With the club season drawing to a fascinating finale, the International window is sat firmly in the backs of minds of those who seek to keep or earn a place on the plane to All Blacks country.
With Final’s affecting the choices that Lancaster and co. have to make, it’s crucial he remains diligent and open-minded to which players he will select for the Barbarians encounter and opening New Zealand test. Set to name a 40 man strong squad, with potentially 12 front-rowers and 4 Scrum Halves, English rugby should be thankful for the depth of talent it currently kindles.
If you place yourself in the rather admirably sized shoes of Stuart Lancaster, you’d certainly be a little uneasy that the likes of Tom Youngs, Alex Corbisiero and Jack Nowell have all been ruled out. Add to that list; Tom Croft, Christian Wade, Dan Cole and possibly Billy Twelvetrees, and to be able to piece together an experienced, well-oiled side would be a worthy cause for a headache.
Most of England’s industrious leaders and tactical genius’ are likely to go head to head in the final stages of the Premiership season, add European matters into the mix and it seems lady luck will be the most influential being over the next few weeks. If the Lawes’, Farrell’s, Robshaw’s and Brown’s do get injured along the way, will there be anyone able to cut it against the mighty All Blacks, show a stern upper lip when faced with the Haka or even recover from jet lag fully!?
These players in my eyes, will be the 40 odd men on Lancaster’s list to prove their metal in the wake of the 2015 RWC.
Joe Marler-19 caps
Mako Vunipola-15 caps
Matt Mullan-3 caps
Nathan Catt- You cannot deny that Catt is benefiting from the International pedigree that surrounds him, with the likes of Paul James and David Wilson on hand to give key advice. Similarly, having been around the two David’s in the shape of Barnes and Flatman will have also been massively helpful. Catt fits the mould of a modern day prop and packs plenty of power. It seems highly likely that he may feature, even if it is against the Crusaders in Christchurch. Uncapped
David Wilson-34 caps
Henry Thomas-6 caps
Kieran Brookes- Very rarely do you find players from the clubs towards the grimmer end of the table getting selected for International duty, however the 23 year old has been stand out for the Falcons, despite his ban back in March. A heavy-duty forward, at 124kg, who can pound defences should be available come June, and could prove himself should he feature against Dean Ryan’s Barbarians team. Uncapped.
Kyle Sinckler- A player who has made his mark in the Harlequins first team, and proved his worth against Bath at the weekend. Occasionally a little hot headed, however his aggression is something to be admired. Strong as an ox in the scrum, and a work rate rivalling any fellow prop, Sinckler is an outside bet to secure a seat on the long haul flight. The 120kg tighthead who grew up playing for Battersea Ironsides could be another player to make a rapid jump from England U20s to the senior squad. Uncapped.
‘Possibles’-Will Collier (Uncapped)
Dylan Hartley (if fit)-55 caps
Rob Webber (if fit)-5 caps
Dave Ward- The 29 year old has gone from strength to strength under the coaching of O’Shea, Kingston and colleagues. Deservedly earning players’ player and player of the year, Ward has gone from Harlequins 3rd choice to now top of the pecking order. It’s questionable whether Ward should wear a 7 on his back with his ability to disrupt the oppositions possession. With footwork that allows him to slice through defences, not only is he influential around the park, his set-piece is solid. Ward is made for test rugby and deserves nothing less than to prove himself against the world’s finest. Uncapped.
Jamie George- It’s hard to compete with perhaps the best hooker in the league this year, the sublime Springbok Schalk Brits, however George has shown why McCall has continually placed his faith in the young man. Captaining a Saracens side that lost, perhaps a little cruelly in Round 22, George will be a tremendous replacement for Tom Youngs, who is unfortunately unable to make it due to family reasons. A dogged, gritty and determined hooker with an exceptional set-piece. Uncapped.
‘Possibles’-David Paice (if fit) (8 caps) and Luke Cowan-Dickie (Uncapped)
Joe Launchbury-19 caps
Dave Attwood-10 caps
Courtney Lawes-30 caps
Michael Paterson- It’s very rarely that you see a new signing settle early and perform so formidably. After moving from the Arms Park, crossing borders and joining up with Steve Diamond at the AJ Bell Stadium, Paterson has surely been one of the signings of 2013. On the verge of ensuring qualification for Wales, Paterson decided to take his mass of experience and push for an England call-up. The former New Zealand U19 World Champion, who has amassed experience in the Pro12, ITM Cup, Super Rugby and Heineken Cup, would bring added leadership and presence to a youthful, yet hefty pack. Uncapped.
