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.

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

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Aviva Premiership Preview: Gloucester Rugby

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: David Humphreys and Laurie Fisher

Captain: Greig Laidlaw

Stadium: Kingsholm Stadium (Capacity: 16,115)

Last Season: 8th

Prediction: 9th

Gloucester have languished in the lower reaches of the table in recent seasons, the Cherry and Whites have been unable to field and formidable outfit but are building a squad under Humphreys to challenge once again.

Gloucester have some of the best back rowers in the league such as Kvesic and Moriarty who are both pushing for international recognition this year. With international, experienced players such as James Hook, Greig Laidlaw and Matt Scott who all have amassed a large number of test caps.

KVESIC

Flanker, Matt Kvesic.

Gloucester have always traditionally had a large pack with forwards that dominate the set piece. The Shed faithful enjoy their forwards bossing the scrum and with that strong pack the breakdown has become an area of strength.

Fisher and Humphreys are looking to focus on the backs this year, Sharples and May are lethal and their sheer speed makes them deadly in the final third.

THREE TO WATCH

Matt Kvesic

Position: Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 105kg

Probably England’s closest answer to the Richie McCaw, David Pocock type favoured openside you see playing in Super Rugby and for the SANZAR nations.

He is crucial to Gloucester at the breakdown, he tackles strongly and his work on the floor is among the best in Europe. The English seven gives Gloucester quick, workable ball for the West Country club.

Greig Laidlaw

Position: Scrum-Half/ Fly-Half  Nationality: Scottish  Age: 30  Height: 1.75m  Weight: 80kg

The skipper is important to Gloucester especially when kicking the points. His metronomic boot is among the best in the business. His range is short but accuracy unerring.

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Ludlow lines up a kick.

Laidlaw is also an expert at unlocking defences, his passing is accurate and his vision is good. This allows him to set strike moves from anywhere on the field.

Ross Moriarty

Position: Flanker  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 22  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 104kg

Moriarty is a quick flanker that is exceptionally effective in the wide channels with the centres and wings trying to open up defensive lines with either his pace or his upper body strength.

Moriarty’s close quarters defence is also a massively important asset for Gloucester and is becoming as important for Wales.

TRANSFERS

IN (6)

Tom Denton (Leinster, IRE)

Josh Hohneck (Highlanders, NZL)

Motu Matu’u (Wellington Hurricanes, NZL)

Cameron Orr (Greater Sydney Rams, AUS)

Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby, SCO)

Andy Symons (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

OUT (10)

Luke Cole (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Rob Cook (Retired, RET)

James Gibbons (Ealing Trailfinders, ENG)

Tom Hicks (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Steve McColl (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Bill Meakes (Western Force, AUS)

Dan Murphy (Released, REL)

Steph Reynolds (Released, REL)

Elliott Stooke (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Nick Wood (Retired, RET)

Matt Scott is a fantastic signing for Gloucester, he will give them a distributing option and along with Andy Symons there is depth at centre. Tom Denton is also a promising name.

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Scott in action for Scotland.

Nick Wood and Rob Cook have been great for the squad over the years and losing them will hurt Gloucester. Many of the departures will not be too badly missed.

My Gloucester Rugby 23

15 Billy Burns 14 Jonny May 13 Henry Trinder 12 Matt Scott 11 Charlie Sharples 10 Billy Twelvetrees 9 Greig Laidlaw (Captain)

1 Nicky Thomas 2 Richard Hibbard 3 John Afoa 4 Tom Savage 5 Jeremy Thrush 6 Ross Moriarty 7 Matt Kvesic 8 Ben Morgan

16 Tom Lindsay 17 Yann Thomas 18 Paul Doran-Jones 19 James Hudson 20 Sione Kalamfoni 21 Callum Braley 22 James Hook 23 David Halaifonua

Gloucester have the squad to build on last season but other teams have strengthened better than Gloucester.

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

Leicester City Preview

Manager: Claudio Ranieri
Stadium: King Power Stadium
Captain: Wes Morgan
Top Scorer: Leonardo Ulloa (13)

Leicester City have played some great football last season only winning 2 games pre-Christmas. The transformation after Christmas was huge and played some wonderful football after Christmas. Leicester have a squad full of stars that if they perform can make a go of qualifying for European football.

