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.

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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.

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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: Harlequins

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: John Kingston and Mark Mapletoft

Captain: Danny Care

Stadium: Twickenham Stoop (Capacity: 14,800)

Last Season: 7th

Prediction: 6th

Harlequins will ultimately be disappointed with last season along with the likes of Bath and Gloucester the Londoners failed to live up to the pre-season hype.

Harlequins have a backbone of proven, international stars with Danny Care, Mike Brown and Nick Evans leading the backs. In the pack there is Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler leading from the front.

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Former England captain, Chris Robshaw.

Under Conor O’Shea Harlequins won the league by playing expansive rugby, they like to go wide. John Kingston is likely to keep to that gameplan and they certainly have the personnel to stick to that.

Harlequins lineout is one thing that did go right last season, they have a plethora of hookers all of which have been selected in an England squad, couple that with a group of experienced locks makes their lineout among the most efficient in Europe.

THREE TO WATCH

Jack Clifford

Position: Back Row  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.91m  Weight: 111kg

The openside flanker is exceptional at the breakdown more like a southern hemisphere openside than his predecessor at Harlequins, Chris Robshaw.

He has a scary amount of pace which was on display as he burst to score against Wales back in May at Twickenham. His attacking pace and powerful legs make him a dangerous carrier from the second or third receiver position.

Jamie Roberts

Position: Centre  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 29  Height: 1.93m  Weight: 110kg

The explosive Wales centre bursts open defences with his considerable strength, his upper body strength makes him hard to bring down and this along with an explosive leg drive sees him able to break tackles.

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Jamie Roberts will be key this season.

Roberts crash ball carrying can suck in defenders opening space for the more speedy players out wide such as Marland Yarde and Tim Visser.

Kyle Sinckler

Position: Prop  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.82m  Weight: 122kg

The abrasive, explosive youngster is finally getting recognised by Eddie Jones as an option for England behind Leicester prop, Dan Cole.

Sinckler can be prone to penalties at the scrum and that has long been a weakness for the Harlequins star. This season is surely the one where the 23 year old can start to push on not just for his club but also England.

TRANSFERS

IN (7)

Alofa Alofa (Stade Rochelais, FRA)

Cameron Holenstein (Pau, FRA)

Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps, ENG)

Aaron Morris (Saracens, ENG)

Charlie Mulchrone (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

George Naoupu (Connacht, IRE)

Mark Reddish (Highlanders, NZL)

OUT (6)

Ben Botica (Montpellier Herault, FRA)

Nick Easter (Retired, RET)

Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Released, REL)

Beau Robinson (Doncaster Knights, ENG)

Tito Tebladi (Benetton Treviso, ITA)

Kieran Treadwell (Ulster, IRE)

The addition of Jackson is a hugely beneficial signing, he offers a more pragmatic playmaking option to play at fly-half. Charlie Mulchrone improves the depth at scrum-half and with Naoupu at eight Harlequins have recruited well.

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Jackson in action for Wasps.

Nick Easter, a fantastic servant to Harlequins and England. Botica has been a good player for Harlequins and in attack is really important outlet, he may well be the biggest miss.

My Harlequins 23

15 Mike Brown 14 Marland Yarde 13 Joe Marchant 12 Jamie Roberts 11 Tim Visser 10 Nick Evans 9 Danny Care (Captain)

1 Joe Marler 2 Dave Ward 3 Kyle Sinckler 4 Charlie Matthews 5 James Horwill 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford 8 George Naoupu

16 Joe Gray 17 Owen Evans 18 Mark Lambert 19 Netani Talei 20 Luke Wallace 21 Charlie Mulchrone 22 Ruaridh Jackson 23 Alofa Alofa

The play-offs should be a step too far for the Harlequins squad under Kingston, qualification for the Champions Cup is likely.

England On The Rise

England have done, they’ve won a series in Australia. That game in Melbourne may well be the most significant moment in English rugby since England’s last win in Australia which just happens to be the 2003 World Cup final.

Eddie Jones has taken England from eight in the world rankings to second in a matter of months. Just back in October Australia were competing for the World Cup against the All Blacks whilst England were trying to work out how 2015 had gone so badly wrong, nobody expected this.

Not only has pride been restored to England but they have thumped the Wallabies and are now building a seriously powerful, abrasive, young squad.

One part of the squad that is doing particularly well is England’s back row trio. Following Jones’ appointment there were cries including from myself to drop Robshaw and Haskell, how wrong was I? They are the two best players from the opening two tests by a mile.

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Haskell has been standout.

Haskell has been totemic in defence and a handful in attack at the breakdown and around the fringes. The Wasps openside seems to have picked up a slight knock following the test in Melbourne but he has certainly played a significant part in wrapping up the series.

Chris Robshaw, a man reborn, many believed that once the Six Nations was over he would discard the Harlequins man along with Haskell. After the win in Melbourne how can he? Robshaw showed all the heart and dedication we have come to expect from him as a player. He also seemed to be a bit fiery in the game clashing with Australians on more than one occasion.

Joe Marler may well rue his decision to sit out the tour as Mako Vunipola has been superb, his scrummaging greatly improved yet still offering himself up as a crash ball carrier along with his hugely talented brother, Billy.

In the backs a partnership is flourishing between Saracens out half Farrell and Bath fly-half Ford. For a long time the 10-12 channel has been a problem for England but it seems Jones has fixed that problem.

He has adopted a New Zealand like system playing another playmaker at 12 which can be referred to as a second five eighth. Ford and Farrell both playmakers in their own right but offer different things in attack and defence.

Ford looks more relaxed with Farrell on the field, Farrell takes the kicking duties allowing the young fly-half to play his natural attacking game. Farrell can sit deeper with Ford at 10 which suits his style more allowing him time to make decisions bring his big forward runners into the game.

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Ford and Farrell. friends on and off the field.

This is all down to Eddie Jones, Monday to Friday the week is fine tuned to give England the opportunity to win games every seemingly throw away comment, every training exercise, every selection call is engineered to help the team win the game.

Jones is an expert he manipulates the media, he man manages to perfection, the praise he has heaped on Haskell and Ford has seemed to push both of them to new levels in an England shirt.

He tells others to work harder and that has worked to with players such as Billy Vunipola and Marland Yarde now blossoming.

He has built a core of around 23 or 24 players he knows what they can do and they can rest assured should they continue to perform they will continue to play. Eddie Jones can thank Lancaster for introducing the likes of Watson, Farrell, Ford, Kruis, Vunipola and Nowell to international rugby but let himself make them international superstars.

It will be interesting to see if Jones is willing to take a gamble on any players in the third test. I’d like to see one or two given a go but with the core to remain the same. A whitewash would be truly something.

My England 23 for the final test

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (Captain) 3 Dan Cole 4 Maro Itoje 5 Joe Launchbury 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford 8 Billy Vunipola

9 Danny Care 10 George Ford 11 Marland Yarde 12 Owen Farrell 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Anthony Watson 15 Alex Goode

16 Jamie George 17 Ellis Genge 18 Kyle Sinckler 19 Courtney Lawes 20 Teimana Harrison 21 Ben Youngs 22 Henry Slade 23 Elliot Daly