The England Squad: Post Mortem

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With the dust settled and the press conferences done, I have examined Stuart Lancaster’s England squad for the QBE Autumn internationals.

Front Row:

In the squad: Joe Marler (Harlequins), Matt Mullan (Wasps), Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), David Wilson (Bath), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Rob Webber (Bath)

Injuries: Alex Corbisiero (shoulder), Dan Cole (neck) Mako Vunipola (knee), Tom Youngs (shoulder)

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With only four props and two hookers named there is a distinct lack of depth in the side at the moment, but when you look at the injuries (four British and Irish Lions to come back) you realise this is not the case. I expect Lancaster has named so few front row players in the squad for the QBE internationals because there is no one else really sticking their hands up at the moment. Henry Thomas and Kyle Sinckler have been on bench duty at Bath and Harlequins respectively and Dave Ward has not hit form yet this season for Quins.

Luke Cowan-Dickie a young hooker that Lancaster likes also finds himself on the bench at Exeter. Saracen Jamie George may fancy himself a little unlucky not to be in the squad however I would imagine that he would be the front-runner should Hartley or Webber pick up an injury. Lancaster and Rowntree will be hoping the six players that have been selected stay fit and gain valuable playing time in a white shirt. All have been in exceptional form so far this season so they are all capable of doing a job for England.

Second Row:

In the squad: Dave Attwood (Bath), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton)

Injuries: Geoff Parling (concussion), Ed Slater (knee)

Second row is a real position of strength for England at the moment, Attwood, Launchbury and Lawes all eased into the squad on form and reputation, all three are world class players in my opinion and would be in any international squad in the world were they not English. George Kruis finds himself in the side at the unfortunate expense of British and Irish Lion, Geoff Parling, and Ed Slater, who impressed a lot on tour in New Zealand. Graham Rowntree stated this week that had Kruis been fit he too would’ve made the tour and these autumn internationals will give him the chance that he deserves.

No one has mentioned the loss of Steve Borthwick this season at Saracens and that is for the most part due to the impressive performances of Kruis and Hardgreaves, newcomer and ferocious scot Jim Hamilton can’t even get a start. Graham Kitchener is perhaps a tad unlucky not to be names in the squad but should there be an injury I am sure he will be in the frame, there was also talk about Bath captain Stuart Hooper making an unlikely appearance however picking 32 year-olds is not Lancaster’s policy.

Back Row:

In the squad: Calum Clark (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Wasps), Ben Morgan (Gloucester), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, captain), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)

Injuries: Tom Croft (knee), Tom Johnson (neck)

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Bar Calum Clark these players pick themselves, they may be an argument for Dave Ewers to get a chance over Ben Morgan but the former Llanelli Scarlet has not really put a foot wrong for club or country. Clarks inclusion was due to the injury of Tom Croft, had croft been fit he surely would be in Lancasters squad, the failure of Steffan Armitage to return to England via Bath also made this an easier decision for Lancaster.

Had Armitage returned the European player of the year would’ve surely made the cut, his exclusion is still a contentious issue but one example to the rule will surely lead to more players moving away to France. Will Fraser and Luke Wallace will be particularly frustrated with their efforts being unrewarded, both players have been top performers week in, week out at their clubs. Wallace in particular has been picking up ‘man of the match’ virtually every week at Harlequins and despite wearing 6 he is a very traditional number 7, something that many fans think England have been lacking.

Half Backs:

In the squad: Danny Care (Harlequins), Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath), Stephen Myler (Northampton Saints)

Injuries: Nothing to report.

I don’t think anyone can argue with the selection of the scrum-halves in the squad. I have been critical of Ben Youngs this season but captaining a struggling Leicester side is perhaps a step too far for him as a relatively young player, still only 25. Youngs is however a British and Irish Lion and the famous saying “form is temporary, class is permanent” comes to mind. Richard Wigglesworth may see himself a little unlucky after not being selected, he has always had the passing and kicking game to match it with the best but he has also added a running threat to his game since Saracens investment in an artificial pitch.

