England Series Significance

England have secured what could be possibly their biggest achievement since winning the World Cup in 2003 as they stormed to a 3-0 series victory in Australia.

England have been transformed by the brilliant Eddie Jones, he has made England a force among the best in the world. Of course the All Blacks are still number one but England are leading the chasing pack.

Players have also emerged from the tour as greats, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell are all now world class, I think you could argue at least two would get into the All Blacks team right now.

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James Haskell stood out over the course of the series.

The third test was by no means perfect, but neither was the first or second, but England won the games so none of that matters. England will grow and are already early favourites to win the Six Nations which will follow England’s four tests in November against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia.

The back row were mightily impressive, Haskell and Robshaw are well and truly redeemed following this tour. Both were very high on the tackles made list every week and both showed such a huge amount of heart throughout June.

Couple those two flankers with the immense power of Billy Vunipola and there you have a world class back row. Vunipola has been England’s best player since Jones took over, his carrying and powerhouse runs give England some much needed go forward at vital points.

This tour has also seen the return of George Ford, the Bath fly-half was in inspired form for the duration of the tour. Since he replaced Burrell in Brisbane he grew, kicked well, managed the game well and got England playing in the right parts of the field.

Joe Marler will be ruing his decision to miss the tour, Mako Vunipola was sensational for the tour he was on fire, his carrying around the park have always set him apart but his tight game has improved so much over the last year.

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Ford looked reborn in Australia.

The fact that as this was happening the England Saxons stormed to a 2-0 series win in South Africa and the Under-20’s won the world championship is a hugely encouraging sign for England and Eddie Jones.

England may have a break now but the hard work is not over, come November the journey continues as England push for supremacy in their four matches at Twickenham, all roads lead to Tokyo and Jones is very much aware of how he is going to get there.

My England 23 to play South Africa

15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Owen Farrell 11 Jack Nowell 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (C) 3 Dan Cole 4 Courtney Lawes 5 George Kruis 6 Maro Itoje 7 James Haskell 8 Billy Vunipola

16 Jamie George 17 Joe Marler 18 Paul Hill 19 Chris Robshaw 20 Jack Clifford 21 Danny Care 22 Henry Slade 23 Manu Tuilagi

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The ‘French’ Way

France, a nation that prides themselves on having that little bit of class, a certain ‘je ne sais quoi.’ A nation that in sport brings the flair, the dazzling beauty, the spectacular piece of skill that oozes not just class but astounding physical beauty and makes any other wondrous moment seem so insignificant. Players from both rugby and football have shown us this outrageous talent for coming up with the showstopping brilliance when it matters.

In rugby France have always been the unpredictable yet brilliant to watch team. They bring an air of confidence that if they play well they can beat any challengers. This was shown at it’s best in the 2007 World Cup, a warm night in Cardiff, the hosts France having been close to their best for most of the tournament come up against the overwhelming favourites a team that had blown away all comers in their pool and blessed by the boot of the mercurial Dan Carter.. and all of a sudden that’s it Carter limps off. France win.

New Zealand fly-half, Dan Carter.

New Zealand fly-half, Dan Carter.

They have a knack for producing the big moments when it matters most, this happened 4 years later. It’s 2011, New Zealand are on home soil, but this time France meet England once again at the quarter-final stage. The Auckland air is humid and France having scraped through the pool after a horrific display against Tonga face an England team that have failed to dazzle yet have scored tries. And from nowhere France produce a stunning product, that is high on power and pace with that little electricity that courses through the veins of a Frenchman, that French way, that touch of Parisian class, that hint of French devil, that one thing that makes France French. France win.

England look dejected after losing to France in World Cup quarter-final.

England look dejected after losing to France in World Cup quarter-final.

France are without doubt one of the most talented teams in the world, they have players that make you stop and take a breath, they make your heart skip that beat, they make you fall in love with the game. Gaël Fickou showed this exact moment that player took charge in the 2014 Six Nations. England come into the game with every hope of snatching a win in France. France are low on confidence after a bruising autumn and there a huge question marks over the suitability of former Sale coach Saint-André. England lead going into the final minute, Saint-André’s last roll of the dice is to throw on the young Toulouse centre. Fickou gets the ball and then it comes as if divine intervention has sparked inside the young back, he skips past defenders leaving the English grasping at air. He glides through the defence with an aura of self belief and the glamour that you see on a fashion runway. He turns past the last defender then comes the roar of the Parisian crowd as the centre ends the game with a flourish of French ability and with such French swagger as all England do is watch the jaw dropping, mindblowing talent. France win.

Gaël Fickou scores match winning try against England.

Gaël Fickou scores match winning try against England.

This year France have had a torrid time after beating Australia things were looking up that was until a week later where Argentina bludgeoned them to win 18-14. France came into the Six Nations and can only manage wins against an ageing Italy and a very weak Scotland. France have always performed in World Cups and that showed 4 years ago in Auckland when they beat England and in the final when they lost 8-7 to hosts New Zealand in a game that they should have really won. The chips are well and truly down for France as they travel to England in September, their backs are up against the wall and once again Saint-André has failed to select the 3 Maxime’s (Machenaud, Mermoz, Médard.) France though have a chance, we know that, we know what they can produce, that fantasy land of daring, that paradise of beauty, that state of untouchable glory. If the French can play like France then they have every chance of winning the 2015 World Cup.

France head coach Phillipe Saint-André has come in for criticism over his selection.

