After England were defeated by South Africa in the 2007 Rugby World Cup final in Paris, the majority of the squad were commended for their brave performances not just in the final itself, but throughout the tournament. The likes of Phil Vickery, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey, Mike Catt and Andy Gomarsall all moved on, realising their time was up and calling it a day. With hindsight, these retirements opened up the opportunities for Dan Cole, Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs to come through and fill those positions, aside from in Catt’s position where the search for a decent replacement goes on.
This time round, the players making way will, and should, include Lewis Moody, Jonny Wilkinson, Mike Tindall, Simon Shaw, Steve Thompson, Nick Easter and perhaps Mark Cueto, whilst Andrew Sheridan who departed this tournament early after an injury against Argentina can also be added to the list. There are also players such as Shontayne Hape, Thomas Waldrom, Louis Deacon, Richard Wigglesworth and Lee Mears for whom another World Cup does not seem a likely prospect, through a combination of both age and form. That’s 13 out of England’s 30 man squad that travelled to New Zealand.
Now whilst 2015 is a long way away in terms of thinking about potential selection, whoever is in charge of England, and it might not be Martin Johnson, will already be musing about who to pick for the first Six Nations match against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 4th next year. England must now follow the examples of Australia and Wales and put in young players and trust in them. I’m not talking about creating another Anthony Allen scenario, but keeping faith with them and let them develop, as Australia have done with Genia, Cooper, Beale and O’Connor and Wales are doing with Faletau, Warburton, North and Priestland.
England team to face Scotland:
1. Alex Corbisiero, 2. Dylan Hartley (c), 3. Dan Cole, 4. Courtney Lawes, 5. Tom Palmer, 6. Tom Croft, 7. Tom Wood, 8. Luke Narraway, 9. Danny Care, 10. Toby Flood, 11. Christian Wade, 12. Owen Farrell, 13. Manu Tuilagi, 14. Chris Ashton, 15. Ben Foden.
16. David Paice, 17. Joe Marler, 18. Phil Dowson, 19. Chris Robshaw, 20. Ben Youngs, 21. Brad Barritt, 22. Delon Armitage
The side would retain 10 of the team that played a part in the match against France in the World Cup, with Narraway, Wade and Farrell coming in from outside the squad. Following the poor performances of Matt Stevens in the last two matches and the injury problems of Andrew Sheridan, it only seems right that Alex Corbisiero should not only be England’s starting prop against Scotland, but perhaps for some time to come, with Joe Marler competing with him for the shirt. Of those that remain, Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley, Tom Croft, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Ashton are all 25 or under, with Tom Palmer being the only player in the side over 30.
The bench offers a better reflection of the much needed change, with Marler, Dowson, Robshaw, Barritt coming in, all players whose involvement with the national side is overdue. Of all of the new players, Farrell is arguably the most important. Already a Premiership winner at just 19, he could become the fulcrum of this England side over the next decade.
by Ben Coles
Photo: Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images