With the latest announcement of Stuart Lancaster’s England squads for the upcoming internationals I couldn’t help but feel a slight swell of disappointment at reading through the names on the list. That’s not to say I am entirely disappointed in the squads, in fact the England Six Nations squad has me particularly excited. It is however the EPS itself which has me feeling slightly worried about the potential conservatism with just one change – George Ford replaces the departing Toby Flood.
The big question for me in fact is would there have been any change at all to the EPS had Toby Flood not confirmed his departure from Leicester Tigers last month? Beyond this change we see them same swell of familiar faces who have served England well over the last year but are yet to convince they can be genuine contenders for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Potentially the most concerning aspect of the EPS for me is the fact that a number of players seem capable of retaining their place no matter what.
I am aware that injuries have dictated Lancaster’s selections to an extent but can you claim with any real belief that Gloucester duo Matt Kvesic and Ben Morgan deserve to keep their places ahead of the likes of Luke Wallace and Dave Ewers based on current form? Equally how on earth is Freddie Burns in the England squad at all at the moment, never mind the EPS (despite being dropped to the Saxons during the Six Nations?).
I know he may not be everyone’s choice but Danny Cipriani has been proving himself week-in week-out at Sale this season and hasn’t even had an opportunity to prove himself in the Saxons. Beyond this Chris Ashton, despite failing to perform for his country in recent years, still retains his place (although hopefully he will come under increasing pressure from the likes of Wade Yarde, Nowell and Watson this season).
This seems like a perfect opportunity to blood new talent throughout the squad and give England a real chance to perform at the World Cup, instead it looks more like a safety first approach from a coach who is beginning to feel the weight of expectation from his nation. My problem isn’t so much that the squad isn’t good enough to compete, it is that the 2014 EPS does not look capable of challenging in the final rounds of the World Cup.
I can completely see the benefit of having solid players like Brad Barritt in or around an international team, he provides a stable, solid defensive platform and experience for younger players. My worry though is that can players like Barritt win you a World Cup? With a year and a half until the World Cup why not be giving the likes of Joseph,Trinder, Daly and co an opportunity to prove themselves, especially given Barritt is only just back from injury.
It seems England as a rugby nation are one of the few unwilling to give young talent regular opportunities in the test arena unlike a number of other top tier nations. Whilst Australia and Wales were introducing James O’Connor and George North respectively at a young age England were still sticking with the tried and tested formula which explains why we are still struggling to find a stable back-line.
The problem it seems to me is that a number of players are being selected on reputations (both past and present) rather than current form. As I mentioned the likes of Freddie Burns, Matt Kvesic and Ben Morgan are on a dire run of form with Gloucester and yet look under no threat at international level. I also have reservations about the rapid promotion of Henry Thomas to the Six Nations squad as he is currently struggling to establish himself as a regular started at Sale Sharks. Can we really be confident that he can come on in Paris and perform given his inexperience and scrummaging issues?
The most positive aspect of the announcements though was the squad for the Six Nations. The inclusion of the likes of Ford, Nowell, Watson and May represents a positive step forward and a possible intent to play a more attacking brand of rugby. Currently it would be fair to say that England’s pack are capable of taking on almost any side in the World, but where they have been really lacking is in their ability to create opportunities and finish them off. The Six Nations this year could be Lancaster’s opportunity to put this notion to bed and explore the attacking flare of England’s back, especially given the platform the forwards provide them with.
There is still however the risk that Lancaster may opt for pragmatism away in France and select his tried and tested players by selecting Barritt in the centres and putting Brown and Ashton on the wings with Goode at fullback. Frankly if this should happen I will be more than tempted to completely avoid the game for fear of becoming too aggravated by conservatism. Instead this should be an opportunity to give the young guns an opportunity to prove themselves in the hope of being permanently called up to the EPS.
Personally I would love to see a starting XV like the below take to the pitch in France;
1. Joe Marler
2. Dylan Hartley
3. Dan Cole
4. Joe Launchbury
5. Courtney Lawes
6. Tom Wood
7. Chris Robshaw
8. Billy Vunipola
9. Danny Care
10. Owen Farrell
11. Anthony Watson
12. Billy Twelvetrees
13. Luther Burrell
14. Jack Nowell
15. Mike Brown
This would provide an excellent blend of youth and experience and would show a selection of players based on merit rather than reputation. It would also offer up the opportunity to introduce the likes of Thomas, Ford and May at a later stage to give them game time without giving away too much in the way of experience.
Are you pleased with the latest England squad?