Say Hello to 2015

England’s game against Australia will make for intriguing viewing this weekend, not least because of the age profile of the side England have selected.  The team has an average age of sub-25 and there’s no one in the entire matchday panel older than 28.  The average number of caps is 14.  Neutrals should probably hope for an Australia win, because if this England team wins the hype will be unbearable.  World Cup Glory beckons!  Bring on the Kiwis!  SWING LOW!

Having said that, if this England team does beat an admittedly patchy Australia side, they can afford a little cautious optimism.  This is a side built with 2015 in mind.  For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it looks like this:

M Brown (Harlequins); C Ashton (Saracens), J Tomkins (Saracens), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), M Yarde (London Irish); O Farrell (Saracens), L Dickson (Northampton), M Vunipola (Saracens), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens).

Excitement abounds around the two Vunipolas.  As George Hamilton might say, the Vunipola brothers are not related.  Billy is a livewire carrier, possibly the No.8 England have been looking for since Nick Easter, er, got ignored for some reason.  And in the scrummaging merry-go-round it appears that Mako has benefitted from the new laws.  A liability at set piece in the Lions tour, if indeed he can show this to no longer be the case in the New Scrummaging World, then he can have a long test career.  Or up until the scrum engagement changes again, at least.

They’ll miss the unflappable Geoff Parling at lineout time for sure, but the second row combination of Launchbury and Lawes is bound to generate excitement.  There will be no quicker, more athletic second row in the November series, but are they men of substance?  Lawes is a product of massive overhype, but has spoken of maturing and no longer looking to make rugbydump hits, but play for the team. The jury’s still out.

On the flanks, we’d still prefer to see a little more specialisation.  Robshaw and Wood are grafters.  Both will make some yards, slow down some ball, make some tackles.  Wood will take a few lineouts.  Fine men and good players they undoubtedly are, but neither is outstanding at any one facet of the game.  He may have his detractors, but Tom Croft will be missed.  He gives England an explosive running threat out wide and coupling his absence with that of Manu Tuilagi, there’s a massive line-breaking threat removed from the side.

In the back division, England have been scratching around for years for a top class 12 (since Greenwood retired, arguably) – Stontayne Hapless never really ticked the boxes.  Billy Twelvetrees is big and strong, but also a smart footballer and a good offloader.  He could be that man.  Joel Tomkins plays outside him, and Marland Yarde is the latest speedster off the rank to be given a go on the wing.  A new one seems to explode on the scene every year before their form goes into a tailspin and disappear from view.  Will he be the new Tom Varndell/Paul Sackey/Ugo Monye/David Strettle/Topsy Ojo/Christian Wade?

With all the youthful verve on display, the key question might be: are Lee Dickson and Owen Farrell the men to put them into space?  Dickson is keeping Fotuali’i on the bench at Northampton, which counts for a huge amount, but we have never been especially impressed by him.  He tends to do a lot of flapping around the base, and can be seen waving his arms for eons before passing the ball.  Better than Ben Youngs?  Really?  Owen Farrell is a hardy competitor, but the feeling remains that until Freddie Burns makes an unarguable case for selection, England still lack a real playmaker for the role.

Anyway, the future starts here.  Possibly.  Maybe.  England have prematurely celebrated any number of false dawns since 2003.  Remember when they won in Paris with a very youthful Toby Flood and – brace yourself – Shane Geraghty cutting the French to ribbons?  The press corps got very excited. It didn’t last.

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  1. abitofshoepie

     /  November 1, 2013

    An interesting comparison for me is how many of this starting line-up would make it into the current Irish team….me thinks we could do with their hooker and one of their second rows, with the two props and 36 on the bench and Ashton utilised as a human tackle bag for training, but apart from that I’m struggling. Maybe in 2 years time it will be a different case though.

    • Ah Cole would start for Ireland by a long way. Wood for POM. They have a lot of guys who are a 6-7 and in Twickers they’ll be a handful.

      The Vunipola boys are the only real ball carriers though and the midfield is seriously lacking. I thought Luther Burrell would get a run he has been hugely impressive for Northampton this year.

      This English scrum could be suspect I reckon…

      • abitofshoepie

         /  November 1, 2013

        Fair point on Cole, unfairly overlooked by me

    • Len

       /  November 1, 2013

      Lovely image of someone holding a dazed Ashton up as POC prepares to slam him into the again.

      • Dec

         /  November 1, 2013

        Yeah. He’d probably kick him in the head and then we’d be told that Paul a sound fella and it must have been an accent and something was in the siteing officers eye etc etc…

  2. Yossarian

     /  November 1, 2013

    A lot of reasonably good players but not enough stars in key positions to beat the best sides.midfield seems to be an issue since the guscott/carling era!

  3. Bueller

     /  November 1, 2013

    Yarde (*Marland) is much more than just a speed merchant. He has a good rugby head and works exceptionally hard around the park for a winger. I am tipping him to be there for the long run. Have kept an eye on him since the JWC a few years ago where he was awesome!

    Have to disagree with the above comment, I reckon a lot of the English players are under-rated (outside of the english media that is) and a liot of them would give very strong cases for the stating Irish line-up (T.Youngs, D.Cole, Launchbury, Wood, B Vunipola, B. Youngs, Twelvetrees and Brown would all give their Irish equivalent a good run for their money if you ask me…)

  4. Yossarian

     /  November 1, 2013

    If this is the mandate Lancaster has been given,to build for a World Cup, he is right to go about it the way he is. If you have two average players may as well go for the younger one. IRFU always seem to give the mandate of every game is a must win with no forward planning.
    We tend to under rate some of these English players as a reaction to the over rating their press gives them. We are guilty of doing the same with some of our average players.

    • Scrumdog

       /  November 1, 2013

      I agree now is the time to experiment and plan. We are qualified for the 2015 RWC and the IRB rankings don’t mean a toss! The November series is an opportunity to blood some new test players with some minutes from the bench…this is exactly what the All Blacks do with the June series down under…and sometimes the ‘blooded’ player will not be capped again for a season or two until he works on some aspects of his game needed to fit in to the game plan.

      Under Joe Schmidt I think we will , for the first time, have a plan ‘B’ in a match and maybe even a plan ‘C’…..!

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