England’s centre pairing of Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall has been criticised ad nauseam by the media, but knowing Martin Johnson’s thought processes, he is unlikely to care and extremely unlikely to change what is now a tested partnership. In attack, the centres may lack any kind of creativity, but in defence, they are an iron curtain capable of stopping anyone in world rugby from crossing the gain line. Successful Rugby World Cup campaigns are built on a world class defence, hence their selection.
Why is Shontayne Hape one to watch? The answer is not a straight forward as some of the names on this list, but the reason is no less important.
In Dublin, in the Grand Slam decider against Ireland, we saw what happens when teams put pressure on Ben Youngs and Toby Flood, England’s attacking game crumbles. The reason behind this is largely because everything in attack goes through Toby Flood. In the Six Nations, and so far in his international career, we have seen too little of the half breaks and offloads from Hape that we see him making for Bath on a weekly basis. If Hape does not start to share some of the workload in attack, by either offering more of a threat with ball in hand, or acting as a second distributor, England’s chances of progressing in the Rugby World Cup are limited at best.
With this in mind, Shontayne Hape could indirectly find himself being the single most important player in this England side at the Rugby World Cup. When Youngs and Flood are working well in tandem together, then England perform. However, it is too much to ask Flood to shoulder all of the play making workload throughout the Rugby World Cup. Every other realistically competitive international side has at least one centre capable helping out his 10, either as a ball carrier or a distributor.
For England in the Six Nations, this was not always the case. Shontayne Hape needs to step up and start making telling plays in attack on a more regular basis. His defence is world class, largely owing to his rugby league background. However, this Rugby World Cup, and Shontayne Hape’s performance in attack, will undoubtedly decide whether he features for England in the post World Cup era. He has a lot to prove and England need him to find his best form. For these reasons, he will certainly be one to watch for England.