England team for Six Nations opener

Balshaw, Sackey, Tindall, Flood, Strettle, Wilkinson, Gomarsall, Sheridan, Regan, Vickery, Shaw, Borthwick, Haskell, Moody, Narraway.
Subs: Mears, Stevens, Kay, Rees, Wigglesworth, Cipriani, Vainikolo.

Mathew Tait is not even in the 22, despite being our most exciting back;  Mark Regan starts at hooker despite being so old he can’t see straight, let alone throw straight; Simon Shaw has obviously made a miraculous recovery; Luke Narraway will make his debut at Number 8.

Otherwise it’s pretty much as expected, with Lesley Vainikolo likely to be capped just so he can’t play for Tonga!

What are your thoughts?

39 thoughts on “England team for Six Nations opener

  1. Vainikolo is a great player, and wants to play for England, and has the backing of the captain and coach. It’s still wrong.

    We should set an example to the Kiwis and decline the offer, Tonga need him far more than we do, and it would send a strong message worldwide that the game is not entirely about money and winning yet. Unfortunately I think it’s too late, money has taken over and it is more important for us to win than to have ethics.

  2. I’m also amazed that Tom Arscott isn’t in. I hate Bristol as much as anyone, but the kid is comfortably the form winger.

  3. I think it’s a good enough team to win… But only just, and its unlikely to be pretty. I’d love him to prove me wrong but Balshaw is a mong, and Narraway must have seriously impressed in training.

    Should be a cracking game.

  4. I agree with Rob D – selecting Balshaw is a mistake. Apart from JR, Tait’s the only England back that has shown creative, attacking flair in the past several years, and he needs more caps. Balshaw is often flaky for Gloucs, and does not have the mental strength for a game like this. Wales will target him from the whistle, and Ashton has left himself no options on the bench.

    The centre partnership is certainly not one to strike fear into the hearts of any 6N opposition, the real issue being we don’t have too many to choose from. It’s do or die for Flood. He has to demonstrate an ability to defend and keep his head under pressure. I’m not confident he can do this.

  5. I am seriously worried about this game. Yes, I know it’s Wales who couldn’t even make the Quarter finals, but they do now have a competent coaching team, and one that knows English Rugby inside out (not that it’s taken much tactical nous to suss us out in recent years).

    And the fact that 13 Ospreys are in the starting line up worries me. All sides usually take a while to settle in to the 6N, especially Wales, but this Wales team is going to be very well-drilled from the kick off and our team selection’s all over the place. One of the few units that remains from the RWC final is the front row, which could tell you a lot about our gameplan.

    I lost my patience with Moody after that stupid trip on Butch James in Paris, so not pleased to see him ahead of Rees who’s a better player with a better temperament and more of a future.

    I’m not even going to comment on Balshaw ahead of Tait – I’ll just get angry!

  6. I feel genuinely disappointed for Tait. I can’t imagine what Ashton could say to him as to why he didn’t pick him in the 22.
    Also, if Ashton wanted a young, in form 8 he should have picked Tom Guest or switched Haskell to 8 and played the player of the month Tom Croft!!

  7. Just seen Croft’s injured so i retract that last suggestion. I suppose there weren’t any other viable options in the back row.

  8. Didn’t see the Narraway selection coming. I fail to see how this back row is more dynamic or balanced than Moody, Rees, Haskell. Maybe the fact that Haskell has been playing 6 at Wasps made Ashton reluctant to play him at 8. I’d like to have seen Rees given the chace to go toe to toe with Martyn Williams. This selection gives the impression that we don’t think we can win the battle on the floor and that doesn’t send out great signals.

    The selections of Tindall and Balshaw make it extra crucial that Wilkinson plays right up on the gainline to allow them to get on the front foot. They have both looked good at times for Gloucester this season but very much aided by Ryan Lamb’s alignment at 10. I think that will be crucial to this game.

    People underestimate how specialist a position full back is. Reports say Tait hasn’t settled that well there in the Premiership but at least give him a crack from the bench. Unfortunately, as observed, Balshaw just fundementally isn’t very good at it. The omission of Josh Lewsey looks ever more bizarre.

