On Saturday, Alex Goode will line up at fullback for Saracens in their Aviva Premiership final match against Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham. Goode has been one of the standout players of Saracens stellar season which has seen them triumph in the European Champions Cup and reach the final of the Aviva Premiership, for which they are overwhelming favourites. Goode’s season was capped when he clinched the Premiership Player of the Year Award.
Despite these accolades, Goode remains second choice England fullback behind long-term incumbent Mike Brown of Harlequins. Brown’s ability is not in question. He has won 48 caps for England, scoring nine tries in the process. Throughout this period he has regularly been cited as one of England’s outstanding players, winning the player of the championship award in the 2014 RBS Six Nations. In addition, Brown plays with his heart on his sleeve and brings outstanding leadership skills to the table. In short, Brown has done little wrong during his time as England’s fullback.
However, Goode brings something different to the table. His background as a fly-half means that he can demonstrate outstanding distribution skills, allied with excellent tactical kicking; as well as being able to serve as an auxiliary goal kicker if required. In addition, Goode’s pace and his ability to create space for his wingers to score tries marks him out as an outstanding fullback. This skill has gone some way to helping Chris Ashton score ten tries in eight games upon his return from a ban. Ashton himself was inexplicably omitted from England’s squad to tour Australia, likely due to concerns held by Eddie Jones over his defensive attributes. However, the likelihood is that Goode would be able to form a partnership with England’s current wingers: Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson. Nowell and Watson share Ashton’s excellent finishing ability, and would surely benefit from the distribution skills of Alex Goode.
Part of the appeal of Alex Goode lies in a desire to balance the England team sheet by including at least two players with strong distribution skills. In England’s victorious campaign in the 2016 RBS Six Nations, George Ford played at fly-half whilst Owen Farrell played outside him as inside centre. However, subsequently, Owen Farrell’s performances for Saracens have marked him out as perhaps the best fly-half in Europe. On the evidence of his recent performances, Eddie Jones must start Farrell at fly-half in the First Test against Australia on 11 June. As George Ford only tends to play fly-half, Eddie Jones would have no choice but to look elsewhere for his second playmaker.
For this he has two options. Firstly, he could bring in Exeter Chiefs’ Henry Slade who missed the Six Nations with injury but has long been seen as one of the best talents in English Rugby. This would allow England to deploy pretty much the same system as they did in the Six Nations, albeit with Farrell playing fly-half instead of inside centre. However, instead Eddie Jones should select Alex Goode at fullback. In the 2015 World Cup, Australia showed that they now possess a pack of forwards who can compete with anyone at the scrum, and they are also able to field both David Pocock and Michael Hooper, two of the best back-row forwards in the world. This means that England cannot rely on winning games through penalties and that they must look to score tries. Fielding Alex Goode at fullback will significantly help to achieve this aim. This ability to link up with his wingers and create space for them to score is unparalleled in the English game. With Goode’s ability to distribute the ball, Anthony Watson could become the deadliest winger in international rugby union.
The other benefit of fielding Alex Goode at fullback is that it frees up a place in the midfield for rugby league convert Ben Te’o. Te’o has impressed at centre for Leinster in the Pro12 this season, and next season he will move to Worcester Warriors in the Aviva Premiership. Te’o’s ability to break the line as well as his strong tackling will be of huge benefit when facing an Australia side featuring the hugely physical Tevita Kuridrani. Ultimately, this change will allow the England side to become significantly more balanced.
Therefore, Eddie Jones must give Alex Goode a chance to start at fullback in the upcoming test series in Australia. Goode as all the skills to be England’s next great fullback, and to turn England into one of the most exciting attacking sides in world rugby.