England’s Combinations

englandJust as we approach the Autumn internationals social media is awash with possibilities for the England rugby team. Here in lies the problem faced by Stuart Lancaster and the current England set up.

While it may be possible to get a consensus on a team, as In The Loose has done, in almost no position is anyone a nailed on certainty.

Selection is always a difficult task, form, position, experience and politics all play a role, as well as blooding youngsters, building for the future or ‘baptisms of fire’.

Lancaster needs a very clear vision of what he wants from his team, how he wants them to play and pick accordingly.

However, one of the most crucial areas of team selection is to get the combinations right. One and one must make at least two, and if you’re lucky they can be so complimentary so as to add up to a whole lot more.  Dallaglio, Back and Hill now roll off the tongue and are an example of great players complimenting each other perfectly although you could argue they lacked lineout presence.  Horan and Little, Smith and Nonu, Carling and Guscott are three examples of high functioning centre partnerships, so let’s have a look at England now.

The front row.

The consensus was to start Corbisiero with Youngs and Cole.  This looks solid and has ball carrying, great loose work and excellent scrummaging. however with Corbs now injured Lancaster ahs something of a problem. He could just throw Mako Vunipola in and see how he goes or revert to Joe Marler who I believe is a little under powered at the top level.  Hartley may be on the bench but now nothing is certain and his greater bulk and hooking ability may make him the front runner . David Wilson put his hand up on tour in Argentina and is now seen to be pushing Cole, who has not been as dominant in the scrum over the last year as assumed he would be.

Second Row

This is where it now gets complicated. Launchbury and Parling are the front runners, but were part of the pack obliterated in Cardiff last year. The second row requires what I refer to as a Plank (Johnson, Shaw) and a Spear (Parling, Eales, Alun-Wyn) a heavy and a light. Parling and Launchbury, at present lack presence at the very top level, so England really need to combine them with either Lawes or Attwood, neither of whom have a great fitness record. Who they pick will cause a lot of debate. I personally am more a Launchbury fan as a footballer which is harsh on a Lion and lineout caller, but the team requires a combination and he edges it.

Back Row.

This is another minefield for Lancaster with the added bonus of the captaincy issue. Playing three sixes doesn’t work as England found to their terrible cost in Cardiff. Fortunately there are now a host of number 8’s to choose from in Morgan, Vunipola, and Ewers and Dickinson suddenly showing a hand. Lancaster then needs to decide whether he wants a real seven, or to continue with Robshaw.  Kvesic is the logical choice but Robshaw has done nothing wrong. Crofts absence while helping in one instance makes it a little harder. Croft complimented Robshaw the best.  Robshaw did the close work and foraging more of a six and left the open spaces for Croft more like a seven, in tandem they worked. So what of Wood? He by consensus is the best six but him and Robshaw, in my opinion are too slow to play together, one and one here make one and a half. Harsh, maybe, but good combinations can add so much. A lot depends on Lancaster’s choice of style and fly half, but it’s probably time to start Kvesic against the best and see what happens. It would mean Wood at six and likely Morgan at 8 with Billy Vunipola off the bench. This combines pace, power and nous. Wood would then be captain and Robshaw very unfortunate.

The Halves

Three scrum halves and suddenly what feels like five fly halves. If England want tempo then Care is best, more control, then Youngs or if they want the fly half as a runner and general then Dickson may be best.

In my opinion Flood has had his time. It’s not that he’s not an excellent player, but so many of the youngsters need to be seen and tried, and Flood has had fifty caps of opportunity to cement the position and failed. It’s really a straight fight between Burns and Farrell with Ford emerging and Cipriani suddenly showing some form.

Most would love Burns to start as the more complete footballer, but an international stand-off must be a general first and a runner second. It’s why Barnes hardly played for England and Carlos Spencer dispensed with for Carter. Farrell showed big improvements on the Lions tour in his all round game and so for me is still ahead, but Burns should be given one of the internationals. I would let them know now so that they have a chance to organise themselves and know that they aren’t being dropped just tried against the best opposition. Being good against a weakened Argentina is one thing, keeping cool against a rampaging All Black back row another. As a combination Care would work best with Farrell as he adds more vigour than Youngs although there is very little to choose, but I would try Dickson with Burns as he has the speedier service, giving the runner more time to make his decisions.  It’s a tough call for Lancaster and it will shape the way the team plays, his backrow selection and perhaps the future of the team.

The centres

It doesn’t get any easier does it! Perhaps the only shoe in of the team is injured. Manu Tuilagi has to start when fit, he’s a match winner and scores at international level, especially in more broken play. But he is injured, so what does Lancaster do. Twelvetrees, Trinder, Burrell, Tompkins, Joseph and Eastmond  are all playing well. Twelvetrees is favourite for many with the size and skills we haven’t had at 12 since Will Greenwood retired. He’s a great distributor and kicker and would set Tuilagi up nicely. Burrell at twelve gives the battering ram some want and has good hands, but long term a combination with Tuilagi would offer little in the way of subtlety.  Once again it boils down to which pairing combined can achieve the most. The possibility in the Autumn is Twelvetrees with Burrell outside as a near like for like replacement for Tuilagi. It will be a very tough call for Lancaster.

The back three.

England’s back three last year were ordinary at best and awful at worst. There must be a combination of factors which is essentially a flier, a ball player and a solid counter attacker. With Ashton out of form last year the back three had no real pace despite Mike Brown’s attempts to become faster. In Marland Yarde England now have the big fast wing we haven’t had since Ben Cohen left the scene. Ashton’s recent return to form could cause a problem, but I prefer the other wing to have more skills. Johnny May is a flier with some skill, although, and I’m out on a limb here, England should consider Kyle Eastmond on one wing. The best England ever played was when Austin Healy was on the wing and randomly appeared to take the ball at ten or twelve. With defences so organised and solid a little maverick trickery could be a game changer. Failing that, Wade should at least get a game. For me Foden starts at fullback. He’s the best we have, the second best is Delon Armitage. Brown and Goode while good players don’t have enough pace or presence to make an impact at international level.

So, there you have my run down of the potential team. However it’s far less about who is picked than process that is gone through. When selecting, getting the best team, players that bring out the best qualities in others is what matters most.

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  1. Fascinating to think with Stuart is does he really know what his best fifteen is and on the back of such a wonderful lions tour,the Aussies will be screaming for payback time whilst on the British shores,he will be lucky that Rowntree and Farrell were on the coaching set up with the lions so they will have a valuable insight into the make up of the Australian squad.Obviously the Australian coaching dept has changed since then and after a poor championship campaign not helped by off the field controversies especially with o’Connor England will start of as favourites but I do worry at times as to whether we do have the squad in depth to take on and beat the stronger Southern Hemisphere nations. I think we should be capable of winning the six nations but the ultimate aim should be to win back the World Cup.

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