Aviva Premiership Preview: Saracens

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Mark McCall

Captain: Brad Barritt

Stadium: Allianz Park (Capacity: 10,000)

Last Season: Champions

Prediction: Champions

Saracens had a hugely successful season last time out completing a European-Premiership double.

The London based club are awash with international talent with seven of the squad picked to tour with England in June to Australia. Alex Goode, Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola all playing a part in the tour.

FARRELL

Farrell kicking a goal as Saracens defeat Zebre. 

Saracens solid defensive style due to the ‘wolfpack’ instilled by former defence coach Paul Gustard and the the ability of Owen Farrell to manage the game makes them the most well drilled side in the Premiership.

Patterned play and effective breakdown work sets them apart from their rivals. Their ability to carry round the corner and explode past the defender in the ruck allows them to use phase play as an attacking weapon.

THREE TO WATCH

Owen Farrell

Position: Fly-Half/Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 96kg

The England fly-half is the key to Saracens attacking play, his goal kicking and game management allow Saracens to continue playing in the right areas of the field so he can kick the points.

His defensive game is the best of any Premiership fly-half and his attacking game has come on leaps and bounds over the past season. He now has this style of playing whats in front of him which has given Saracens an extra gear.

He’ll be on the Lions tour come June.

Maro Itoje

Position: Lock/Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 21  Height: 1.95m  Weight: 116kg

The Saracens lock had an outstanding year winning every game he started for both Saracens and England. He became an international superstar, people in Australia will know the name now.

ITOJE

Maro Itoje with the European Champions Cup.

The 21 year old was an outstanding presence to have in the dressing room, almost a lucky charm. The power and pace he possesses is extraordinary but the lock just wants to keep improving and continue to grow as a rugby player.

Billy Vunipola

Position; Number Eight  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 126kg

The number eight was undoubtedly England’s player of the season form which was equally impressive for his club.

His ball carrying and size make him a really dangerous player to have attacking the fringes and the way he works with a back row is really important to Saracens breakdown work, the addition of Schalk Burger will further improve this dynamic.

TRANSFERS

IN (6)

Schalk Burger (Western Stormers, SAF)

Mark Flanagan (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Vincent Koch (Western Stormers, SAF)

Alex Lozowski (Wasps, ENG)

Sean Maitland (London Irish, ENG)

Savenaca Rawaca (Fiji Sevens, INT)

OUT (10)

Biyi Alo (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Jacques Burger (Retired, RET)

Catalin Fercu (Timisora Saracens, ROM)

Rhys Gill (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Charlie Hodgson (Retired, RET)

Kieran Longbottom (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Aaron Morris (Harlequins, ENG)

Thretton Palamo (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Dave Porecki (London Irish, ENG)

Ben Ransom (London Irish, ENG)

The capture of Burger is a hugely impressive signing and he will add to Saracens already impressive back row resources. Maitland adds some pace out wide and Koch will provide depth in the front row.

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New signing, Schalk Burger.

Hodgson and Burger have been great servants to the club and leave with heavy hearts. Gill will be missed for his scrum work and Biyi Alo is an exciting prospect.

My Saracens 23

15 Alex Goode 14 Chris Ashton 13 Duncan Taylor 12 Brad Barritt (Captain) 11 Chris Wyles 10 Owen Farrell 9 Richard Wigglesworth

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Schalk Brits 3 Petrus Du Plessis 4 Maro Itoje 5 George Kruis 6 Jackson Wray 7 Schalk Burger 8 Billy Vunipola

16 Jamie George 17 Vincent Koch 18 Billy Walker 19 Alistair Hargreaves 20 Will Fraser 21 Ben Spencer 22 Alex Lozowski 23 Sean Maitland

Saracens are clearly the side to beat this season.

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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

The Big Debate: George Ford versus Owen Farrell

England have won the Six Nations for the first time since 2011, a feat former head coach Stuart Lancaster never achieved. England are 80 minutes away from their first Grand Slam in an astonishing 13 years.

