With the World Cup just over a year away England’s hopefuls have only a handful of games to showcase their credentials to England head coach Stuart Lancaster. I was at Twickenham to witness the showdowns, hits and collisions and ultimately see who would come out on top after round 1 of the final scramble for a place in the England team ahead of a home World Cup. Ultimately there were some very clear winners and losers after the games at Twickenham and here are six players who either helped or hindered their case to be involved with England.
David Strettle (Saracens, age: 31, England caps: 14, WINNER)
Scoring a hat-trick at the home of English Rugby is one way to get noticed, and as a winger probably the best way. Even better in fact when your name goes down as the match winner (no matter how controversial the decision was). Wing is arguably the most open position in the England team at the moment with no one really taking the shirt for themselves and despite his age I still think Strettle has every chance of gaining more England caps prior to the World Cup. His finishing was polished and quality and Strettle certainly looks in the mood for a recall this season, his kicking game and defence also appeared very solid, it could be hard for Lancaster to overlook giving the Sarrie a recall this year if his form continues.
Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, age: 21, England caps: 0, LOSER)
The young Harlequin unfortunately lost his battle up front to the experienced Tom Court before eventually losing his head after a scrap and consequently firing in a wild hit which rose high and cost him a yellow card. The talent of Sinckler has never been in question and he was impressive in the loose, however his temperament is what Graham Rowntree and Stuart Lancaster will be watching. At just 21 he has time on his side to develop into a top international tighthead but despite an impressive tour with England to New Zealand, this world cup may come a year or two early for Sinckler. A couple of good games in Europe however could propel his name back to the front of the coaches’ minds.
Christian Wade (Wasps, age: 23, England caps: 1, WINNER)
Another winger looking to get himself back in an England shirt, after an impressive debut in Argentina last summer Wade was summoned into the Lions squad as cover and played against the Brumbies mid-week. Injury unfortunately shattered any hopes the Wasp may have had to add to his England tally last year and he saw himself overtaken in the pecking order by the likes of Jonny May, Jack Nowell and Marland Yarde. The winger returned to do what he does best at Twickenham and that was get the fans of the edge of their seat, he finished two trys not with his mesmerising feet but with a turn of speed that would match that of Brian Habana or Jason Robinson. He has proved himself a finisher in the Premiership and if Lancaster wants a try scorer he should look no further as there is no one better in the country.
Rob Miller (Wasps, age: 25, England caps: 0, LOSER)
The former Sale man arrived at Wasps with hopes of improving his chances of climbing the England ladder, he has recently lost his place in the Saxons and had hoped playing with an exciting Wasps backline may re-ignite his England aspirations. Miller looked bulkier than he has done in previous seasons and there appeared to be a distinct lack of pace from the fullback. He was to blame for one of Strettles tries when the Sarries winger outpaced him to reach a kick and touch down. Miller was replaced in the second half by Italian Andrea Masi who came on and looked much more reassuring in the fullback role. At the moment it seems Miller should be more focussed on securing a place in the Wasps starting line-up rather than looking to force his way back in with England.
James Haskell (Wasps, age: 29, England caps: 51, WINNER)
Many raised an eyebrow when Haskell was named captain of Wasps this season, in the past he has played more of a joker role rather than that of a leader. I recently watched Gareth Thomas talk about how handing Lee Byrne the captaincy at the Newport Gwent Dragons has led to a ‘pressure to perform’ for the Welshman, the same appears to be the case at Wasps with Haskell. This could be a stroke of genius from Dai Young, Haskell is extremely experienced with over 50 caps for England and the younger players at the club do look up to him. Haskell put in an all action display at Twickenham, he was a menace in rucks and mauls, constantly disrupting and slowing down Saracens ball, he also carried well when he had the chance but with Nathan Hughes and Ashley Johnson in the side Haskell can focus on hitting as many breakdowns as his enormous frame can muster. With displays like this Stuart Lancaster should not hesitate throwing Haskell into his side if an injury occurs to either Tom Wood or Chris Robshaw. An honourable mention too for Joe Launchbury who appears to have bulked up in pre-season and threw himself around all day alongside Haskell ruining Saracens ball, Andy Goode also showed a lot of class at 10.
Chris Ashton (Saracens age: 27, England caps: 39, LOSER)
Another try for Ashton at Twickenham, but he was definitely overshadowed by his colleague David Strettle and Wasps danger-man Christian Wade. Ashton has lost his England place and he has been told to go away and work on his defence, based on Saturday’s evidence there appears to be no improvement. He was bumped off a couple of times by Wasps wing Sailosi Tagicakibau and he was again bounced by the diminutive Christian Wade for his first try when the duo were diving for a bouncing ball. Ashton has seen his stock fall dramatically in the last 12 months, he is going to need a very big season to force his way back in the England squad with so many young and prolific wingers now knocking on the door for an opportunity in the white shirt.
Here is a potential England team based purely of performances from Round 1 of the Aviva Premiership:
1. Alex Corbisiero (Northampton Saints)
2. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs)
4. Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
5. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
6. Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs)
7. James Haskell (Wasps)
8. Thomas Waldrom (Exeter Chiefs)
9. Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)
10. George Ford (Bath Rugby)
11. David Strettle (Saracens)
12. Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs)
13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
14. Christian Wade (Wasps)
15. Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Did anyone else catch your eye at Twickenham for good or for bad? What changes would you make to my team of the Round?