England have plenty of injuries and absent players to contend with, so we’ve taken a look at who might replace them when the 2014 Six Nations squad is announced tomorrow.
Injured: Alex Corbisiero
Likely squad replacement: Matt Mullan
Bolter: Alex Waller
Despite Paul Doran-Jones’ presence in the Saxons squad, Matt Mullan was the man to step up in the Autumn when an injury crisis at loosehead occurred. He is likely to do so again, although Alex Waller, has been deputising for Corbisiero at the Saints in a very accomplished manner and could be in the mix. Stranger things have happened.
Injured: Tom Croft
Likely squad replacement: Tom Johnson
Bolter: Luke Wallace
England’s back-row is fairly settled, so any changes here will likely only be for squad purposes. With that in mind, would it be more beneficial to give a young gun like Luke Wallace a bit of experience of the England environment? He has been wearing six for Quins this season, but operates more as a seven, and with the squad already well-stocked at blindside, there are worse options to consider. More likely, however, would be the promotion of Johnson, Haskell or Clark from the Saxons, with the Exeter-man leading the way in terms of form and experience.
Injured: Geoff Parling
Likely squad replacement: Graham Kitchener
Bolter: George Kruis
Parling’s Leicester teammate Kitchener has been in exemplary form in recent months, and should gain a place in the squad for the Six Nations – his main rival will probably be club-mate Ed Slater. No-one seems to mention George Kruis in these discussions, however, and the Saracens man was included in the Saxons at the beginning of the season along with the two Leicester boys. Despite fierce competition for places at Sarries, the young lock/flanker has impressed and could find himself in with a chance.
Off to France: Toby Flood
Likely squad replacement: George Ford
Bolter: Danny Cipriani
This has been done to death in column inches recently, but Bath’s George Ford looks set to replace Toby Flood as Lancaster ruthlessly culls the Leicester man after his decision to move to France next season. Danny Cipriani would be a left-field shout after some improved performances this season, but it is believed Lancaster still has doubts about his defence.
Injured: Ben Foden
Likely squad replacement: Anthony Watson
Bolter: Mat Tait
Watson could almost consider himself a bolter, given his meteoric rise this season. It is a mark of how well he is playing that he is now the expected replacement, rather than the left-field choice, however. Mat Tait would represent a more risky option, given his injury troubles, but he was playing devastatingly well at the back end of last season, and has impressed since returning from yet another injury recently.
Injured: Manu Tuilagi
Likely squad replacement: Luther Burrell
Bolter: Elliot Daly
The hole left in the midfield by Tuilagi is humungous, but Burrell, his expected replacement, is no shrinking violet. While he doesn’t quite have the explosive power of the Leicester man, he has better distribution skills. Elliot Daly is surely in contention, but has again been playing more of his rugby at fullback this season. He would offer something completely different, however, and the thought of him playing outside Twelvetrees is a tantalising prospect. If Lancaster truly is on the hunt for ‘X Factor’ players, as he claims, Daly must surely be included at some stage soon.
Injured: Christian Wade
Likely squad replacement: Jonny May
Bolter: Jamie Elliot
Jonny May has had an up-and-down season, but certainly has not benefitted from playing behind a pack going consistently backwards. Lancaster knows what he is capable of, however, and should see past his indifferent form. Jamie Elliot has been flying somewhat under the radar at the Saints, but has an excellent try-scoring record. He is a tenacious player, but whether he is international quality is not yet certain, and so he is more likely to be in the Saxons.
Injured: Marland Yarde
Likely squad replacement: Jack Nowell
Bolter: Charlie Walker
Nowell’s stellar showings in the big games this season will hopefully see Lancaster make a leap of faith and include him over Strettle who, despite some good try-scoring form in the Premiership, is not the long term answer for England. The England head coach has been keeping in close contact with Rob Baxter, who will surely have been singing his young charge’s praises. Charlie Walker was making huge strides before last weekend, but after his horror-tackle on North on Friday, he might not quite be ready. Saxons recognition could be forthcoming, though.
What do you think? Who would you like to see in England’s 35 man squad for the 2014 Six Nations?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images