England-win-grand-slam-007

The class of 2003.

For years the biggest problem for England coaches has been who to pick in the midfield, that problem is still there today but not due to the lack of international quality players but more and overwhelming number of players fighting for the 10,12 and 13 jerseys.

All of them seem to be under the age of 26 as well with Henry Slade, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Kyle Eastmond, Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Joseph, Sam Hill and Ollie Devoto all competing for just 3 places in a starting line-up add in a couple of older players such as Danny Cipriani and Luther Burrell, then the youngsters coming through such as Johnny Williams and Joe Marchant and you have a plethora of options.

It really is a headache, but a nice one to have for Eddie Jones and his esteemed team of coaches.

Fly-half, a pivotal role to any team, especially at the high level of test rugby, so far George Ford has been Jones’ fly-half and his main competitor for the shirt Owen Farrell has been shifted to 12 for the previous four games.

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George Ford and Owen Farrell.

Both have had fairly quiet campaigns going about their business relatively well without much fuss, that is of course apart from last week, where this partnership seemed to click into place.

Ford and Farrell in tandem which we saw glimpses of against Italy and Ireland blossomed into life against Wales. Ford looked confident behind his giant pack with the Saracens playmaker outside him.

The return however of Tuilagi and the form of Daly and Slade could threaten to upset this glorious partnership in the England midfield if not now then certainly when England travel to Australia in June.

There are already calls from some quarters to oust Ford for Tuilagi next week, but how can that be the case after what can only be described as a strong performance from the Bath out half.

He made two line breaks, made a try saving tackle on George North, kicked well out of hand and took the ball to the line therefore capitalising on Wales’ blitz defence. He looked like an international fly-half for the first time since last season.

ford

George Ford scoring a try in last year’s championship.

Ford was immense his only mistake coming when Dan Biggar who is in blisteringly good form himself charged down a poor kick from Ford.

The attacking mastermind surely has given Eddie Jones a thought of how to deal with this situation he finds himself with Ford pitted against Farrell.

Owen Farrell did kick well against Wales and his defence was as usual solid. Farrell is different to Ford, he doesn’t offer the attacking flair that Ford does which frankly is nigh on impossible to teach. The same way Ford doesn’t offer unflappable goal kicking or big hits.

Farrell was by no means perfect on Saturday his lack of vision resulted in a wasted try opportunity which would have put England out of reach heading into the final quarter.

faz

Farrell in action for England.

Neither deserve to be dropped, both have performed incredibly well, but Jones has to ask himself if one is to be dropped, flair or pragmatism, attacking or defence, Ford or Farrell?

Eddie’s Eleven

Eddie Jones is close to naming his first set of players to try and rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s rugby superpowers. With the Six Nations happening next month Eddie Jones has been given permission to change just eleven (including Sam Burgess) of the players that crashed out of the World Cup in October.

The fact that Ian Ritchie who’s tenure at the Rugby Football Union has been marred by controversy and ultimately failure has only allowed eleven changes is in itself moronic. How can Eddie Jones make his mark on a team full of deadweight that have overseen England’s worst ever World Cup.

Ian-Ritchie-RFU-chief-executive

RFU Chief Executive, Ian Ricthie

As well as the enforced change of Burgess, Henry Slade, Kieran Brookes, Jonny May will all have been changed due to injury. This leaves Eddie Jones with just seven real changes within the squad that can be used to improve.

If we look at replacement options surely Wasps centre Daly has to be included to replace the Rabbitohs star. Daly has proved this season that he has grown in maturity, his running lines are inventive and a breath of fresh air.

He has some real pace probably due to the time he spent at fullback, his pace and running lines have shown some of the best defences in Europe crack such as Toulon and Leinster. Daly’s ability to smash the ball over from 60 plus metres is also a hugely handy attribute in international rugby.