A stunning 5-3 win over Manchester United was a wonderful game to watch and and 1 that I will remember for some time to come. Leicester showed some pace and slick movement to beat Van Gaal’s hapless Reds. They also enjoyed impressive wins over Newcastle (3-0) and QPR (5-1) that showed the rest of the league that they can be a very clinical side they managed to net 46 times over the course of the season although they conceded 55 goals in the process as well but the promoted side put in a good season under Nigel Pearson and it is a shame that scandal swept through the club costing the manager his job. However Ranieri is an accomplished professional and could raise Leicester to new heights.

Ranieri has enjoyed spells at a number of top clubs including Chelsea and Inter Milan.

Ranieri has enjoyed spells at a number of top clubs including Chelsea and Inter Milan.

Throughout April and May Leicester only lost 1 game and that was champions Chelsea, they also only conceded 7 goals in that time 3 coming in the 3-1 loss to Chelsea. They finished with a flourish, they would have been hoping the season would never end as they built up a head of steam and started to look the real deal throughout the Spring. They have some very strong players in attack with the likes of Vardy who earned himself an England call-up after a strong season for the Foxes. Jamie Vardy can be a great finisher and proved that on multiple occasions he has plenty of partners such as Nugent, Ulloa, Kramaric and Okazaki all of whom can finish.

Vardy celebrates scoring a goal for Leicester City.

Vardy celebrates scoring a goal for Leicester City.

Leicester have very big boots to fill after Argentine legend Cambiasso announced he will not renew his contract at the King Power Stadium. Esteban Cambiasso was named Player of the Season for Leicester last season and it is unclear who will replace even though Ranieri has said he will sign a replacement. They will hope to build on their return to England’s top tier and look to score like they did last season. They should have no problem avoiding relegation the question is by how much?

Jamie Vardy is a key man for Leicester as is Schmeichel who has been a rock in between the sticks always a key position for clubs looking to avoid going straight back down. The son of the legendary Manchester United keeper Peter is finally stepping out of his father’s shadow as a Leicester City star. He will be key again this season, the goalkeeper will hope he can keep Leicester playing well and hold off the challenge of 42 year old veteran Mark Schwarzer who has played for multiple Premier League clubs.

Robert Huth is a very good signing for the midlands club and his Premier League experience will be invaluable. Huth should be able to play a big part in Leicester kicking on as a Premier League side. The signing of Japanese striker Okazaki has made 93 appearances for his country netting 43 goals and at Mainz he scored 27 goals in 65 games. A very good finisher and sure to add some more firepower to an already powerful strike force.

Robert Huth in action for his new club.

Robert Huth in action for his new club.sche

Leaving King Power Stadium are some players that weren’t making waves bar Cambiasso who was huge for Leicester City. Knockaert has been at Leicester a while and made 93 appearances for the club scoring 13 goals as he leaves for Standard Liege. Leicester have also have offloaded Chris Wood who spent a lot of time on loan whilst he was at Leicester his move to Leeds sees Leicester lose a promising striker.

IN: Robert Huth (Stoke City, £3 million)
Shinji Okazaki (Mainz 05, £7 million)
Christian Fuchs (Schalke 04, Free)

OUT: Esteban Cambiasso (Free Agents, Free)
Chris Wood (Leeds United, £3 million)
Anthony Knockaert (Standard Liege, Free)
Paul Gallagher (Preston North End, Free)

Leicester City will be a hugely challenging prospect at times over the course of the season. It could be quite a tough challenge to go to King Power Stadium with a team that has big aspirations and a squad full of names that any self-respecting football fan knows add to that a couple of promising youngsters and there you have a team that can go places.

My Leicester City XI (4-4-2): 1 K.Schmeichel; 2 R.De Laet 5 W.Morgan (C) 14 R.Huth 19 C.Fuchs; 7 D.Hammond 10 A.King 8 M.James 11 M.Albrighton; 9 J.Vardy 23 L.Ulloa

Bench: 32 M.Schwarzer 17 D.Simpson 3 P.Konchesky 18 L.Moore 4 D.Drinkwater 20 S.Okazaki 35 D.Nugent

Last Season: 14th
Prediction: 14th