Barritt surgery gives Ashton chance to rebuild

Ireland's Brian O' Driscoll spills the ball as England's Brad Barritt and Geoff Parling close in during their Six Nations rugby match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

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Ireland's Brian O' Driscoll (C) spills the ball as England's Brad Barritt (L) and Geoff Parling close …

By Oliver Haill

LONDON (Reuters) - After undergoing foot surgery, England centre Brad Barritt is not expected to return until January when he may well find his place taken by a flashier, younger model.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster had a good look at England's backline options during June's Argentina tour and, even before corrective ligament surgery, Barritt could expect a strong challenge despite playing throughout England's last two Six Nations campaigns.

Along with club team mate Chris Ashton he was left out of the Argentina tour while Lancaster experimented with several new backs and the powerful Saracens centre's straight-running style has as many detractors as supporters.

One of his most enthusiastic backers however, is Lancaster, who appreciates Barritt's mastery of rugby's less glamorous arts.

Much in the mould of Mike Tindall he offers reliability and calm, especially in defence. But, like Tindall, Barritt does not increase England's prospects of breaking the line.

With Manu Tuilagi likely to start, Billy Twelvetrees seems the most likely partner.

The Gloucester man's superior passing ability offers more fluidity to the backline than Barritt, though he still lacks the dependability that Lancaster desires.

Another, more creative option, would be Bath's Kyle Eastmond, who acquitted himself well in Argentina and has been likened to Australian maestro Tim Horan by former England centre Will Greenwood.

Playing as a wing for his club, Eastmond is following World Cup winner Jason Robinson by switching from league to union.

Bath have played him across the back line and see his eventual future at centre and he is undoubtedly an exciting prospect for England's bench in the November internationals and in next year's Six Nations championship.

"A midfield with Eastmond would be a very different one to one with Twelvetrees," said Greenwood, writing in the Daily Telegraph last week.

"What is good is that England do not seem to be creating the totally homogenous talent pool that I was so worried about a few years ago. An awareness of opportunities has brought back the idea of the little guy."

While Eastmond has the positional ability to be one of those challenging for the wing berth held until recently by Ashton, Christian Wade's searing pace and Marland Yarde's combination of speed and power impressed in Argentina to make them the prime contenders.

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

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