France head coach Phillipe Saint-André has come in for criticism over his selection.

My France XV (assuming all are fit and selected):
1 Vincent Debaty (Clermont Auvergne) 2 Guilhem Guirado (Toulon) 3 Eddy Ben Arous (Racing Metro) 4 Yoann Maestri (Toulouse) 5 Alexandre Flanquart (Stade Français) 6 Thierry Dusuatoir (Captain, Toulouse) 7 Fulgence Ourdraogo (Montpellier) 8 Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)

9 Morgan Parra (Clermont Auvergne) 10 François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier) 11 Teddy Thomas (Racing Metro) 12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne) 13 Gaël Fickou (Toulouse) 14 Yoann Huget (Toulouse) 15 Maxime Médard (Toulouse)

Bath Must Take Chance to Take Place at Europe’s Elite Table

Bath Rugby, a club steeped in history much like their opponent in Saturday’s semi-final Leicester Tigers. Bath have finally got their wish with their first home semi-final in the Premiership and it seems as though the cash of millionaire Bruce Craig and the recruitment of Mike Ford is paying off.

With Bath’s playmaking stars of George Ford and Jonathan Joseph have been stars for not only Bath but also England. Add to that a deadly cocktail of Anthony Watson, Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni and the power of skyscraper Matt Banahan and you have a backline most clubs would die for. The entertaining and potent backs have racked up 72 tries and have only lost one league game at home this season and that was to Northampton Saints during an international window that meant Bath were missing key players, of course Northampton were as well but without Bath having a real back-up for the Premiership player of the year George Ford they struggled to get any go forward.

Matt Banahan  making a break against Mogliano

Matt Banahan making a break against Mogliano

Bath have also developed a pack that are nasty something every pack needs, a pack that could rival the pack that contained players like Borthwick, Grewcock, Mears and Humphreys but now Bath have players like Louw, Attwood and Burgess and of course Bath’s standout forward this season. Australian number eight Leroy Houston who won the most recent forward of the month award. With their first choice tight five they have driven some of the best packs in Europe into the ground such as Toulouse and Glasgow. Having had NRL convert Sam Burgess turn his hand to being a flanker has only added to this vicious pack as Sam Burgess showed powering through the Gloucester defence to score last weekend.

Sam Burgess has been a revelation at flanker

Sam Burgess has been a revelation at flanker

Bath Rugby now have a shot at winning the title when they take on Leicester Tigers at the Recreation Ground. Last time Leicester came to play their bitterest rivals at the Rec Bath thumped the Tigers 45-0 in a thrilling contest when the lethal backs tore apart a rather mediocre Leicester defence in a powerful, absorbing display which showed what this red hot Bath side are capable of.

Bath have not won the league title since 1996 when professionalism was at a primal stage in it’s development following this transformation in 1995. Leicester have reached the play-offs ten times a record. The Tigers often roar into the play-offs and will not be an easy task for this Bath side. Bath have a huge chance this year to take their place as on of Europe’s elite by winning the most competitive league in the world.

Bath the only side with a clean bill of health in the play-offs and they have a home semi-final as the season comes to a close. The West Country side have also played the best brand of rugby out of the top 4 and have shown how powerful and precise their forward pack can be. They also now have a maturing fly-half whose inconsistency of last term a now just a memory as he marches his team around the field allowing the Bath forwards to get the ball rolling before the brilliant fly-half unleashes the tricky footwork of Joesph, the pace of Watson or the power of Banahan as defences can only look on.

George Ford scores against Scotland.

George Ford scores against Scotland.

Why England Need To Look South

The three best opensides in world rugby right now, David Pocock, François Louw and Richie McCaw, all three of which ply their trade in the Super 15. They are what us here in England would class as a ‘classic’ 7 or ‘southern hemisphere’ openside.

We have a ready made man to join the three best in the world that man is the Toulon flanker, Stefan Armitage who has been one of the rouge et noir’s star players over the past few seasons as they have become European powerhouses. Unfortunately England continue not to pick the flanker due to England’s selection policy of only picking players based in England.

You only have to look at the Premiership though to see that we need a southern hemisphere style 7. The top 4 teams at the moment all have a player in that mould, Calum Clark at Saints, Burger for Saracens, Louw at Bath and Julian Salvi at Leicester, while current England captain and opened Chris Robshaw’s Harlequins languish in 8th. At Harlequins they have another option much like Armitage, Luke Wallace who in November made the breakdown a living hell like Michael Hooper and David Pocock can for opposition.

It may be time for Chris Robshaw to move on, the man has had his day, and yes his commitment to the cause in unquestionable, as a leader, captain and role model he is second to none but as a 7?

The World Cup is just around the corner and Lancaster would be foolish not to select the Harlequins flanker as his captain for this World Cup or would he? With 2 of the finest opensides in the world David Pocock and Sam Warburton lying in wait in the group stage it could be tough for Captain Chris. Pocock is not alone as a great Australian 7 they also have Michael Hooper who has been Australia’s choice as of late due to Pocock’s injury nightmare.

It is high time Lancaster used the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause on selection policy and brought Steffon Armitage into the World Cup squad, he doesn’t have to start the Toulon flanker but if Robshaw is having rings run round him by Pocock or Warburton they will need an alternative and that alternative should be the Toulon openside.

Well Lancaster it’s up to you but England are going to need to adapt and bring in an ‘old school’ 7 at some point whether it’s now or after the World Cup is a question only Lancaster can answer.