Elliot-Daly-551x400

Elliot Daly escapes the clutches of Dave Attwood

Another man that has to be considered after being practically ignored for there last four years is Kyle Eastmond, granted the centre is not having the best of seasons with Bath who are struggling to regain the form of last season which surely will click at some point.

Eastmond’s dazzling footwork is a joy to behold watching him dance his way through defenders was one of the high points of last season. His electric feet and turn of pace make him a nightmare to defend against.

To replace the injured Jonny May there is only one contender in my mind that man is Saracens flyer Chris Ashton. How many tries does this man have to score to be in the England squad?

He is on fire and scoring for fun in north London with the players inside him offering a few kicks ahead and his knack of popping up in the right place at the right time make him an invaluable finisher, just what England and Eddie Jones may be looking for. He will score tries and plenty of them.

The loss of Brookes who looks to be the next big thing in the England scrum is a shame, there are few players who can scrummage like the Saints tighthead. The only option in my mind is Wasps prop Jake Cooper-Wooley who has done a sterling job up in Coventry.

brookes.jpg

Kieran Brookes will miss the Six Nations due to injury

Due to the lack of real talent at tighthead and the way Dan Cole was ripped to pieces by Saracens pack mean Cooper-Wooley may well be thrown into the deep end in the absence of Brookes.

So there are the first four:
OUT: Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints), Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
IN: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Jake Cooper-Wooley, Elliot Daly (both Wasps), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)

Assuming Nick Easter is included so England will have a 32 man squad for the Six Nations that gives us six back row spots to work with. This will come as no shock but in my mind there is no place for Robshaw, a huge work rate and extraordinary passion unfortunately does not win you international rugby matches.

My favourite English opened right now has to be Kvesic and with other contenders in the mix like Clifford, Fraser and O’Connor, Haskell also has to go. Kvesic is an unbelievable openside, a ‘traditional’ seven.

He has been brilliant for Gloucester which is why they find themselves in a pretty strong position so far this season. Kvesic has struggled to really break into the England squad despite being around the team for long enough. His turnover rate is astonishing and he’s not shy of a big hit either.

matt-kvesic-gloucester_3255073.jpg

Matt Kvesic in action for Gloucester

Jack Clifford would be my replacement for Haskell. A lot has been spoken about Jack Clifford being England’s next openside and his skills. For me Clifford is a future England captain and his ball carrying and tenacity at the breakdown see him usurp Haskell.

Nick Easter, what a player. An example to players everywhere to never give up after being told by Lancaster in 2011 he would never again play for England four years later he is playing for his country in a World Cup.

A lovely story but he has to go, and there is only one man to replace him, Maro Itoje. The Saracens man who is just as at home in the engine room is my player of the season so far. His athleticism and leadership skills are making Saracens tick this season. Another contender for future England captain.

Itoje has to be in the squad, his form for Saracens is just the start of another wonderful journey.

Another summary:
OUT: Nick Easter (Harlequins), James Haskell (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
IN: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)

Only four changes left and so much left to change with three changes alone going on the back row you can imagine how much more I have left to change.

Rob Webber has to call time on his England career, he isn’t up to the standard at the moment. His replacement fairly straight forward Dylan Hartley also my captain.

The playing side for Hartley is exemplary he is excellent in the loose an abrasive in the set piece a really good player. The behaviour does however border on thuggery at times and although this may seem contradictory this is why he would be my captain.

The hard edge that made Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back feared not just by the opposition but by the young players in their team for example a certain Jonny Wilkinson is something Hartley has in abundance.
One player that has to go purely due to the fact I feel he has offered little to the squad since his debut back in 2012 is South African born Brad Barritt.

He has not been good enough, hugely influential for his club and solid for England but not spectacular. Rather than induct another centre into the squad I would have a fly-half come in purely because I think Danny Cipriani. It is still a mystery to me how the Sale out half didn’t get selected for the World Cup following a great display in the warm-ups.

