England rugby: out with the old and in with the new

By Peter Dunne

As the players wait to find out who has been chosen for the England Elite Player Squad, one thing is certain: around half of the World Cup squad will not make the list when new interim head coach Stuart Lancaster announces the team tomorrow. There have been several injuries and retirements recently and these have opened up space for new blood on the team. Some new, younger players may also replace old players on merit alone.

Back Three

Ben Foden is almost certain to be named as starting full back but there are many contenders who are hot on his heels. Mike Brown of Harlequins has had an amazing season and should be in the squad and may even start a few matches. Mark Cueto is likely to be a casualty as he is now 32 and may make way for David Strettle, with Chris Ashton on the other wing.

Midfield

Hape and Tindall are both likely to be axed in favour of younger talent. Manu Tuilagi is injured; however he is likely to be picked as he should be fit for the majority of the tournament. One name which has been uttered many times over the weekend is Billy Twelvetrees – with 29 points (including two tries) against Wasps at the weekend he is definitely seen as an upcoming star. Against Wasps he played as fly half which also shows his versatility. Banahan who had an unremarkable World Cup may or not be picked and it is not known where he would play if he was picked.

Half-Backs

Wilkinson has retired and Flood is injured and will miss at least part of the tournament. This provides a large problem for Lancaster and his team. The two fly halfs who are now in the picture are Charlie Hodgson and 20 year old Owen Farrell. Many people predict Farrell will be picked as starting fly half while others say that Hodgson’s experience is invaluable. Lawrence Dallaglio has expressed his views and he has warned against picking too many youngsters; he insists that Hodgson is the best man for the job. With Wigglesworth injured and Care dropped because of his drink driving conviction this means that the only person to start at scrum half is Ben Youngs, who has had an excellent season. Joe Simpson will probably act as a back up in case Youngs gets injured or needs to be rested.

Front Row

Dylan Hartley is definitely the prime candidate to become England’s no 1 hooker, especially as Steve Thompson has sadly had to retire a second time because of fear of damaging his neck even further. Lee Mears will probably provide back up as will Wasps’ Rob Webber who has had a number of Saxons appearances. Sheridan has a long term injury so there is an opening for a new prop in the front row. There have been so many excellent front row performances this season, it would be too hard to call who will replace him, although many people are suggesting Nick Wood of Gloucester will step up to the front row and Dan Cole will probably join them in the front row.

Second Row

Lawes is a certainty for the starting line up although he may not recover from injury by February 11th which is when England faces Italy in England’s first match. Palmer should fill the other spot and Deacon will probably be named in the squad although he may not have recovered from injury by the start of the tournament.

Back Row

Chris Robshaw is the first name which should be considered when talking about the back row, despite only having one appearance for England under his belt. His versatility means that he can play any position in the back row. His performance so far in the Aviva Premiership has been excellent and people have even called for him to become the new captain, despite his lack of experience. Moody and Haskell are gone so Tom Croft and Tom Wood are likely to be starting at flanker. Other possibilities include Ben Morgan, Andy Saull and Jamie Gibson.

Captain?

Moody, Wilkinson, Tindall, Thompson, Shaw and Easter have all either gone or are unlikely to make the cut so that means that the question of who is going to be the new captain is a very tricky one. Many people have suggested Harlequins captain, Robshaw, should take the role but he does lack experience. Flood is a much likelier candidate as he has the experience, the skill and intelligence; but will he be fit in time? Dylan Hartley is another candidate for captain and could be a good person to act as captain until Flood returns.

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