  9. STOP PRESS – I was wrong – Balshaw isn’t crap after all. He is in fact a mercurial talent, and has the speed of Christian Cullen combined with the footwork of Jason Robinson.

    Need I tell you whose words these are? Yes that’s right, the same man who picked Andy Farrell at fly half (before being over-ruled by his own players). Maybe he thought Faz was a cross between Dan Carter and Barry John.


  10. Some typically witless comments from BA this morning: “We need the continuity and platform of stability and control we had in the knockout stages of the World Cup but I think if you look at the balance of the side now we can start adding bits and pieces of creativity to the game”

    Where Brian – who have you added that gives you that? Has the balance really become more creative?! “It might not all come together on Saturday but hopefully sooner rather than later it will do.”

    Yes Brian, hopefully. That’s all you can do really isn’t it, hope. He also made some comments about not setting a target for the season in terms of wins, but that hopefully we’ll win a few.

    This could be the most humiliating Twickenham defeat in my lifetime.

  11. Not sure why all the hate at Ashton, I guess that’s kids these days or converts from football. Balshaw is a quality player, he may not be the best, but he could be the best for the team at present, Tait has been suffering poor form and had a couple of shocking games for England.

    Ashton likes Balshaw because he will run the ball first, even from his 22, and he’d prefer to try to score more tries than the opposition and risk ridicule than play by some rulebook that says don’t run here, kick to touch there.

  12. Malvino, having watched the game, do you get it yet? By the way – kids? I wish. Football converts? Give me a break

  13. I’m not a convert from football Malvino. I did try saying before the game that Balshaw was the wrong choice – I think his performance speaks for itself. All Ashton seems to say is that it’ll all work out soon hopefully. Hope is not a management tool. That’s why there’s so much bad feeling against him.

    Where was Balshaw’s running from the 22 today then? Just how long does he need to get a kick away? Tait made a mistake trying to run out of his own 22 in the RWC final but at least he made amends later in the game.

    I can agree with you on one thing though Malvino – Balshaw’s clearly not afraid of ridicule from the way he plays.

  14. And what were you two saying at half time, that Ashton was clueless, Balshaw shit and England no hopers? Twickenham faithless is an apt description of you both, you only love it when we’re winning, you forget the flaws of your heros and you think that watching the occasional match gives you a better insight than someone good enough to be entrusted with the job, who spends his whole time watching the players and seeing who is performing has.

    If we’d carried on today and walked Wales you’d have complained about something else, if Wales carry on and get a grand slam and establish a couple of years dominance over europe you’ll still say England are shit instead of giving credit where it’s actually deserved. England played well, Wales came back and rocked them, but they still weren’t playing badly, Wales were forcing errors and playing better.

  15. YES! What were you thinking – that Ashton was right after all, Balshaw was the right selection, England would now close out the game with an emphatic victory? Well more fool you. I suppose you were also saying after the RWC that there was obviously nothing wrong if we got to the final (are you friends with Rob Andrew – you seem to have the same level of insight into international rugby?). England entered today’s contest with a slightly better range of talent (Balshaw notwithstanding) but a complete lack of passion or tactical structure (which includes having a plan B, C and D – clearly they had nothing beyond A which only worked for 40 minutes). The acountability for both shortcomings rests with Ashton. By the way Malvino, re your comment about watching the occasional match, you really don’t know what you’re talking about

  16. I don’t understand why people think it’s not ok to criticize the coach. He is clearly not a leader nor a strong tactician. Great guy to have on your coaching side but not a leader (like Robinson before him). Until we address that fact we will only achieve mediocrity (which others here seem to think we should accept). As a true England fan I want for more.

  17. G Wells, criticising the coach is fine, simply slagging him off no matter what he does isn’t going to help, saying before a game that individuals that are selected are crap isn’t going to help anything either, thre are ways to be constructive and there are cheap attacks from armchair pundits who will never be satisfied.

    It’s up to the individual of course, people are free to hate anyone for whatever reason they like.

