Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Tindall questions midfield pairing

Former England centre Mike Tindall has delivered a scathing assessment of the midfield pairing of Sam Burgess and Henry Slade that has been selected for Saturday's opening World Cup warm-up match against France.

The uncapped Red Rose team-mates are effectively going head to head after head coach Stuart Lancaster admitted it would be a "big step" to take both to the global showpiece on these shores given their inexperience.

Cross code convert Burgess makes his Test debut despite having spent just 10 months in union and playing his best rugby for Bath last season at blindside flanker, not inside centre where he will be positioned against France at Twickenham.

Slade is only 22 and covers all three midfield positions, but his strengths are distribution and kicking and he will offer game-management at 13.

Tindall, a World Cup winner in 2003, believes both are being played out of position for what is potentially their only chance to force their way into England's World Cup squad.

"If I was completely honest, I wouldn't have Sam Burgess in the centre, I still prefer him at six. And I don't think Slade is a natural 13 either and definitely not for this World Cup," Tindall said.

Tindall's biggest reservation is over Burgess' understanding of the defensive complexities of union.

"I know Sam has the ability to carry down the middle and be that go-forward centre," Tindall said.

"My only concern is around defensive decision-making. I watched him a few times when he defended at 12 and the Bath v Saracens match jumps out at me in terms of when he got caught a couple of times stepping in on a dummy runner.

"Yes you can learn to work together and defend better, but I still feel his initial instinct is to chase a hit and that might mean there may be the opportunity to play around him a little bit.

"I don't have any questions about his skill set or his ability - he's proved how good an athlete he is, there's no question about that.

"I prefer him in that six role where he can stick to his primal game. Yes the line-outs are an issue and that's what England have said are the big thing, which I understand, but I still prefer him there.

"Ultimately with him at six, he gives the option of covering both a forward and a back. You can have a five-two split on the bench knowing he can cover a back row and a centre."


From Belfast Telegraph