England are considering whether to move Manu Tuilagi to the wing to boost their resources for the all-important second test against New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday.
Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, admitted yesterday that the possibility of switching the Leicester centre to the wing had been discussed and would provide one solution to settling the centre combination, where England have a surfeit of candidates.
Lancaster faces the toughest selection process of his England career across the board, with fine-line calls to be made as to retaining line-out maestro Geoff Parling over the available Courtney Lawes, and likewise the impeccable set-piece return of hooker Rob Webber has to be set against the claims of Lawes' Northampton teammate, Dylan Hartley. Billy Vunipola also needs to impress in training to reclaim the No8 shirt from Ben Morgan.
The shuffling of contenders at centre and wing is likely, though, to use up most of the brain power of the England management. They know they have to get this right if the series is to go to the final week in Hamilton. They have a full roster from which to choose.
Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees has been declared fit after missing the first test last Saturday with an ankle injury. Bath's Kyle Eastmond delivered a performance of note in the 20-15 defeat, showing trickery in attack and solidity in defence. Brad Barritt is also in the frame, as is one of the standout centres of the Six Nations campaign, Luther Burrell of Northampton.
"We have got a potential option of playing Manu on the wing," Lancaster said. "That has been discussed in selection. Manu has got pace. You saw how quickly he tracked back when they kicked the ball through [beating Israel Dagg to the touchdown]. He is one of the quickest in our squad. He has not played there for a while for his club, but came through age grade as a wing. He would be a significant threat off phase play. But, equally, there is all the aerial work that is part of the equation and that would challenge him. Defensively, though, he would be fine. He understands the system."
Lancaster has to balance integrating proven performers such as Burrell and Twelvetrees with rewarding those stop-gap selections that did a sterling job for England at Eden Park on Saturday night. The Tuilagi conundrum crystallises the issue. England actually played well in attack, making more line breaks than New Zealand. Lancaster has not settled on the final line-up in his own mind and went out of his way to praise the contribution of the two wings on duty in Auckland, Jonny May and Marland Yarde. Saracens' Chris Ashton, after a spell in purdah, is back in the frame.
"I was pleased with Jonny's performance, as he has got incredible pace and created opportunities," Lancaster said.
Halfback Danny Care, who jarred his shoulder last week, will resume non-contact training today with Lancaster "pretty optimistic" he will be available for selection. Alex Goode, though, has a knee problem and is almost certainly ruled out.