Banahan's 'future is at 13'
Martin Johnson is backing Matt Banahan to chalenge for the outside centre berth as England build up towards next year's World Cup.
Last Updated: 17/11/10 5:39pm
Martin Johnson is backing Matt Banahan to challenge for the outside centre berth as England build up towards next year's World Cup.
The Bath winger, who stands 6ft 7in tall and weighs nearly 18stone, will start a Test at outside centre for the first time against Samoa on Saturday.
Johnson has given veteran centre Mike Tindall a rest, opening the way for Banahan's return after 12 months out of the England team.
England have been looking to use Banahan at outside centre at least since the summer tour of Australia, when they were denied because he picked up a two-week ban for a dangerous tackle on Berrick Barnes.
Johnson could have opted for Delon Armitage to replace Tindall after he covered the position in both of England's recent victories over the Wallabies, but the management team decided that Banahan is a better fit for England's style of play, which demands a combination of power and finesse at outside centre.
"I think his future is at 13. Going forward it is a very good option for him and for us," said Johnson.
"The physical side is obvious but I think he has skills as well which people maybe underestimate.
"His hands are probably better than people think, his ability to off load, his aerial skills.
"He is a very hard runner and with his long limbs the ability to offload through the tackle is something which can be developed."
New Zealand have found an outside centre who is all of those things in Sonny Bill Williams - but Banahan shied away from the comparison.
"I will do it my own way," he said. "It is quite easy to be branded as a guy who can just truck it up. It is not what I enjoy doing but it is what I get used to do.
"I want to show versatility in my game, which Sonny Bill does. I want to be putting my own stamp on the world.
"I'll be the white-shirted outside centre and he can be the Kiwi outside centre."
Banahan, who started his career at lock with London Irish before he was switched to the wing, will form an all-Bath midfield partnership with Shontayne Hape.
And he is thrilled at the prospect of coming into a team buzzing from last weekend's record victory over the Wallabies.
"I am massively excited. We set the tempo early in the game and I just wanted to be on that pitch because there was some nice free-flowing rugby," said Banahan.
"We didn't take (away) the natural ability of some boys. We let Chris Ashton run, Ben Foden run, Ben Youngs run. We let them show their natural ability on the pitch.
"Shontayne and I enjoy playing together and we have a good connection. It is always exciting when you trust someone so much."