BRITISH LIONS legend Sir Ian McGeechan believes the centre partnership of Jonny Wilkinson and Riki Flutey holds the key to England’s Six Nations hopes.
Coach Martin Johnson has only just been able to field his dream midfield combination due to injury, but the pair have so far failed to hit it off and came under criticism in the dull 17-12 victory over Italy a fortnight ago.
Record points scorer Wilkinson received the most flak with many questioning his decision-making ability with such inexperienced players, such as centre Flutey, around him.
But both retain their place in the side for Saturday’s visit of Grand Slam champions Ireland, and, although McGeechan accepts there is some truth in the criticism, he believes Johnson is right to keep faith with the Wilkinson-Flutey partnership. “It’s true, Jonny does work best with experience around him and getting information fed back to him,” said McGeechan, who has coached both players on his four tours for the Lions, albeit separately.
“In the past he [Wilkinson] has had the likes of Will Greenwood, Mike Tindall and Matt Dawson doing that from inside him, but Jonny is now working with a lot of inexperienced players around him, meaning he has had to do more than he would have liked. But in Riki and Danny Care, England have a very exciting base, it’s just a case of developing that combination to work in the same way.
“Martin [Johnson] has waited to pair Riki and Jonny together and if they can build up communication in that combination, then England will be very hard to beat.”
But while England are looking to maintain their 100 per cent record in the competition this weekend, McGeechan warns they should not underestimate the Irish, despite their crushing 33-10 defeat to France in Paris a fortnight ago.
He added: “Ireland knew it was going to be a new challenge for them playing France and England away and after losing in Paris, they will want to prove a point. They are well-coached, very talented and probably the most balanced side in the competition so it should be a great game.”
McGeechan, 63, who was knighted for services to rugby in the New Year’s honours list, joined Premiership side Gloucester on a consultancy role last month, and revealed he already has his sights set on the next Lions tour, in Australia, in 2013.
“I’ll be working in an advisory capacity,” the Scot added. “Coaching the team again is not on the agenda, I’ll simply be giving support, advice and the benefit of my experience.”
Ian McGeechan was speaking on behalf of Land Rover, the official vehicle of England Rugby and Premier Rugby. To win the use of Land Rover’s hospitality box at the England v Barbarians game visit www.landrover.co.uk/rugby.