Anthony Watson has dropped his biggest hint yet that he is ready to move to full-back for England after starring in Bath’s comeback 27-21 win over Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in an admission that could spell bad news for Mike Brown.
Watson has excelled for England on the wing, scoring 13 tries in 26 matches, in which they have all come while the Bath back has been playing on the wing. His lethal finishing jettisoned him into the reckoning for the British and Irish Lions squad, and after enduring a nightmare season with jaw and hamstring injuries, his two tries against Leicester will have only helped his cause to make the cut for the summer tour of New Zealand.
If Watson is named in Warren Gatland’s squad, he is almost certain to be among the wings, but the 23-year-old admitted after Saturday’s narrow victory – which came in front of more than 61,000 fans after Bath moved the fixture to Twickenham – that he much prefers to play at full-back for his club.
“That is where I enjoy playing for Bath and wherever I am selected I am going to try my hardest, but particularly at Bath I enjoy playing full-back,” Watson said.
“I don’t want to say anything too early. For me I have just got to try and play well wherever I am picked. At Bath I absolutely love playing full-back. With who we have got in our backline I am able to interlink with them more often than perhaps on the wing. There is the counter-attack element of it as well – it is definitely why I prefer playing full-back for Bath.”
But while Watson was non-committal on his intentions with England – adding that he hasn’t spoken to head coach Eddie Jones about his position – his words may be cause for concern for the current incumbent of the No 15 shirt.
Harlequins full-back Brown has not scored a try for his country since last summer’s tour of Australia and, at 31 years old, is one of the older players in the squad that will need replacing sooner rather than later. That’s not to say that he is already past it, with Brown running more metres in possession than any of his teammates during the recent Six Nations triumph, but the allure of playing Watson at full-back in order to bring both Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly into the game will certainly give Jones food for fought, with the Australian seeing Watson’s talent at full-back at first hand after making a late decision to head to Twickenham instead of the Saracens vs Harlequins clash at Wembley.
Brown’s future at the Twickenham Stoop beyond this season is not certain either, despite the academy product signing a “long-term contract” shortly after the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The prospect of Brown leaving his life-long club would be a surprise, but at 31, he is facing what could be the final decision of his club career in terms of a lucrative move, though of course any switch abroad would end his England career.
Watson also spoke of his hopes to feature on the Lions tour, though accepted that his injury troubles this season have hampered his chances after making just his seventh appearance for Bath this season, along with two caps for England since they returned from last year’s tour Down Under.
“Of course I have thought about it. But it is not at the forefront of mind,” he insisted. “I have only played two international games this year so what will be will be. All I can control is try to put my best foot forward, play well for Bath. If Warren [Gatland] wants to pick me he will pick me. You have got to look at it from his point from view.”