Rugby World Cup: England still searching for their perfect No 12

It is hardly a new problem as England have searched in vain for a replacement since World Cup winner Will Greenwood left the scene in 2004.

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England have searched far and wide to fill the vital role of inside centre, but with the sharp end of the rugby World Cup fast approaching coach Martin Johnson still has to solve the puzzle of the 'perfect 12'.

Two tries for Shontayne Hape in Sunday's 41-10 victory over Georgia put the rugby league convert back in the mix after last season's regular starter lost his way with some poor displays in the August warm-ups.

England had responded to that dip by switching long-time outside centre Mike Tindall to 12 and bringing in Manu Tuilagi to 13 — a position the 20-year-old seems to have already made his own after three tries in his four internationals.

Now, for the remaining Pool B games against Romania and Scotland and into the knockout phase, manager Martin Johnson has to decide which way to go.

It is hardly a new problem as England have searched in vain for a replacement since World Cup winner Will Greenwood left the scene in 2004.

Mike Catt, Andy Farrell, Olly Barkley, Matthew Tait, James Simpson-Daniel, Henry Paul, Shane Geraghty, David Strettle, Ricky Flutey, Matt Banahan, Toby Flood and even Jonny Wilkinson have been tried out with varying degrees of success and longevity.

It is little surprise that few of them have been able to make the shirt their own when listening to the demands of England's current attack coach Brian Smith.

"It is a real key position," the former dual-code, dual-country international told reporters on Monday. "You want someone who's got good distribution, ideally a kicker, but if you look globally now at the shape and size of 12s they have also got to have some bump. You want another organiser but also a ball carrier and he also has to be a big defensive player.

"If you play a quick back three like England we need to get your punch from midfield so ideally you are looking at your 12 to be the perfect player.

"It's very difficult to have the complete game, there are not many in the world who do."

Smith was quick to praise fellow league convert Hape, who had not scored a try in his previous 12 internationals before his double on Sunday.

"He has been the most criticised player since I've been with England and some of it's been over the top," he said. "He has put his hand up in big games, he has been outstanding for us when we were under a lot of physical pressure and when you're playing big, powerful teams you need players who are prepared to put their bodies on the line.

"I'm glad he scored a couple of tries, though I don't think it was a complete performance by any stretch of the imagination."

Smith also singled Tindall out for praise. "Tinds has also done very well stepping up to that position. He brings a lot to the party, he's a good communicator," he added. "His performance in Ireland with Manu was outstanding and that's been a good combination for us."

Smith did not rule out the often-touted variant of Wilkinson and Flood starting at fly-half and inside centre, a combination England used in the last half hour of the 2007 final.

"They have played side by side a few times and it's an option we have still got up our sleeve," he said.

"We would get two distributors, but we lose a bit physically there. We have also got others in the group here who can go into that role."

It will matter little, however, which combination England settle on if they continue to give away penalties and turn over the ball as they have in their first two games, something that has not been lost on the management or players.

"We started the night frustrated with the penalties we gave away and finished frustrated because of the turnovers," said Smith. "We'll get a bit of a 'shoeing' for that and deserve it, but somewhere in the middle there was some decent rugby played.

"We ran them around and we didn't cash in at the end and that's why we're sitting here today with frowns on our faces."

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