‘Possibles’- Geoff Parling (if fit) (19 caps) and Graham Kitchener (Uncapped)
Tom Wood-28 caps
Tom Johnson-7 caps
Chris Robshaw-25 caps
Matt Kvesic-2 caps
Luke Wallace- An accomplished poacher, Wallace has a playing and hair style reminiscent of Saracens mighty Namibian, Jacques Burger. A hard-hitting, dynamic openside, Wallace has been tipped to take over the England captaincy and is not frightened of ousting club colleague Robshaw. If Lancaster is looking for a ‘proper’ 7, Wallace is the man currently sitting in pole position. Do you risk experience for added turnovers?
Billy Vunipola-8 caps
Ben Morgan-20 caps
‘Possibles’- Jackson Wray (Uncapped) and Calum Clark (Uncapped)
Danny Care-47 caps
Ben Youngs-35 caps
Richard Wigglesworth-14 caps
Lee Dickson-16 caps
Owen Farrell-24 caps
George Ford-2 caps
Danny Cipriani- A player who, equally with Ford, deserves acknowledgement for his influential club performances. Everyone is more than aware of the ability Cipriani possesses. Farrell is clinical with the boot and monstrous in defence. Ford pulls defences apart with his delayed passing and supreme footwork. Cipriani turns defenders and can be ruthless on quick ball. Decisions, decisions. I think Farrell will keep the starting spot, but who will be the impact sub? Rested for Sale, it seems Cipriani is at least on the plane. 7 caps.
‘Possibles’-Stephen Myler (1 cap)
Luther Burrell-5 caps
Manu Tuilagi-22 caps
Kyle Eastmond-2 caps
Brad Barritt- Barritt vowed to get his place back in the England squad, and perhaps the injury to Gloucester centre, Billy Twelvetrees maybe a blessing in disguise for the 27 year old. A defensive stalwart, Barritt has played against the All Blacks before, and even crossed the whitewash! However, he has been criticised for his one dimensional gameplay and with beasts Burrell and Tuilagi offering slick handling skills alongside their defensive solidarity, Barritt will have to fight tooth and nail for a starting spot. 18 caps.
‘Possibles’-Anthony Allen (2 caps) and Jonathan Joseph (6 caps)
Marland Yarde-2 caps
Jonny May-6 caps
Chris Ashton- I’m sure my selection of Ashton will be questioned possibly as much as May’s, however Ashton has undeniably been tremendous for club all season. I would challenge anyone to name a right wing who has as much to offer as Ashton, that doesn’t come in the form of rising star Anthony Watson, or side-lined Christian Wade. With Tuilagi and Burrell likely to burst through the midfield, Ashton is the perfect player to offer support and cut top-notch running lines that will enable England to touch down. 37 caps.
‘Possibles’- Tom Varndell (4 caps) and Semesa Rokoduguni (Uncapped)
Mike Brown-26 caps
Chris Pennell- Now, I’m obviously biased being a Worcester boy through and through, yet my selection is one based purely on facts and figures. Pennell has played every minute of Premiership rugby this season, beaten over 50 defenders, made the most carries and metres, and as a result, has been shortlisted for player of the season. He offers a fantastic aerial ability, is a sound kicking option, always beats the first defender and never gives in. In a failing side, he has been one of a few shining lights and undoubtedly deserves recognition. If he finds himself without a ticket to New Zealand, it may be up to his very own DOR, Dean Ryan, to give him a shot for the Baabaas on June 1st. Uncapped.
Alex Goode-16 caps
‘Possibles’- Ben Foden (34 caps) and Mathew Tait (38 caps)- Both of these players can be trusted to play to the highest level week in-week out. It would be fantastic to see Tait back in an England jersey, having not appeared since 2010, coming off the bench against Australia in Perth.
With each of these players available, this would be my team of 23 for the second test.
1. Joe Marler
2. Dylan Hartley
3. David Wilson
4. Joe Launchbury
5. Courtney Lawes
6. Tom Wood
7. Chris Robshaw
8. Billy Vunipola
9. Danny Care
10. Owen Farrell
11. Marland Yarde
12. Luther Burrell
13. Manu Tuilagi
14. Chris Ashton
15. Mike Brown
16. Dave Ward
17. Mako Vunipola
18. Henry Thomas
19. Dave Attwood
20. Luke Wallace
21. Ben Youngs
22. George Ford
23. Anthony Watson
Best of luck to the team, and even if we don’t win, that is no reason to be negative looking ahead to the RWC 2015. Development is all about learning from mistakes and coming back stronger.