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Danny Cipriano training with England prior to their 2014 tour to New Zealand

His form for Sale has been wonderful and he is the reason his team can compete at such a high level this season for Ford and Farrell to be selected and he be left in the north west would be a travesty.

The one cap wonder Semesa Rokoduguni has to be in the squad, he must be having déja vu after once again a scintillating start to this season. His ability to either bash or dash his way to the try line make him a real asset to whatever team he is playing in be it Bath or England.

He would replace Jack Nowell, yes Nowell has been great for Exeter but the fact is he’s not quick enough to be an international winger. Exeter fans would disagree but look at the other three wingers I have picked Rokoduguni, Ashton and Watson would Nowell really trouble any of them in a foot race.

Scrum-half is a really tough place at the moment for England with four or five contenders for just three places. My choice would be to drop Wigglesworth for Joe Simpson.

Wasps although inconsistent have looked sharp in the backs and the catalyst for that is the lightning quick Simpson. His service isn’t bad either and that earns him a place alongside Youngs and Care.

That completes our changes:
OUT: Brad Barritt (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Rob Webber (Bath Rugby), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens)
IN: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Semesa Rokodugnuni (Bath Rugby), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Notable mentions must go to Will Chudley who I hope to see on that plane to Australia in June. Dave Attwood who if he wasn’t injured would be in this squad at the expense of Parling. Dave Ewers and Thomas Waldrom both of whom would be in the squad if there was more space. Manu Tuilagi who had he played more would have been in the squad but he has been out of action for a long time and hasn’t starred for England since 2014.

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My England Squad for Six Nations

Bold indicates starting XV

Props: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Jake Cooper Wooley (Wasps), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Davey Wilson (Bath Rugby)

Hookers: Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton Saints), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Locks: George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs)

Flankers: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)

Number Eights: Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Scrum-Halves: Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Fly-Halves: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby)

Centres: Elliot Daly, Ben Jacobs (both Wasps, Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)

Wings: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Semesa Rokoduguni, Anthony Watson (both Bath Rugby)

Fullbacks: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)

Number of New Stars Promising for England

England have a number of young players in wonderful form and recently Henry Slade, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson have had people within the game purring.

This weekend two more backs hit the scene competing for places, Ben Spencer of Saracens reminded of the class he possesses but rarely gets to show due to the depth at his club.

The scrum-half was blinding. His kick over the top to send Ashton over was masterful you could even argue perfect.

Vision like that is something you cannot teach. A quick look up after a clever break was all Spencer needed to send his winger away.

He added to this with a try of his own. This was created by his fleeting feet and made him stand out.

In the later Twickenham game there was one teenager who stood out. London Irish centre Johnny Williams was outstanding and scored a brace in a game which showed very little positive for the Exiles.

Williams has an excellent record recently with four tries in just three games bagging two tries in the Challenge Cup with one each against Grenoble and Agen.

The centre has only just turned 19 and has a number of age grade appearances for England.

The speedy centre’s tries were not that straight forward either, they were quite sensational. The strong fending and bravery of Williams makes him a very exciting prospect.

The fact that every weekend a new name is popping up as a potential England candidate is only promising for the game in this country.

Spencer and Williams are sure to be around for years and if they can continue their current form there is nothing to stop them being England stars.

England Out But Hope On Show

England had a tough World Cup campaign and it finished with flattery against Uruguay as a stale performance saw England win 60-3, a flattering scoreline for the host nation.

Jack Nowell crosses the line for one of England's 10 tries.

Jack Nowell crosses the line for one of England’s 10 tries.

The performance though did have some pleasing elements, for one the performance of Exeter’s playmaker Henry Slade who has been unbelievable for his club and it is a mystery as to how he has been overlooked until England’s final ‘dead rubber’ as it were. Slade’s passing and running game was quite something to behold and outside Ford who finally got his chance once again was good with the ball in hand if he did falter off the tee.

