Brad Barritt believes he and Manu Tuilagi are an England centre partnership based on plenty of brain as well as brawn, insisting the Leicester Tiger is his perfect foil in midfield.
Tuilagi, 20, missed the first two matches of England’s Six Nations campaign but made an explosive return for the Red Rose against Wales, France and Ireland.
If not for Charlie Hodgson’s finger injury, Tuilagi may have been partnering Owen Farrell in the centre against Wales but Saracens’ Barritt kept his place and the duo formed a nigh-on impenetrable defensive wall.
Tuilagi displayed his remarkable broken field talents with a fine try in Paris while Barritt continued to play by the ‘thou shall not pass’ mantra and the pair now look certain to be first choice for England’s summer tour of South Africa.
Prior to Tuilagi bursting onto the scene before the ill-fated World Cup campaign in New Zealand, Martin Johnson continually favoured the defensive bedrocks Mike Tindall and Shontayne Hape in midfield but both were criticised for their inability to spark in attack.
But while both Tuilagi and Barritt have similar defensive qualities, the latter is adamant the Samoan-born battering ram gives England the X-factor in attack.
“It was wonderful to be playing with Manu and I think there are encouraging signs that it’s a partnership that can be built on,” said Saracens centre Barritt.
“It’s about using the strengths of the different players and I think the more we get to know each other and get familiar with each other then the attacking combinations will come.
“You are building to when you can react spontaneously to what your teammates are doing because ultimately that’s what sets apart the good from the great.
“As you play together longer then you form better partnerships but having said that no-one is guaranteed a place in the side, you just have to keep fighting and doing as well as you can.”
Tindall is no longer part of the England set-up – jettisoned to the international scrapheap as one of the scapegoats for the World Cup disaster along with Nick Easter while Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson have all retired.
Tuilagi was perhaps lucky to return to the England fold so quickly after his flirtation with ill-discipline in New Zealand – jumping from a ferry in Auckland just hours after Johnson’s side had been eliminated.
But Tuilagi is now singing from the communal hymn sheet in the revamped England camp, according to Barritt.
“The camaraderie among the squad was amazing and the way everyone bought into the culture and fought for each other was definitely the hallmark of a great team,” he added.
“The way that everyone really bought into the common culture and played for each other shows that the team is progressing and there’s still a lot to come from a young team.
“Ideally what you want from a team is taking pride in the shirt. There was a strong group of 32 guys who were hungry to play internationally and represent their country and when you have those guys fighting for one cause and wearing the jersey with distinction it bodes well going forward.”
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