    As for it all being Ashton’s fault, which messianic international coaches does he have locked in his cellar? He’s was the best man available when the job came up, he’s got a year contract and has already taken us to a world cup final, that’s no small achievement, no coach has been able to get New Zealand there since 1995 and they are consistently the best team in the world. So he’s not everything you want in a coach, nobody is everything you want in a coach, if they’re winning it’s too boring, if they’re not winning they’re doing it all wrong. Get behind the team and the coach, do something positive instead of just incessantly whinging about how you could do it so much better.

  18. ‘cheap attacks from armchair pundits who will never be satisfied.’ It’s called debate and it’s perfectly legitimate. By your logic, nobody is allowed to express an opinion on anything until they have exhaustively researched it to death first.

    However, on this occasion I don’t think you can pin the blame on Ashton. There were signs of more shape to the game in the first half and it looked promising. England then fell apart through a string of horrendous individual errors (Sheridan, Tindall, Gomersall shovelling rubbish, Wilko’s pass, Balshaw’s kick, I could go on)and an abject lack of leadership on the field. I don’t think Ashton can be blamed for that. I think he should be able to expect that professional players with many caps between them should have the capacity to make correct decisions at key times and respond appropriately. If they can’t then it’s the players’ fault and it’s a damning indictment.

    As for Balshaw, he showed what he could do going forward and why he was selected. He also showed why he shouldn’t have been. Wouldn’t have picked him myself but have no problem with Ashton showing faith in him and hopefully building his confidence so he can show what he can do. As it is, he is just too prone to crucial errors to risk much longer.

  19. Debate’s fine Bob, no problem with that, opinions are fine too, but if someone attacks someone else they leave themselves open to be attacked themselves. There are no ivory towers online from which you can slag off others under the guise of opinion and leave your own views sacrosant.

    However, look up, the first comment from Rob D “Balshaw is a mong”, comment from Uncle Mat, “Typically witless comment from BA [Ashton]” That’s not debate, that’s not weighing the pros and cons, that’s simply insulting asshattery from malcontents.

  20. What?? We can have an opinion and it’s OK with you?? We’re not worthy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  21. Malvino, stop being so patronising – calling other people things like “armchair pundits”. Rather than having a tantrum because other people are criticizing players and coaches, counter their comments with reasoned arguments or keep quiet. This site is for people passionate about rugby, and it appears that most of the participants are passionate about England achieving more than mediocrity.

  22. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it for the heard of thinking, opinions are fine, you’re welcome to yours, I am welcome to mine, which is that yours and your attitudes suck.

  23. So my opinions suck eh? Thanks for more of your mature, reasoned argument. What next, my Dad could batter yours? So come on then Malvino, you’ve attacked people on here for being ‘armchair pundits’, ‘converts from football’ and ‘kids’, despite knowing absolutely jack about any of us, so put up or shut up.

    Do tell us – what are your glowing credentials? Have you secretly coached a Rugby World Cup winning side? What is the basis for your condescending air of superiority? What makes you more qualified than any of us? Why should we abandon our reasoned argument in favour of your bland statements like the one that we should be happy that we played well for one half. I’m all ears, and unlike yours, my mind is always open to reasoned debate.

    And by the way, I posted on here the day the team was picked that Balshaw was a weak link. The next day, Warren Gatland said exactly the same thing. Come matchday, we were both right, so if you’re going to have a pop at me, you might want to drop the Heineken Cup winning, 3 x Premiership winning international coach Warren Gatland a line and tell him he’s talking out of his arse too, and that they didn’t win it because of Balshaw being a weak link. Do let us know his response won’t you?

  24. There were a whole host of mistakes that gave away the tries and the bottom line is they are not errors that should be seen at this level. Wilko’s “pass” to Cipriani was appalling. Balshaw’s “clearance” kick was terrible but, in his defence, he was the only one who got back to make any sort of tackle. But I was as worried as anyone else when he was selected and it looks like Gatland et al have been proved right. And yes, there was a distinct lack of any leadership after Wales got their first try and we paid for it. Maybe if we had really capitalised on our dominance of the first half with some more tries we wouldn’t be talking about a defeat.

