Oval Talk

What next for England at fly-half?

Oval Talk

Jonny Wilkinson's retirement from Test rugby has left interim coach Stuart Lancaster with a big problem.

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The 2003 World Cup winner enjoyed a highly successful international career spanning 13 years and 91 caps. If it were not for a series of injuries he would arguably be the greatest fly-half ever.

The question for Lancaster is who will fill those rather significantly-sized boots at fly-half?

Certainly, Toby Flood is not his heir, or at least not on current form. Flood played 12 of England's 14 Tests prior to the World Cup and he failed to cement his place in the team. The problem with Flood he is too predictable; he likes to play the gain-line game but all too often he becomes isolated and the opposing defence snuff him out.

Flood lacks the acceleration and side-step to create space and pull defenders out of position to make his gain-line game work on a consistent basis. Wilkinson and even Ireland's Ronan O'Gara are no quicker but they do offer variety, which keeps opponents guessing.

Flood's passing can be exceptional at times but he is not in Wilkinson's league when it comes to decision making and precision. The Leicester Tigers No.10 needs to find some confidence and improve his form if he wants to be anything more than a squad player.

He is a member of what is fast becoming known as the 'lost generation' of English fly-halfs. There are also Danny Cipriani, Ryan Lamb and Shane Geraghty who all once promised so much.

Looking at the next potential young stars coming through there is George Ford, the IRB's Young Player of the Year, and Rory Clegg at Harlequins but as neither are starting for their clubs it is unlikely they are ready for the national set-up.

So for the short-term England's best viable option is Charlie Hodgson who looks like a man reborn at Saracens. His style of play and distribution is perfect for an England team who no longer possess a powerful pack.

The only issue with Hodgson is that his kicking comes into question when put under pressure but his understudy at Saracens Owen Farrell showed in last season's Premiership final against Leicester he certainly can.

If England had Hodgson as fly-half and Farrell as his understudy it would leave Saracens short but would set up the national team for the short term and the long term.

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