Henry Slade scores for Exeter against Harlequins.

Henry Slade scores for Exeter against Harlequins.

Farrell kicked well as he always does, a masterful display of kicking. Joseph’s introduction saw England change, the midfield now looked sharper and an unbelievable piece of inspiration from the Bath centre set up Watson’s 2nd try against the minnows. Joseph’s pace and feet make him a real threat and it is a shame we did not get to see more of his dazzling skill in this World Cup.

Another player who looked good was the Saracens fullback, Alex Goode, he has had no chances in this World Cup despite a stellar season for the Premiership champions. He added a playmaking option to the midfield already laden with Ford, Farrell and Slade.

England showed some sort of attacking intent and hunger which had not been seen against Wales or Australia. Some flair, bravery and guile, a hunger to win and win well. They looked in control with flowing passing, good running lines and a couple of wonderful tries.

The performance had it been against any of the other top teams in the world would have been a horror show but the glimpses we saw of Ford and Slade combining along with the magic from Watson, Joseph and Nowell may well have been the dawn of a new English backline.

Anthony Watson in action for Bath.

Anthony Watson in action for Bath.

Forget the power based game, England need a team that can attack, so Manu Tuilagi and Luther Burrell are good players. But what would you rather England produced a crash up the middle or scything breaks round the outside? I know what I would rather watch, I may be slightly biased but after witnessing some amazing backs interplay last night I think it’s clear which way England must go following this World Cup’s conclusion and the likely resignation of Lancaster.

The forwards need a complete reshuffle and need a nasty streak, something that other teams fear, they need to emulate the fear factor Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back provided in 2003. England have some of those figures ready to step into the breach.

They need their scavenger, the Toulon exile Armitage, they need to find a way of bringing him into the squad without seeing an exodus from the Premiership. Burgess is a back row and he can be played there England need to address that as well. The back row has been a real point of weakness for the last 4 years.

The coaches all need to go, Lancaster has failed, Rowntree’s scrum has been bullied by Australia, Wales and France, Farrell has been involved in refereeing disputes and there is the obvious nepotism claim (which has been heard loud due to rumours of Ford, Slade and Goode running rings round Barritt and Burgess) and Catt’s bust up with Cipriani leaves him out of the set up.

Rob Andrew and Ian Ritchie also have to call time on their stays at Twickenham, they have to leave and England have to bring in Sir Clive Woodward as a Director of Rugby, he is the only man for the job a sentiment echoed by Dallaglio. England have deep rooted problems that must be sorted out there is a long list of people to shoulder some of the blame but last night we saw a glimpse of a brighter future.

My 33 Man Squad for Six Nations

Props Dan Cole (Leicester), Alex Corbisiero (Northampton), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), David Wilson (Bath)

Hookers Ross Batty (Bath), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton)

Second Rows Dave Attwood (Bath), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Geoff Parling (Exeter)

Flankers Steffon Armitage (Toulon), Dave Ewers (Exeter), Will Fraser, Maro Itoje (both Saracens)

Number Eights Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Ben Morgan (Gloucester)

Scrum-Halves Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Fly-Halves Danny Cipriani (Sale), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath)

Centres Kyle Eastmond, Jonathan Joseph (both Bath), Henry Slade (Exeter), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester)

Wings Matt Banahan (Bath), Jonny May (Gloucester), Christian Wade (Wasps), Anthony Watson (Bath)

Fullbacks Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)

That brings both a balance and some excitement along with some nasty forwards, this is of course if form is the same as last season only time will tell.

Next Up, World Cup

England’s warm-up games ended with a win over Ireland in London, an important win with England opening their World Cup campaign against Fiji in 11 days time.

England have answered loads of questions in their win over Ireland and Lancaster will now have a very clear picture of who will take to the field to play Fiji on 18th September. England dominated the match against Ireland and although they scored 2 tries they could easily have had 2 more had Youngs passed backwards or Farrell had the vision to throw the right pass.

