game, which restricts the efficiency and success rate of England’s counter-attack, as well as their attacking phase play. Against South Africa last Saturday, Daly could have linked with Johnny May on a couple of occasions to create a one-on-one in space – a dream for a wing with pace.

This is not to say that Daly had a bad game, but the fine detail for every position is learnt with regular time spent practising the trade week in, week out, in club games.

I think that it is possible that Le Roux is going to indirectly impact on England’s World Cup performance even before the teams get to the tournament.

Clearly Eddie Jones likes to have Daly with the No 15 on his back, but Wasps have both incredibly talented players in their ranks and it is hard to see Daly displacing Le Roux, who, in my opinion, is the best full-back in the world at present. Daly also has the skill set to play across all the outside backs, and Wasps would be crazy to not have them both on the field as much as possible.

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The question for Jones and for England is how will Daly build his experience in marshalling the back field? When will he ensure his work with the wingers allows them to punish teams on counter-attack? When will he have time to practise, in a match environment, his timing for entering the line at the right moment, and then linking at the right moment?

I have never questioned Daly’s ability as a rugby player, but it is difficult to know when and where he can shine as a full-back and really make the England jersey his own.

When Wasps played Leicester at home in round three of the Gallagher Premiership, you could see just how much of a threat he offered. Then, the week after, Le Roux returned from international duty and Daly moved to 13 and lost some of what he had offered the week before as his space and time were limited.

Mike Brown, the other contender, is a great full-back and over the last international season we did not see the best of his play, because he was on the wing. His ability to control the back-three pendulum is incredible and he is defensively strong one on one in the space you must cover at 15.

Attack coaches train their kickers to ‘find grass’, as if the ball hits the ground it diminishes the chance of the opposition to attack from the front foot. However, Brown regularly catches the ball on the full, which is down to reading the kicker’s cues, effectively marshalling the back field and being tenacious in the air. This makes a significant difference in the time available for counter-attack.

Clearly South Africa used kicking to the corners as a major part of their game plan. Was this because they have ridiculous speed to cover the ground on the chase, a strong and varied kicking game from Handre Pollard, or was it to test a relatively inexperienced full-back? Would they have done this with Brown at the back for England?

When comparing Brown and Daly, you have two very talented rugby players who offer very different strengths. Brown is consistent in all the basic skills that regularly get taken for granted or overlooked, whereas Daly is an elusive runner, and has a kicking game that can have significant impact when clearing his lines. If Daly were regularly playing in the No 15 shirt, I believe he would learn many of the extra skills that Brown offers, and with the distance on his clearance he would get my vote.

But here is one more for the mix. What about Jack Nowell at full-back? He is incredibly tenacious in defence, extremely busy around the park, works well off Henry Slade, and is a punchy weapon on counter-attack. Like Daly, he may also struggle for game time at Exeter Chiefs with Phil Dollman playing well in the No 15 shirt at Exeter, but with other players waiting in the wings or coming back from injury… he could be someone to add a different dynamic to an exciting back line?

It would be Daly for me that takes the field in the No 15 shirt on Saturday against the All Blacks. This should help to maintain consistency for England, and his long-range goal-kicking not only can keep the scoreboard ticking over, but puts pressure on New Zealand to not run the risk of giving away cheap penalties around the halfway line.

He is a talented player with a lot to add to any side, but for the long term, needs the opportunity to keep developing his game, specifically as a full-back.

Don’t forget that before the men take the field on Saturday, England Women take on USA Women from 7.30pm on Sky Sports Arena this Friday – make sure to tune in to see if the Red Roses can kick off their campaign with a win!

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