It’s a huge week for England – Stuart Lancaster will be announcing his 32-man Six Nations squad, and we all will hope that the farce of RWC11 will be put firmly behind them.
Of the XV that started against France in the quarter-final, no fewer than seven (Thommo – retired, Deacon – injured, Moody – retired, Wilko – retired, Tuilagi – injured, Easter and Cueto (already told they’re cut)) and two of the subs (Shawsie – retired, Haskell Inc – expanding the brand in Japan) definitively won’t be donning the red rose in Murrayfield in three and a bit weeks. Tindall has gone too, and the new broom is likely to sweep away a few others.
Lancaster’s binning of Danny Care for his idiotic (and dangerous) behaviour sent a powerful message – no longer will Johnno’s cloak of loayalty be thrown around the players – they will need to prove they are good enough men as well as good enough players for England.
We can expect some changes in addition to the above – Lancaster has intimated that dull and conservative gameplans are to be left to Deccie – word is a boshing 12 is off the table for example. But how far is the boat going to be pushed out here? Are England going to do a Lieveremont 08 and pick a Francois Trinh-Duc to groom him for RWC15? Or is it going to be more gradual? It would be all well and good flooding the squad with new names, but the style of play has got to change as well as the personnel. Let’s look at the question in 3 key areas, as we ask: will Lancaster be a Roundhead or a Cavalier, a Robespierre or a Louis XVI…
Since Neil Back retired, England have struggled to find a good backrow balance. When Moody isn’t fit (often), they tended to shoehorn a blindside into the 7 shirt – Worsley or Haskell for example. England have had a surfeit of uninspiring blindsides in recent years (the two mentioned above, or Tom Croft) and the lack of a real fetcher has tended to make the ball to the backs even more stodgy.
Roundheads: Here is a chance for Lancaster to have an impact. Select Andy Saull, a proper openside who looks like he may fit in with a slicker gameplan. Ben Morgan is a Lion in the making – all the assumptions were he was waiting for Welsh qualification, but he has done a Barnesy and gone back to the country of his birth. With Tom Wood at 6 and Chris Robshaw on the bench, England would look more dynamic.
Cavaliers: Continuing with the status quo would see Crofty back at 6 and an awkward blindside fit at 7 (Wood or Robshaw). Thomas the Tank Engine would eschew space for contact from number 8, and, without an openside, the backs can forget it.
For the last 2 years, it has been the Barnesy/Rob Andrew debate again – the flair and flat alignment of Floody versus the defensive rock, but attacking pebble, that is Wilko. Johnno never looked likely to pick anyone but Wilko when squeaky-bum time arrived, and the first post-6N mistake by Floody meant he was out. Flood is now injured and Wilko gone.
Robespierre: Danny Cipriani is called back from Australia with a clean slate and given a chance to show everyone what we have been missing for the last three years. Charlie comes back as an elder statesman and an avowed attacker. George Ford gets to train with the squad.
Louis XVI: Cipriani is ignored, and Owen Farrell is brought in as a 10 – he has decent hands, but a howitzer of a boot which it would be tempting to use at first five – it’s more expansive than Wilko but not much.
If anything typified the malaise of England under Johnno, it was the depressing sight of Shontayne Hapless and Matt Banahan as a centre partnership – not a subtle pass between them, and lots of contact. Hape was well out of his depth (even Scotland or Italy would not have picked him) and Banahan is not an international centre – it’s one thing to bosh your way to four tries against Aironi, quite another to do so against BOD, Rougerie or Roberts. Tindall was a rather uninspiring constant in the equation.
Union: Billy Twelvetrees, Henry Trinder and JJ Joseph come into the squad. Farrell plays at 13, outside an expansive 10, where he has more space to work with.
Confederacy: Brad Barritt and Jordan Turner-Hall are new faces, but they are the slightly richer man’s James Downey – not men Ben Foden would relish playing outside. Banahan keeps his place, and the emphasis on bosh continues.
We’ll be back tomorrow to review Lancaster’s squad and deliver our verdict.