  25. Qualifications to speak? That I’m a decent person, not someone that slags off other people for doing their best.

    I never said I was into reasoned argument, I said from the word go that I was attacking you for the way you attack Ashton and Balshaw, you have your opinion that they’re crap, I have my opinion that you’re crap.

    Rugby is not win at all costs and cry if we don’t, there’s a global fraternity, and if you knew anything at all about being a rugby player as oposed to an armchair pundit you would feel solidarity with Balshow and Ashton and everyone else out there doing it instead of whining that others aren’t doing it well enough for your liking.

    As I said before, criticism is fine, reasoned debate, opinion, whatever else you can to do, but when you insult others you can expect insults in return.

  26. You’re certainly decent at getting people’s backs up Malvino old chap, a blog is all about opinion and debate, but maybe keep the personal stuff for the playground.

    None of the contributors to the blog, and I suspect very few of those who leave comments, are armchair critics, we have or do all play the game to various standards.

    Granted, none of us are or ever will be professionals, and on the whole Balshaw probably deserved his place ahead of any of us. However, if that excludes us from criticism then all journalists would instantly be out of a job.

    Scrolling back at the archives of this blog will show you that actually Ashton has had some fairly positive press, and you’re wrong had England finished the game as they started then there would be little but praise for the head coach and his team.

    Everyone recognised what an amazing job it was to get to the final back in October, but there were still one or two high profile grumbles from some fairly eminent players off the back of the tournament. I don’t agree with LD and MC publishing what they did, but it does demonstrate that actually there were and are some question marks over Ashton – hands up if you genuinely wouldn’t prefer to see Jake White at the helm?!

    Good on you for sparking a bit of banter, maybe that was your intention all along. If not, I’m afraid you’re just a bit of a chopper and think the rugbyblog should definitely sponsor a ruck between you and Rob W! Forget what I said about leaving the playground stuff…

  27. First things first Malvino, I’m not slagging off anyone who’s doing their best. My gripe is not with Balshaw. He’s not good enough for international rugby (Jerry Guscott said as much on Saturday too, it’s not just me) but if he’s picked he can only do his best. He did, and it wasn’t good enough.

    Ashton is to blame for picking him. Yes, I regularly slag Ashton off. Guilty as charged. If he was doing his best, I would take your criticism firmly on the chin, but let’s study the facts (as opposed to blindly supporting one individual because he’s ex-Bath, who I can only assume you’re a fan of).

    Clive Woodward took care of every last detail, right down to employing an eye coach to help people’s spatial awareness. If we’d lost in 2003 he could have held his head high and said he did everything he could, and I for one would have supported him.

    Contrast that with Ashton who had a 6-week RFU sponsored holiday in France where, until the players intervened there was no analysis of the opposition, next to no coaching and a total lack of cohesion. Two senior players had the guts to speak up (I agree Rob D, it wasn’t on, but it shows up serious flaws).So, your one criticism of me is somewhat flawed.

    The two players that spoke up were probably the tip of the iceberg (Catty’s book hints at further unrest from the younger players). Does the behaviour of Ashton, as described by Lol and Catty, sound like a man doing his best?

    I don’t feel solidarity with Ashton because when I’m at HQ there’s a key difference – he’s earning, and I’m paying. Balshaw, as I’ve said can only do his best if he’s picked.

    Yes, amateur rugby is still a wonderful fraternity and professionalism will never ruin the grass roots game and the values it teaches people.

    But I’m not talking about the amateur game, I’m talking about Ashton. He took the top job, he took the salary and he’s not giving it his all. He questioned our decision making the other day – that’s his responsibility to manage. If it isn’t, why is he there and why is he earning so much?

    As for your comment “Rugby is not about win at all costs” – no it’s not necessarily – but while you were asleep the game turned professional. It is now necessary to at least try your hardest for the fans paying ever increasing prices.

    So you’re a decent person are you? So you’re not the same Malvino that told Mrs. Jonny to take up knitting instead of rugby below then?!

