As Johnno gets ready to announce his first team as England Manager, we’ve put our heads together at The Rugby Blog to offer him a helping hand.
We do sympathise with the great man though – a spate of recent injuries has thrown up a few selection dilemmas, particularly in the backs where James Simpson-Daniel misses out yet again and Tom Varndell has also been replaced.
Andrew Sheridan and Matt Stevens were the first names on the team sheet, with Dylan Hartley coming in at hooker given Lee Mears’ injury problems (and assuming the Northampton man doesn’t get cited this week). Hartley seems to be the most promising hooker around, so let’s give him his chance to impress on the big stage.
The recently re-appointed captain, Steve Borthwick, is obviously a shoe-in, and we’d give Nick Kennedy the start over Tom Palmer primarily for his lineout prowess. This could be an area of weakness for England, and Johnno won’t like that.
The back row is probably the most exciting area for England, and these three could become a new dream unit at the back of the scrum. Tom Rees is in fine form despite playing for a struggling Wasps outfit, Tom Croft has electric pace and just edges out Jordan Crane, whilst James Haskell has proven his worth to any team with his size, strength and speed.
With the recent clampdown on defences slowing ball at the breakdown, this back row should be encouraged to play in the loose and we could finally see some England attacking play as a result. The seamless link between backs and forwards has been missing since the Hill, Back and Dallaglio days and a Croft, Rees, Haskell trio could be the answer.
Danny Care and Danny Cipriani come in at fly-half in the hope that they begin to forge a long-standing relationship. Toby Flood has put his name firmly in the frame at fly-half, but Cipriani is ‘the future’ even if he is still finding his feet since his injury (no pun intended).
Outside Cipriani is where the problems begin. Paul Sackey is a shoe-in, but England is seriously lacking another exciting prospect on the wing. Josh Lewsey doesn’t quite fit the bill, so we’d give Delon Armitage his first cap.
Dan Hipkiss and Riki Flutey could develop an exciting combination in midfield – both have very quick feet, and they can defend as well. Lewsey or Olly Barkley could be an option in the centre, as could Mathew Tait if he recovers from injury so there is certainly scope for discussion here. I haven’t seen too much of Hipkiss this season, but I’d like to see him given a chance.
Nick Abendanon has caught the eye at full-back with a number of commanding performances for Bath, and he has a penchant for running the ball back from at least a few of the long, in-field kicks we have been seeing in the Premiership. If nothing else, at least his unpredictability will cause the odd headache when the opposition consider England’s attacking threat.
The back line is certainly open for debate, but sadly the options don’t appear to be too extensive. Let me know what you think: