With the announcement of England’s squad for the Autumn Internationals set to take place tomorrow morning, we’ve put together the team we think Stuart Lancaster should pick to take on Australia in the first game. What do you make of it?
15: Ben Foden
The Northampton fullback has had a torrid time with injuries over the past few seasons, but is finally back in form with a run of games under his belt. He has a counter-attacking ability surpassed by few, and has a proven ability to change games at this level – something neither Alex Goode nor Mike Brown can claim.
14: Marland Yarde
The London Irish youngster has propelled himself to the top of the wingers list. If he was in contention before the start of the season, he is now surely a starter. His finishing ability is well documented, but it is his power and work rate, both at the breakdown and in the loose, that sets him above his rivals.
13: Kyle Eastmond
With Manu Tuilagi out, this was the toughest position to fill. Not for want of contenders, mind you. Joel Tomkins and Luther Burrell came very close, while Henry Trinder and Elliot Daly are both wildcard options, but possibly need a little more exposure at the top level. Eastmond gets my vote, despite not having played a great deal at 13. With Twelvetrees’ distribution inside him, the prospect of Eastmond having space to use his footwork and combine with Foden and Yarde outside him is tantalising. His versatility may see him start on the bench, but I’d give him a go from the off.
12: Billy Twelvetrees
Pretty much a shoo-in. Luther Burrell has been brilliant for Northampton, but Twelvetrees has credit in the bank and experience aplenty from last year’s Six Nations, meaning the Saints’ man is more likely to get a look-in at 13. Twelvetrees ticks all the boxes, and given a bit more time has the potential to mature into a great player.
11: Chris Ashton
The clamour for Wade has just quietened a little this season, as his freshly-exposed defensive frailties, Yarde’s emergence, and the form of the two Saracens wingers have overshadowed him somewhat. Ashton is the man everyone loves to hate, but there’s no denying his form this season. He’ll be pushed very close by Dave Strettle, and to be honest, on early season form they both deserve a chance.
10: Owen Farrell
Farrell has been the conductor of Saracens’ relentless march to the top of the Premiership, and has looked a more accomplished player after his summer with the Lions. He is still a conservative option, no doubt, but is the right man to take England forwards for now – at least until Freddie Burns rediscovers some sort of form.
9: Lee Dickson
Dickson has started the season superbly well and deserves a shot at an England start. He has been keeping Fotuali’i out of the team at the Saints, and has made several eye-catching performances against quality sides so far. Youngs and Care will be all the better for a third option at scrum-half, and neither have been particularly excellent this season.
1: Alex Corbisiero
As obvious a choice as any on this teamsheet, Corbisiero has taken to the new scrummaging laws like the proverbial duck to water. He’s added more to his game outside of the scrum as well, offering himself more often as a carrier, and managed to bundle over for a try in the East Midlands derby not long ago. Mako Vunipola is the explosive option, but as was proved on the Lions tour is best used as an impact sub.
2: Tom Youngs
Youngs should see off the challenge of Hartley for the hooker berth. He is desperately difficult to knock backwards with ball in hand, owing to his low centre of gravity, and he must have one of the best workrates of any forward in the world right now. Has banished the lineout demons that plagued him this time last year.
3: Dan Cole
Cole’s star has faded somewhat from a couple of seasons ago, but he is still the undisputed first choice at tighthead for England. He is, for the most part, excellent in the scrums and there are few scrummaging experts who offer so much in the loose, both in terms of carrying and at the breakdown.
4: Joe Launchbury
He faded badly towards the end of last season, which probably cost him a Lions place, but this year’s Launchbury seems seriously revitalised. He gets through the work of a back-row forward, while also offering an excellent option at the line-out. Courtney Lawes and Dave Attwood will push hard, but he should see off their challenges.
5: Geoff Parling (C)
The line-out maestro’s selection becomes even more entrenched with his fellow soarer of the skies Tom Croft out injured, and for this reason he would be my captain – especially with the uncertainty potentially surrounding the back-row. What goes unnoticed is the hard work he does away from the set piece, where his mobility is surprisingly good and his defence is excellent. Part of the senior leadership group and first name on the teamsheet for me.
6: Tom Wood
Tom Croft’s injury and Gloucester’s poor form alleviates Lancaster’s selection dilemma in the back-row somewhat. Wood has played well for the Saints so far this season, and his leading of a successful tour party to Argentina will count for lots in Lancaster’s book.
7: Chris Robshaw
Had Kvesic really grasped his chance at Gloucester, Robshaw may have been gone. As it is, playing behind such a weak front five, the Gloucesterman has not done that and does not deserve to start ahead of Robshaw, who has plenty of ‘credit in the bank’ with Lancaster – something we all know means, rightly or wrongly, a lot to him.
8: Billy Vunipola
Another to benefit from Gloucster’s poor form, Vunipola has leapfrogged Ben Morgan in the competition for England’s no.8 spot. He is brutishly strong, and his time playing on the blindside for Saracens can only have done his workrate and fitness good.
16: Dylan Hartley – brings leadership and a fiery aggression from the bench.
17: Mako Vunipola – the ultimate impact sub; no team will want to deal with him 60 minutes into a test match.
18: Henry Thomas – has made a storming start to the season with Sale, and is a more viable long-term option than Dave Wilson (who is, admittedly, unlucky to miss out).
19: Dave Attwood – a return to the form of a few years ago sees him beat Lawes to the bench spot.
20: Matt Kvesic – Lancaster will keep the faith with Kvesic, despite a poor start to the season and the strong challenge of Will Fraser.
21: Danny Care – has shown better form this season than Ben Youngs, and brings that much-talked about ‘X Factor’ from the bench.
22: Toby Flood – in sublime form for the Tigers, Flood will provide a calm head and a willingness to attack the gainline. Burns simply not in good enough form at the moment.
23: Christian Wade – deserves a tast of international rugby purely on his finishing ability, and with Eastmond able to cover so many positions he could get a shot from the bench. Jonny May also pushing hard after a barnstorming return from injury.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images