Eddie Jones has been warned his makeshift midfield will have to break through the best defensive centre in World rugby when they take on Scotland in opening Guinness Six Nations clash at Murrayfield on Saturday.
That is the accolade George Skivington, the Gloucester director of rugby, is giving his outside centre Chris Harris who will be aiming to transfer his outstandimng form in the Premiership into the Scotland team. Harris is likely to be tasked with helping to stop Gloucester team mate Mark Atkinson who is set to form a new England mid-field with Marcus Smith and Henry Slade and Skivington is eager to see both players in test action.
Harris, a test British and Irish Lions player in South Africa, has won 29 Scotland caps and Skivington, who has yet to discover how long England wing Jonny May will be out after knee surgery, said: “Without a doubt Chris is the best defensive 13 in the world in terms of reading defences. He can make very quick decisions under pressure and his attacking game has really come on. That is what has pushed his profile even more because it has come on in the last year.
“He was unlucky not to play a couple more tests for the Lions and he could have had more influence on the series. He has certainly grown and along with Mark Atkinson he has become a big presence. He is very laid back but when the switch goes he is really into it.
“Chris knows how Mark likes to attack and if anyone is going to know of any weaknesses that Chris has got then it will be Mark. It will make for an exciting prospect to see who can be a little bit cuter and get their team mates around them taking advantage of the other. Fingers crossed that is battle and it will be quite enjoyable to see who outsmarts the other one.”
Skivington always believed that Atkinson could take his game to a new level after taking over as director of rugby and has been delighted with he improvement the experienced centre has made. “ I was hoping he would get some more time with England last summer and then he got the Tonga game:” added Skivington. “ I don’t think there is a better attacking 12 in the country and if you put him together with George Ford they would be a seriously dangerous together. He has taken on board any work-ons and put himself in a stronger position.
“I am confident that if he gets his chance he will step up and show everyone what he is about and take it in his stride. We had to fight hard to be competitive to keep him when his contract was up and he had offers from England and abroad.”