With the squad now announced, our scout notes obviously take on a different feel. For the last few weeks of the season, we’ll consider those selected and who might be playing themselves in or out of contention for the test team.
The selection for the front row certainly raised a few eyebrows with its inclusion of Matt Stevens. However, another name that some weren’t expecting was Dylan Hartley. Having lost his place in the England starting team to Tom Youngs, it came as a slight surprise to see him on Warren Gatland’s list.
Despite being on the losing side last weekend, Hartley’s role in Northampton’s impressive fight-back certainly provided some justification to his call-up. A well taken try was typical of the hooker’s ‘aggressive edge’ that Gatland admires so much. The Kiwi-born Englishman will have to work hard to displace Hibbard from a starting role against Australia, but he is accurate from the line out as well as energetic and aggressive. He is certainly an interesting inclusion to a squad that has stirred up some debate.
The Leinster man helps to complete an impressive set of full-backs. The trio possess the versatility, pace and power needed for the rigours of the campaign as well as the solid technical ability needed for full-back. With Leigh Halfpenny taking centre stage during the Six Nations, Kearney and Hogg may find themselves waiting in the wings in more than one sense of the word.
With fierce competition some big performances are going to be required. The Irishman certainly didn’t do his chances of a starting berth any harm with two well-taken tries last weekend. Furthermore, his experience will be vital for helping first time flyer Stuart Hogg and his Welsh counterpart Halfpenny, who will be praying for better luck with injury than 2009.
The omission of Chris Robshaw has sparked heated debate, seeing as the England captain has been in fine form and with Dan Lydiate just returning from injury and missing the Six Nations, the decision smelt a little of Welsh bias. However, one thing that can be said of 6, 7 and 8 is that there is plenty of pace and energy – Tom Croft’s inclusion being testament to this and Warren Gatland’s game plan of taking Australia on up front.
Lydiate is certainly no slouch either and he was integral to his team’s fight-back this weekend, as his side’s second half performance had Edinburgh rapidly back-peddling. The flanker raced over with a try and produced another perpetually energetic performance.
By Jono Frank