England head coach Eddie Jones admits that vice-captain Owen Farrell is in the firing line to be axed should centre Manu Tuilagi earn a recall up for his side’s penultimate Six Nations clash against Wales next month.
Jones watched from the stands as Tuilagi made his return for club side Leicester against Harlequins on Friday after a hamstring injury, having only returned from a 15-month absence due to a groin injury problem last month.
Despite playing the majority of his career at 13, Jones views Tuilagi exclusively as an inside centre, the position which Farrell has occupied for England’s opening Six Nations wins against Scotland and Italy.
“I think 12 is his best position. He’s not a 13. That’s what I know he’s not. He’s definitely a 12. He can carry the ball across the gain line,” said Jones.
“He threw a beautiful left to right pass on Friday night, threw a terrible right to left, so maybe he’s left-handed, I don’t know. But he’s got the ability to catch and pass. I haven’t seen him kick but there’s no reason he can’t learn to kick.
“We have a reasonable kicking mentor here [Jonny Wilkinson]. He’s got all the attributes to be an outstanding 12.”
Jones’ immediate priority is Saturday’s showdown with defending Six Nations champions Ireland at Twickenham, which could see recalled centre Luther Burrell named in an England matchday squad for the first time since missing out on last year’s World Cup.
Centre Jared Payne, meanwhile, remains a fitness doubt as Ireland search for their first win of this year’s tournament, although their scrum options have been boosted by the availability of props Mike Ross and Cian Healy.