England’s Forwards Conundrum

England look set to field a new look pack in their Six Nations opener with a number of frontline players injured for the start of the tournament.

Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, George Kruis, Jack Clifford and Joe Launchbury could all be missing, Chris Robshaw will also now be missing after picking up a shoulder injury at the weekend.

Nathan Hughes looks set to step up at number eight following impressive displays in the autumn. His power and athleticism make him a useful attacking player. He will not be making the hard yards like Vunipola but will be lurking in the wide channels similar to Tom Croft.

nathan-hughes-wasps_3382712

Hughes looks set to replace Vunipola.

James Haskell made a very brief return to action at the weekend but assuming his concussion isn’t too bad he should start at openside against France.

The blindside is a bit of a tough one, Tom Wood played fairly well during November but there is the option of Maro Itoje moving to the blindside flanker position, this option was one Eddie Jones looked willing to explore before Itoje picked up an injury prior to the Autumn Internationals.

The only problem with moving Itoje into the back row could be the fact that England already look short in the second row if Kruis and Launchbury cannot prove their fitness, Courtney Lawes, Dave Attwood and Charlie Ewels all played in November though and have been in good form for Northampton and Bath.

The loose head prop position could also be an interesting one, Ellis Genge has been replaced in the squad by Bath prop Nathan Catt and Joe Marler is still in the squad.

Marler may have the experience but the question is who would offer more to an England squad. Catt has for a long time been knocking on the England door, his scrummaging is powerful and his work in the loose is strong.

catt

Catt has been included ahead of Ellis Genge.

Catt would be my pick to take Mako Vunipola’s place as England’s starting loose head. Marler is a good player but his discipline problems in the past and his sporadic form for Harlequins count against him.

In the second row is a tough one, Kruis and Launchbury could yet prove their fitness, but if not then Itoje moving to the back row becomes a tough option, Launhcbury looks set to certainly miss the opening weekend. With this in mind Charlie Ewels and Lawes could start as the only two fully fit locks excluding Itoje included in the squad.

Potential England 23 to face France

1 Nathan Catt 2 Jamie George 3 Dan Cole 4 Charlie Ewels 5 Courtney Lawes 6 Maro Itoje 7 James Haskell 8 Nathan Hughes

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

16 Tommy Taylor 17 Joe Marler 18 Kyle Sinckler 19 Tom Wood 20 Mike Williams 21 Danny Care 22 Ben Te’o 23 Elliott Daly

Aviva Premiership Preview: Northampton Saints

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Jim Mallinder

Captain: Tom Wood

Stadium: Franlins Gardens (Capacity: 15,500)

Last Season: 5th

Prediction: 8th

Northampton were disappointing last season, everyone expected them to be in the play-offs having finished first before the play-offs the season before.

Northampton have some star quality in the pack with England captain Dylan Hartley at hooker, Courtney Lawes at lock and England new boy Teimana Harrison also part of the club.

HARRISON.jpg

Teimana Harrison is a key player.

Northampton Saints have developed a rather substantial pack full of heavyweight, international stars. Hard carrying, hard tackling machines in what is an explosively powerful eight. They give what the backs front foot, clean ball.

The backs are also big men, George North, Luther Burrell, George Pisi, big, physical players who like to run hard and tackle aggressively. Physical backs give Northampton thrust to go forwards and punish the opposition. They can however be one dimensional.

THREE TO WATCH

Ben Foden

Position: Fullback  Nationality: English  Age: 31  Height: 1.83m  Weight: 93kg

Ben Foden was the best fullback in the country at one point. He is fast and the Northampton man has quick feet defenders can be beaten one-on-one by the quick, agile fullback.

Foden’s kicking game is also very useful as an exit strategy, he can be used as an extra playmaker in attack.

Teimana Harrison

Position: Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 106kg

The hard running Saints flanker has gained caps against Wales and Australia he looks as though he will be a force in the future for England.

His work in the loose is hugely effective, he is one of the most defensively sound players in the league and his influence in attack makes him a valuable member of the Northampton squad.

Louis Picamoles

Position: Number Eight  Nationality: French  Age: 30  Height: 1.92m  Weight: 116kg

Picamoles is now widely regarded as one of the best number eights in the world along with the likes of Kieran Read and Taulupe Faletau. His power when he carries is quite extraordinary.

PICAMOLES.jpg

France international, Picamoles.

Picamoles is devastating off the back of a scrum and brutal coming round the corner. The French powerhouse can effectively take the game to the opposition using his brute force.

TRANSFERS

IN (5)

Charlie Clare (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Juan Pablo Estelles (Club Atletico del Rosario, ARG)

Nic Groom (Western Stormers, SAF)

Campese Ma’afu (Provence, FRA)

Louis Picamoles (Toulouse, FRA)

OUT (6)

Alex Corbisiero (Sabbatical, SAB)

Jon Fisher (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Kahn Fotouali’i (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (London Irish, ENG)

Patrick Howard (Dragons, WAL)

Matt Williams (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Picamoles is a marquee signing and will be hugely beneficial to the squad, he is the type of player Northampton breed. Groom is also a tidy addition to the squad, he passes well and his pace is exceptional.

CORBISIERO

The England prop will take a sabbatical.

Fotouali’i is a loss and he moves to Premiership rivals, Bath. Corbisiero is taking a year out that should not be too much of a trouble he is not the player he was three years ago.

My Northampton Saints 23

15 Ben Foden 14 George North 13 George Pisi 12 Luther Burrell 11 Jamie Elliott 10 Stephen Myler 9 Lee Dickson (Captain)

1 Alex Waller 2 Dylan Hartley 3 Paul Hill 4 Courtney Lawes 5 Michael Paterson 6 Jamie Gibson 7 Teimana Harrison 8 Louis Picamoles

16 Mike Haywood 17 Ethan Waller 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Christian Day 20 Calum Clark 21 Nic Groom 22 Harry Mallinder 23 Ken Pisi

Northampton Saints will be powerful and use forwards to build a platform, the worry is their signings indicate no change of strategy very little other than the power plays, teams like Exeter and Wasps with their quick backs could trouble them.