Number 10 was the big talking point in this squad running up to these tests, a fit Owen Farrell was always going to be included, it was then a scrap amongst the rest. George Ford is a bright talent in English rugby and the former Junior World Player of the Year deserves his shot, given the fact there are 7 Bath players in the squad his link play with all of them could be a delight to watch in a white shirt, particularly Kyle Eastmond.

The third fly-half position is where I think Lancaster has perhaps missed a trick, Myler has been outstanding for Saints but he has had an armchair ride the whole way, Danny Cipriani has wowed fans behind a struggling Sale pack. He impressed on the tour in New Zealand and is warranted another go at international level, Freddie Burns also impressed in the summer but his club form has not been good enough to see him compete for a spot.

Centre: Brad Barritt (Saracens), Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints), Kyle Eastmond (Bath), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)

Injuries: Manu Tuilagi (groin)

The big talking point recently is the loss of Manu Tuilagi, the seventh British and Irish Lion missing from this squad through injury. Manu’s absence has perhaps made Stuart Lancasters life a bit easier in some ways as it now looks evident that a pairing of Eastmond and Burrell will take to the field against the All Blacks, but the fact there have been five centres picked in this squad perhaps suggests otherwise. I am delighted to see Jonathan Joseph given another go, although he is behind Burrell, I can see him making the bench with his ability to cover wing as well as centre. The selection of both Twelvetrees and Barritt surprises me, only one of them is needed in the squad and I feel Barritt has edged Twelvetrees on current form. It would be a big call for Lancaster to leave out the Gloucesterman however he is taking the spot of perhaps another front row forward who could be training with the side. The inclusion of both Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees perhaps suggests Lancaster is not 100% decided about Kyle Eastmond’s abilities, particularly in defence. For Eastmond’s sake a first up game against New Zealand, the side who picked him off and got him substituted at half time in his last game in a white shirt, is not ideal my any means. It’s a win it all or lose it all situation for Eastmond, a good game and he has proven his credentials as an international player, another poor performance in defence could leave him behind in the running for a World Cup spot with Barritt and Twelvetrees in pole position to fight it out for the 12 shirt.

Back Three:

In the squad: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens), Jonny May (Gloucester), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath), Marland Yarde (Harlequins)

Injuries: Chris Pennell (groin)

Semesa Rokoduguni in, Chris Ashton out, the words the majority of England fans wanted to hear on Wednesday. The Fijian cum Englishman has been in fine form this season, the standout wing in the premiership and possess power and speed, his defence is his biggest asset and something that has kept both Ashton and Christian Wade out in the cold. Wade’s attacking abilities are world class, but his defence is amateur, he has made too many costly errors this season to warrant international selection. The unluckiest man in England at the moment is David Strettle, the left wing has been in the form of his life and has worked on an all-round game, attack, defence, kicking and finishing have all been top drawer this season, I simply cannot understand how he has not been picked.

The form of Yarde has been non-existent this term but strong showings in New Zealand has proved to be money in the bank for England selection. Jack Nowell is perhaps the man I’d leave out at the moment, he has only just returned from injury and Strettle is out performing him at the minute. The inclusion of Jonny May is down the ‘X-factor’ that he has in his armoury, he can just create that one moment of something out of nothing and that excites coaches. Fullback is one mans position, Mike Brown has been England’s best player over the past 12 months and he had to be in, strong performances from Goode have also seen the Saracen included at the expense of Ben Foden.

Foden’s blunder against Racing Metro at the weekend has perhaps made Lancaster’s decision a little easier, another man unlucky to miss out is Baths Anthony Watson who can cover wing and fullback, a serious lack of game-time after injury explains the young talents omission. Chris Pennell had a good tour with England in the summer but he is now a championship player and injury has taken his chance away from him. Anyone who has been watching the Top 14 will have also seen the fine form Delon Armitage has had out there, one can only wonder what he could do had he been still playing in England, but just like his brother, England have got themselves in a corner and cannot pick the duo.

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