Stuart Lancaster revealed his 32-man squad for the Six Nations this luncheon, with nine new faces arriving. He’s kept faith with a core of tight forwards, (Cole, Stevens, Palmer, Deacon, Hartley) but outside that dark region it’s going to be a new-look England. We can expect to see a backrow featuring Ben Morgan at 8, and any two of Wood, Robshaw and Croft. 10-12-13 will be interesting and it’s not entirely clear how that will look. Charlie Hodgson (yes, him) has been recalled, and Lancaster may see him as the wily old head to steer the ship from 10 while the young guns busy themselves around him. It will look like a mad call to Hodgson’s many detractors, but in Flood’s absence there aren’t that many other compelling options. Still, it looks a weak point.
Some things never change though, and it seems Lancaster couldn’t resist picking a couple of inside-centre boshing machines in Barritt and Turner-Hall; while that in-vogue openside remains as elusive as ever, with Andy Saull having to bide his time in the Saxons squad. Still, it’s a brave new-ish world and all that, and we’ll watch with intrigue as they travel to Murrayfield for their first game.
Good luck to them, we say. They’ll need it – the carping has started already, in fact, it started before the squad announcement. Here’s Lawrence Bruno Nero when asked if Ben Morgan and Owen Farrell should make the first XV:
“No. The lads need to experience the culture and the environment.”
Oh dear. Would that be the culture of self-aggrandisement, and the environment of oafish behaviour? Surely the whole plan was to build a new culture from the bottom up.
Now, bear in mind that this is about Morgan and Farrell, the only two newbies who are nailed on to start against Scotland – Farrell has been the stand-out English back in this years Boshiership and Morgan hardly went from turning down the Saxons to qualify for Wales last year to switching allegiances just to hold a tackle bag for Thomas the Tank Engine. [Aside: the "Who is Ben Morgan?" pieces in the English press show a worrying insularity - do England really have nothing to learn from the Celts? Morgan is a Lion in waiting.]
What we also don’t understand is why there was no requirement for the likes of Shontayne Hape to learn the “culture” – he wasn’t even English, but was fast-tracked into the squad with nary a peep from Dallaglio. Maybe there is one rule for ageing boshers and another for young tyros.
The ’03-ers are rightly considered Heroes of English Rugby, and all have retired with unimpeachable reputations (on the field anyway). The problem for English rugby is that many have retired to the soft seats of the media, and their opinions on the current national set-up (again, rightly) carry a lot of weight. You can’t shut them up, but every unconstructive utterance such as Dallaglio’s will erode the fledgling confidence (such as it is) of the new generation. Plus, as we are tired of banging on about, it will remind everyone that the team aren’t doing as well as ’03… and are daring to pass the ball wide in the process. Ergo – bosh it up the middle to win.
To rub salt into the wound, and reduce the pressure on the likes of Farrell, Lawrence finished with the Lampard-esque rallying call:
“Of course England can win the World Cup”
Stopping just sort of “… because we deserve it.” Here at Cordite Towers, we wish the newbies, especially Farrell and Morgan all the best – it’s not going to be an easy ride.
PS. of course, the real indicator of the new culture in Team England is this: if Chris Ashton does his charming swallow dive when he scores his first try in the Lancaster era, forget about it.