Brian Ashton’s 47-man squad suggests a general lack of direction for England’s World Cup preparation. The England coach’s remark that he knows only 5 of his starting line up rang alarm bells several days ago, and this latest move is a clear indication that preparations are not where they should be so close to a major tournament.
Ashton was expected to name 40 players to attend a training camp in Portugal at the end of this month, and speculation had been rife about who would miss out and who would make the cut. Such a large squad means that nearly every realistic contender for a place in the final squad is included.
Danny Grewcock is the only notable absentee, who will miss out after being suspended – England can do without him and his sin-binnings anyway. Veteran Number 8 Lawrence Dallaglio is included, despite not playing for England since the 2006 Six Nations, but his return to the fold is a welcome one. With the management obviously dithering over which players to take to France, Dallaglio’s no-nonsense directness will be valuable.
Dan Cipriani, the Wasps full-back, and Dan Hipkiss, the Tigers centre, are selected and I am hopeful they will make the final 30. Hipkiss has been in outstanding form for Leicester this season, looking dangerous in attack and sturdy in defence, whilst Cipriani is an exceptional talent. Another benefit of naming such a large squad means that Ashton is able to include several recently injured players – Dan Ward-Smith, Mike Tindall and Charlie Hodgson – hoping that they can prove their fitness in time.
I am not one to dwell on the past, but it is difficult not to draw comparisons with 2003.
One thing strikes me as I cast my eye over the squad – there are some outstanding players. Ashton will have time over the summer with his players, which is usually a luxury he does not enjoy. He has the opportunity to galvanise these individuals into a credible unit with the ability to compete with the best in the world. By the time the final 30-man squad is named on 14th August, we will have a better idea of how he has fared.
England’s World Cup training squad
Forwards: Steve Borthwick, George Chuter, Martin Corry, Lawrence Dallaglio, Louis Deacon, Nick Easter, Perry Freshwater, James Haskell, Andrew Hazell, Ben Kay, Magnus Lund, Lee Mears, Lewis Moody, Tom Palmer, Tom Rees, Mark Regan, Simon Shaw, Andrew Sheridan, Matt Stevens, Phil Vickery, Dan Ward-Smith, Julian White, Joe Worsley, Kevin Yates Backs: Nick Abendanon, Olly Barkley, Mike Catt, Danny Cipriani, Mark Cueto, Andrew Farrell, Toby Flood, Shane Geraghty, Andrew Gomarsall, Dan Hipkiss, Charlie Hodgson, Josh Lewsey, Olly Morgan, Jamie Noon, Shaun Perry, Peter Richards, Jason Robinson, Paul Sackey, David Strettle, Mathew Tait, Mike Tindall, Fraser Waters, Jonny Wilkinson