Pool A is most certainly the toughest of the 4 pools, England look sharp and being at Twickenham gives them a huge advantage going into the ‘Group of Death’. Wales are strong and although Rhys Webb is a huge doubt and Halfpenny is out of the World Cup following injuries when they faced Italy they still pose a threat. Australia are always dangerous and their win over the All Blacks a few weeks ago demonstrated just how deadly they can be.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Even Fiji look good and their massive victory over Canada is a sign that they are not a write off and could challenge the big 3 of Pool A. Uruguay are likely to be the whipping boys of the group, they could be the victims of 4 heavy defeats and stand little chance of winning any game.

England look like they could be on the brink of going some way in this 2015 World Cup, maybe even to the final and there is a very real possibility of that happening should they top this tricky pool. The win over Ireland has shone a light on which players must be in that dressing room as the roar of the fans brings Twickenham to life at the start of 7 weeks that will change the face of world rugby in some way.

Jonny May has to be picked on the wing, Watson will start that much is assured but May must get the nod over Nowell. His try against Ireland was wonderful a display of power from the Gloucester flyer sees him surely shoot into the forefront of Lancaster’s mind. The devastation he can cause defences is both delightful and scary at the same time he makes light work of even the best defensive wingers. His try against the All Blacks in November and his performance against Ireland show this.

Mike Brown must remain as fullback despite the efforts of Alex Goode, yes Goode did play well against France but the mercurial Brown has to stay at his best he is among the best fullbacks in the world. The Harlequins star could well be the difference between a win or a loss. He is something special and along with Watson and May could form a worryingly devastating back three.

Tom Wood and Ben Morgan surely will start, Wood must start after his massively impressive game at Twickenham. He is undoubtedly a talented flanker with much in his armoury that England have only scratched the surface of. Morgan proved his fitness and budged his way into the squad ahead of the massive Vunipola who can be deployed as an impact player off the bench. As a Wales back with tired legs you don’t want Vunipola running at you that would scare the living daylights out of any player in that pool bar possibly giant Fijian Nadolo.

Tom Youngs finally answered his critics with a big game, the line out was better if scrappy as was the scrum. He will start but George may well overtake him over the course of the tournament as he gains more caps. The Saracens hooker is looking more like an international hooker with every minute he plays and Bath’s Webber is being edged out the squad rightly so.

The final question was answered overwhelmingly by the Bath maestro Ford. He was sublime, his sumptuous kick to Watson for England’s try was art, it was beautiful I as an avid rugby fan and self proclaimed connoisseur could say that kick was the epitome of fine art, the Michelin star dish of tries. It was something special. Ford has this little bit of pace this silky running and flair filled fun game that just sparks a team to life which was shown by the the way Bath played last season. One point in the game where it showed why Ford should start was when he wasn’t even on the field. Farrell (a good fly-half in his own right) threw a bad (because it was behind him) and poorly judged miss pass to Mike Brown. Had Ford been on the field England would have probably scored he would never dreamed of throwing a miss pass when he could instead exploit the shortage of Irish numbers so Brown could walk over the line.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

England are there they have their answers, they know now who they must pick to make their way to Twickenham in 31st October when (hopefully) England will be playing in their 4th World Cup final.

The race to Twickenham is well and truly on.

My England 23 to face Fiji: 1 J.Marler 2 T.Youngs 3 D.Cole 4 C.Lawes 5 G.Parling 6 T.Wood 7 C.Robshaw (C) 8 B.Morgan
9 B.Youngs 10 G.Ford 11 J.May 12 B.Barritt 13 J.Joseph 14 A.Watson 15 M.Brown

16 J.George 17 M.Vunipola 18 D.Wilson 19 J.Launchbury 20 B.Vunipola
21 R.Wigglesworth 22 O.Farrell 23 A.Goode

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.