  28. “Rugby is not win at all costs and cry if we don’t, there’s a global fraternity”. Dude, what have you been smoking dude?

  29. I’m not going to carry on arguing about this, you don’t see to get the point anyhow.

    As for Mrs Johnny, I didn’t tell her to do anything, I suggested she might prefer it knitted after she’s just posted that she was glad she missed training (because of a threat of rain) because it was hard, and didn’t want to play rugby because she could get hurt.

  30. As for the rest, rugby is a fraternity, you can laugh at that if you like, you’ll never know why I’m sad that you’ll never understand that rather than take offense at you laughing at me.

    I’ve played club rugby for 15 years in three countries including provincial, the higher the standard has been the more the players respect others, you guys show no respect at all for the coaches or players, suggests you’ve never been anywhere close.

  31. Higher standards means more respect eh? Then how come at the very top level the players lost all trust in Ashton during the World Cup. Because he was crap and wasn’t doing the job he was paid to do. Not my opinion, but the opinion of at least two World Cup winning pros.

    You can’t just pass a tenuous argument off by saying you’ve played a higher level of rugby than me (which you have, I freely admit). This isn’t a game of Top Trumps.

    If your “until you’ve done what I’ve done you can’t tell me anything about it” philosophy were true, there would be no male gynaecologists!

  32. At least two world cup winning pros who were selling books and later said he was fine and it was all blown out of proportion, both of them apologising and blaming the press and bad timing?



    You can’t complaing that I’m playing top trumps, you asked what rugby I’d played, I wouldn’t have mentioned it otherwise.

  33. Yet more naivety. Did either of them confess to libel on a grand scale and offer to burn all the books? No. They apologised to avoid disciplinary action and protect future employment prospects with the RFU. And Catty only said Ashton should be part of the set up if he could get the right people around him – hardly hero worship!

    Either way, going to print in the first place blows your “the higher the standard, the higher the respect” crap right out of the water. They play at the very top level but didn’t have the top level of respect for Ashton, hence the books so your patronising theory is utter toss.

    No I didn’t ask what level of rugby you played, I couldn’t give a crap. You just waded in with that info to try and add weight to your lame arguments which didn’t stand up on their own and still don’t.

    Ashton took a full salary and did a half-arsed job. He now talks about the lack of leadership and poor decision making in the team, ignoring the fact that it’s up to him to implement it if it isn’t there. More signs of his amateur preparation in the professional era.

  34. You’re all so mean. Me and Balshy had it all worked out on Saturday and that nasty Gatland spoiled it. Quite Frankly I’m doing a great job, getting paid loads, and I can let my mates play whenever I like so boo shucks to you. In fact I’m letting my mate Balshy play again on Saturday because he wants to get his shirt dirty enough to wash this week.

  35. Now I like Josh, but he’s always getting dirty and quite frankly with my huge wages we can’t afford the laundry bill, so I’m sticking to Balshy as he very rarely gets mucky.
    I might play that nice yound lad Cipriani during the match. I think I’ll try him totally out of position like I did last Saturday. It’s important to get experience in different positions as you well know. This week I will mostly be playing him at second row. There’s probably less chance of Johnny having to pass to him in that position.

  36. Cipriani at second row? Sound logic Brian, you’re such a visionary. After all, he already wears a scrum cap so he’ll slot in there perfectly. I take back everything I ever said about you.

  37. Brian – you have a lot to learn from my England football set up. You need structure and discipline. And you’re too loyal to people who can’t cut it. You should do to Balshaw what I did to Beckham. And those ridiculous kits you make them wear – how humiliating that must be for them and the fans that dare to wear them in public.

  38. Eeeee Fabio – how can you be so mercenary?? I like to get my boys round a nice cup of Horlicks before the second half and give them all a hug to let them know how much I appreciate them making an effort.
    Rob – you know that Shaun Edwards bloke always wants Danny to play at 10 or 15, but he’s such a numpty!! I mean, he’s gone to Wales!!! And you’re right about the scrum cap, that’s what put me onto it in the first place. By the time we get round to playing France I’ll have the lad in the front row.

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