Over the last two weekends, England and Bath centre Jonathan Joseph displayed an addition to his already international class skillset. Well known for his burning pace and impressive defensive work, the outside centre has stepped up as a distributor and playmaker after facing pressure from Exeter Chiefs' Henry Slade
-Aviva Premiership side Bath have enjoyed two of their best performances of the season, despite only gaining one victory out of two. Key to this has been Joseph, who struggled to find his feet at the start of the season, causing many to question his starting role for England. Often seen terrorising opponents ball-in-hand, the 26-year-old has begun to release the men outside him, utilising Bath's wide men where previously they had not.
England contender Henry Slade made his name as a silky smooth second playmaker, operating at outside centre. Fans and pundits would eulogise over Slade's inch-perfect passing and kicking abilities, sending the likes of Ollie Woodburn and Henry Short into space. Feeling the heat to retain his international position after being dropped from an England squad back in September, Joseph is keen to stamp any doubts that he is the best outside centre in England.
Over the last two Champions Cup matchups with Toulon, Joseph seems to have gained enough confidence to put his new skills into action. The former London Irish centre fired out four superb long flat 15 metre passes to his outside man. Here's an example of Joseph spreading the ball wide to teammate Francois Louw, allowing the Springbok to take the ball without breaking his stride, which can be the difference between a try and being talked into touch at times.
In addition, Joseph is beginning to identify moments where a well placed chip or grubber could put his outside men through. A perfect example of this was his chip for Aled Brew on the weekend. As with his pass to Louw, Joseph's kick was inch perfect, letting Brew stay at pace to collect the ball.
We had seen the first glimpses of this kicking game on the British and Irish Lions tour in New Zealand. Joseph had perhaps felt he needed to offer a more versatile game if he was to unseat the eventual man of the series, Jonathan Davies, from the thirteen jersey.
While Joseph has attempted to create moments like these for his outside men previously over the last few years, its the execution and regularity of these moments that are beginning to stand out. As recently as this November, Joseph's wide passes were often launched end over end, giving the opposition time to advance on the ball or winger. Joseph's accuracy and confidence seems to have taken a leap over the last fortnight.
When Jones first took up his England role, Joseph was on form and touted by many as the best outside centre in world rugby. Since the last Six Nations, his form dropped off, causing many to clamour for the likes of Eliot Daly and Slade to replace him. By providing the ability to capitalise on every chance his team has, Joseph in turn will make more room for his own strike running. Defenders worrying about a wide pass or kick through tend to open up holes for an outside centre from time to time. By offering up opportunities for his teammates outside him, Joseph may have done his own attacking chances some good. If he can pair these talents with his defensive capabilities and threat ball in hand, he may once again be in the conversation as the best 13 on the international scene.