Six Nations candidates: England

It’s difficult to know which way Martin Johnson’s England will go in this year’s RBS Six Nations – losing to Italy in Rome is a distinct possibility, but beating Wales and Ireland at Twickenham is also a possibility. Jonny McLeod gives us his views.

England’s lineout was one of the few positives from the autumn series. Despite being much maligned for his ineffectiveness around the park, Captain Borthwick is a strong lineout organiser and operator. With Tom Croft injured and Johnson refusing to promote Nick Kennedy, the England captain will be central to England’s supply line.

Jonny Wilkinson is once again certain to start at number 10, and his accuracy in front of goal will be a massive advantage for Martin Johnson’s men. If England stick to their game plan from the autumn and tries remain scarce, his points from the boot will be vital. In such circumstances it could be argued that his selection ahead of his rivals Danny Cipriani and Shane Geraghty is legitimate if unexciting.

The return of Riki Flutey from injury cannot be underestimated. The Brive inside centre was England’s best player last season despite only playing half a season. His combination of physical aggression, hot-stepping, handling skills and vision makes him a true inside centre, capable of cutting the lines as well as unleashing those outside.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has already prodded the beast by suggesting his side would target England’s tight-five at Twickenham. With Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery out injured England’s front row will be under huge pressure against a potentially all-Lion front row.

During the autumn internationals England endured heavy criticism for their turgid style and inability to attack with any pace or intensity – which resulted in just one try in three matches. Creativity and incision in the backs remain problems, and the forwards seldom served up quick ball and when they did the backs refused to exploit the chances in front of them. Martin Johnson confessed that the coaches had had too much influence on how England implemented their game plan – this has led to rumours of decaying confidence and a climate of fear pervading the squad. The coaches must learn to trust the players.

Coach’s perspective: Martin Johnson
“This is the best squad we have had in my time being in charge and it will only get stronger,” Johnson said. “We have a good leadership group and it’s the strength of any side that you have three, four or five guys who could be captain. It will be just as tight this year. Anyone who predicts who will win the title is a brave guy.”

Key player: Jonny Wilkinson
Much hype surrounded the Toulon fly half’s return to the international fray last autumn, but after a stuttering series Wilkinson has it all to prove once again. The 2003 World Cup winner was criticised for failing to get the backline firing by dropping too deep when England were in possession and refusing to diverge from the game plan when the opportunities to attack arose. The quality of Wilkinson’s kicking and his mindset in attack will dictate how England perform in the Six Nations.

One to watch: Mathew Tait
After years of utility back status, Tait will be considered at outside centre this season. If he can displace Dan Hipkiss in the starting XV and Flutey and Wilkinson can attack on the gain line, Tait’s searing pace will add an extra dimension to the attack.

Stadium: Twickenham, London
A mighty arena and grand setting, but Twickenham has been stripped of its ‘fortress’ prefix in recent seasons. The ominous booing of despairing fans has come to replace the booming tones of ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’.

England’s Six Nations Fixtures:
Sat 6 Feb v Wales, Twickenham Stadium, London
Sun 14 Feb v Italy, Stadio Flaminio, Rome
Sat 27 Feb v Ireland, Twickenham Stadium, London
Sat 13 Mar v Scotland, Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Sat 20 Mar v France, Stade de France, Paris

Last season: 2nd
Prediction: 3rd

8 thoughts on “Six Nations candidates: England

  1. It’s all down to the first game for England, that will make or break them.

    Beat Wales and they will go to Italy with confidence, and will be playing Ireland at home next knowing that if they win there they will have a shot at a GS or at least the title.

    Loose to Wales and then suddenly the Italy game looks very daunting as will the Irish vist.

    My prediction:-

    England beat Wales -> England finish 2nd but maybe 1st.
    Loose to Wales -> 5th or even 6th is a possibility.

  2. I agree, the first game is absolutely crucial – for both sides. Two years ago, Wales’ comeback in the last 20 set them on a roll to win the Grand Slam.

    I really can’t wait…I just hope it goes England’s way and sets them on a roll.

  3. Really? 5th or 6th???

    Come on we’ve had this all before last year’s six nations. We were all gloomy and grim and your friends across the boarder were all telling us how we were going to struggle. We ended up second and top try scorer’s. The first game is imporant but not going to demote us to finishing last.

    Selection was horrid in the AI’s but lets face it a exciting 10 like Cips or Geraghty will not work if the team doesn’t play well ignoring the fact that Cip’s is still feeling his way back from injury and Geraghty’s form has been poor recently. Geraghty’s kicking out of hand has been awful do we really want to see Geraghty gifting ball to the Welsh back three to counter attack with?

    Untill Geraghty and Cips bring the consistancy into their games needed at international level Flood or Wilkinson are the best bets. The Romantics will have to wait for that.

  4. Have to agree. Wilkinson or Flood are our best options at 10, even though I think Flood is a better 12 (though Flutey is far better). Would personally like to see something along the lines of the following, for our first game againt Wales (at least)

    1. Cole
    2. Hartley
    3. Wilson
    4. Lawes (even though it will be Borthwick)
    5. kennedy (even though it will be Shaw)
    6. Haskell (due to Croft being injured)
    7. Moody
    8. Easter (as Haskell will hopefully play 6)
    9. Hodgson (as neither Simpson- due to injury, or Young’s has been selected)
    10. Wilkinson
    11. Ashton
    12. Flutey
    13. Hape
    14. Tait
    15. Armitage

    With Subs along the lines of: Mears, Mullen/Bell/Payne, Shaw, Care, Flood, Cueto, Foden

  5. Tait on the wing and Hape at outside centre Tommy? I’d much rather see Tait play at 13 outside of Flood and Flutey with Hape on the bench. This would make the backline much more dynamic. Of course, Johnno will undoubtedly pick the steady Wilkinson at 10 – for his consistent point scoring ability if for nothing else.

    I’d start with Shaw and Borthers and have Lawes on the bench for when Shawsy gets a bit tired (he is quite old these days). I would like to see Lawes start a game or two though, maybe against Italy and Scotland. He needs international game time now.

    Check out my Six Nations Top Trump England ratings to see how I think England will do:

    I agree with the others though, in that England’s first result is crucial. Lose to Wales and they’ll finish in third or fourth at best.

  6. Tommy, I agree mostly with your team selection, although I would have Tait at 13 and Monye on the other wing. Simon Shaw also has to start. I don’t think Lawes and Kennedy combination is the right way to go, just yet, given Kennedy’s lack of starts for England. Shaw has been the stand out second row for us for years and would offer fantastic experience alongside Lawes. When Lawes has some experience under his belt, I would be happy to see Kennedy in there too.

  7. Is flood really a better 12 then Flutey?
    Anyway, Armitage is back and that I think will assist wilko greatly. Why did wilko sit so deep during the 6N’s? Because of the lack of a fullback with a good boot behind him. Armitage brings a stability and confidence to the back line we were missing in the 6N’s allowing Wilko to stand flatter.

  8. Typical english blowing smoke up there own ass, Johnson stumbled on that team last year due to injury. Grand Slam winners my ARSE.

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