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Habana backs Tuilagi for England No.12
Tom Hamilton
March 31, 2015
Bryan Habana hopes to be fit to face Wasps on Sunday © Getty Images

Springboks superstar Bryan Habana has backed Manu Tuilagi to deliver at inside centre for England.

England are still weighing up their midfield options ahead of the Rugby World Cup with Luther Burrell, Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees and Tuilagi all in the mix to fill the inside centre slot. Following Jonathan Joseph's hugely impressive Six Nations, it would take a change of direction from the England management to displace him and Habana believes they could opt for a Tuilagi-Joseph combination at inside and outside centre.

"The combination of Ford, Joseph and Tuilagi would be impressive," Habana said. "I think Tuilagi's big injury crisis has been frustrating in terms of his growth and development. All the Tuilagi brothers aren't the smallest of animals in the world!

"I think the space that they create because there is so much attention drawn to them... I don't think his distribution skills are that bad, and when you have Joseph running off you then it's a good thing to have. Luther Burrell's presence by his size is daunting.

"I also have a good mate in Brad Barritt who has never let England down and Billy Twelvetrees is also a guy who when kicking responsibilities need to be taken he can step up.

"I think it is just finding that combination. For England it is about that, and when you see those click like they did against France then they had a lot to gain. Jonathan Joseph at 13 has shown that his game has improved immensely. He has really grown into that position at Bath and the presence that Luther Burrell brings is good, and Manu Tuilagi is hard to leave out.

"George Ford has really shown his worth at 10 too. The way he has controlled that England game-plan has been impressive. He's probably not one of the biggest guys around, but defensively his ability isn't lacking at all."

England's Manu Tuilagi reacts to defeat,  New Zealand v England, 2nd Test, Dunedin, June 14, 2014
© AP

For Habana his immediate focus is recovering from a knee injury. Despite the recent setback, he is optimistic he will be back sooner rather than later and is keen to play a key role in Toulon's end of season run in. They are the current European and Top 14 title holders and he is only too aware of how they are the team who everyone wants to beat.

"The pressure you put on yourselves to constantly succeed only becomes greater once you're a World Cup winner, a world title holder," Habana said. "For me, there is a motto that I try and keep to: "If you want to stay number one, you've got to train like you're number two

"If you're just going to rest on your laurels, if you're not going to work harder, especially in the way the modern game is turning out to be, if you're not determined to find different ways of succeeding, different methods, different training regimes. If you're just going to stagnate on what has worked in the past, you're probably going to find yourself not being the number one team going forward. It's pretty important you are able to adapt.

"The modern game is changing rapidly at different rates year in year out. If you're not able to adapt, in a World Cup year, you're seeing that your skillset, in terms of aerial kicking, aerial catching has to be better, your defensive ability has to improve quite a lot."

Habana flew into Farnborough RFC on Sunday to help Land Rover launch their Rugby World Cup sponsorship and he has been keeping a close eye on the Six Nations. He is optimistic he could play a role in Sunday's match against Wasps and if he returns in time, he will come up against Christian Wade.

While Wade did not feature in the recent championship, Habana rates the Wasps winger.

"There has been a lot of talk about which English wingers will make. I'm not too sure who they will go with in the World Cup. I think the biggest thing will be who the starting full-back will be - Mike Brown has been really impressive," Habana said. "It will be who works well in and around him and there are a couple of good youngsters coming through. We saw Jonny May score a fantastic try against New Zealand last season, but didn't get as many opportunities going into the Six Nations.

"Christian Wade has been playing exceptionally well for Wasps and could put his hand up. For me the challenge is always going to be the players being at the top of their game come September.

"I think Jonny May quite rightly got nominated as one of the tries of the season last year, Nowell has been looking fantastically well not only for Exeter but also the last game against France. He has a lot of pace and a great skill set. His kicking game might not be where it is, but if he tuns and steps around fours like he did in the France game he will be able to do some impressive things. Jack and Jonny have probably got the inside lane at the moment - but if you get guys running off Mike Brown then it will be pretty impressive."

Land Rover Ambassador Bryan Habana was speaking at the launch of 'We Deal In Real', Land Rover's Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign. #wedealinreal

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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