In the seventh part of our series looking at England’s options after their 2015 World Cup debacle, we take a look at the position of flanker. Below we look at the options both in the short-term (2016 Six Nations) and longer term (2019 Rugby World Cup);
As one of England’s most experienced players, especially in a leadership role, it would be rash to drop him from the squad immediately as he still has plenty to offer. He may however have to swtich sides and don the number six shirt in order to be at his most effective.
Wood hasn’t been at his best for England recently, but is still in fine form for Northampton. He is a potential candidate for the captaincy and looks set to battle it out with Chris Robshaw for the starting six shirt for the time being at least.
Itoje is sure to break into the England set-up sooner rather than later, the question now is whether it will be at lock of flanker. The Saracens man’s flexibility will make him a vital squad player, we now just need to establish where his best position is.
A true seven, Fraser could be just the player England have been looking for if he can remain fit. Injuries have thus far hampered his progress, but when fit he has shown more than enough to indicate he could be a top class openside if given the opportunity.
Another player who could find their flexibility a detriment to a starting shirt, Ewers can play both eight and six, although has spent most of his time on the flank recently for Exeter. A powerful ball carrier who works hard, the only potential criticism is his lack of pace.
The other serious contender for the number seven shirt in the 2016 Six Nations, Kvesic will be hoping to take his club form onto the international stage. The question that now must be answered is whether he has what it takes to compete with the world’s best.
Haskell’s age means he could make way for younger players coming through as he’s unlikely to make the 2019 World Cup, although his experience shouldn’t be overlooked. An experienced leader with a great engine, Haskell could still provide some value for England.
Clark looked good during his appearance for England ahead of the World Cup, although his disciplinary record is still used as a stick to beat him with. Can play either side of the scrum, and has been performing well for Northampton for several seasons now.
The Quins flanker looks like a fine prospect, even if his international debut could be a little while off yet. If he can establish himself in the Quins first team, then he has every chance of succeeding, the problem is deciding which flank to place him on as it could be another Robshaw situation.
Another Quins flanker who has been performing well in the Premiership over the last 18 months. He is a true openside, however fans have raised concerns over whether or not he has what it takes to make the step up to international rugby.
The Wasps flanker has the potential to make a name for himself in the Premiership, however whilst he isn’t regularly starting for his club, he could find his international opportunities limited, especially given the competition for a shirt in the back row.
Barrow had a superb season last time around for Newcastle which prompted a move to Leicester over the summer. He can cover both lock and blindside and if given enough game time could well find himself in contention for a place in the squad in 2019.
The New Zealand born Leicester flanker has made a solid start to the season but must maintain this form to come into contention. He shouldn’t be considered just yet, but if he continues performing until the end of the season he could be in contention for the seven shirt.
Gibson’s move from Leicester to Northampton over the summer raised some eyebrows, however he will be hoping to generate interest for his performances on the pitch now. He will have a tough time battling for the six shirt, but has time on his side.
At this stage, the openside spot is likely to be fought out between Kvesic and Fraser (if he can remain fit) due to a lack of alternative options, with Brendan O’Connor coming into contention if he can maintain his form for the rest of the season. At this stage I would be tempted to go with either Wood or Robshaw on the blindside with one of the younger players like Itoje acting as a backup and Dave Ewers also being given a shot.