Joseph in contention to earn a starting place for England's Six Nations opener
JONATHAN Joseph could be in the contention to start for England in their RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland.
The Derby-born centre is in the frame to be drafted into Stuart Lancaster's side at Twickenham next weekend – if Manu Tuilagi is ruled out by injury.
Tuilagi, who spearheaded last month's memorable victory over New Zealand, is struggling with an ankle problem.
The Leicester Tigers star was withdrawn at the last minute from the side that beat Toulouse in the Heineken Cup last weekend and Lancaster is sweating on his fitness.
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England have already lost flanker Tom Johnson for the whole of the Six Nations, while prop Alex Corbisiero and fly-half Freddie Burns will both miss the start of the tournament.
"I need a decision to be made early, by the weekend preferably, because if Manu is not available then there will be decisions to be made," Lancaster said.
"Richard (Cockerill, the Leicester director of rugby) said he was 70-30 in the lead-up to the game and they pushed him.
"Manu is pretty optimistic that he's going to be all right but I don't want to say now that he's going to be fit or vice-versa.
"We'll just have to wait and see how he gets on. It's too early to tell."
If Tuilagi cannot prove his fitness, Lancaster is likely to turn to Joseph or Billy Twelvetrees to partner Brad Barritt in the centre.
Lancaster would also have the option of bringing Toby Flood back in at fly-half and shift Owen Farrell to centre, where he started his England career 12 months ago.
The decision Lancaster makes about his centres could influence who starts at full-back.
Alex Goode gave England a second play-making option during the autumn but the onus could shift to a strike runner like Ben Foden if Farrell or Twelvetrees got the nod in midfield.
Goode has one more chance to nail down the position. He has recovered from a shoulder injury and will play for Saracens in the LV= Cup match against Cardiff Blues last weekend.
"It is quite an interesting selection debate," said Lancaster.
"I don't think selection going into the Scotland game is as simplistic as people perhaps think on the back of the All Blacks game.
"We've got a lot of decisions to make.
"There's pressure and competition in every position, which is great."
Joseph came on as a second-half replacement during the demolition of the All Blacks, having missed part of the autumn international programme due to an ankle injury of his own.
It was the 21-year-old's fourth senior cap for England.