Northampton flanker Tom Wood was not mincing his words when talking about the weakened side England will have to field for the first test in New Zealand on 1st June.
The game, which was scheduled before current RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie came into office, falls a week after the Premiership final and any players involved in that game are therefore unavailable for it. This could leave England with as many as eight starting XV players missing.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Wood. “It splits your loyalties and it is a question you should never have to ask yourself.
“The reality is that playing for a Premiership final could do you out of an England cap. For some people, that could be their first cap or the difference between getting in the side and cementing your place or not.”
England requested the series to be moved back a week, starting on 14th June. According to the IRB, the June window runs from the ‘second to fourth weekend’ in June – New Zealand argued the weekend of the seventh was the second weekend, despite the one before that containing a date in May (the Saturday is the 31st). New Zealand have resisted the requests to change.
The upshot is that, whatever happens in the semi-finals, England will be without a host of first team players for the first test, somewhat devaluing a series that only contains three matches. The worst scenario would arguably be a Northampton vs Harlequins final, that would rule nine players out of the first test: Mike Brown, Luther Burrell, Danny Care, Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Wood and captain Chris Robshaw.
But even a Saracens v Leicester final would see eight of the likely full strength squad miss out: Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Billy and Mako Vunipola, Geoff Parling, Alex Goode and Chris Ashton.
Whichever way you cut it, it is far from ideal for England in a test series in which they are already facing an uphill struggle. Wood will not be the only player invovled in this weekend’s semi-finals that will be feeling this frustration.
“These are questions you should never have to ask. You should be doing the best you can for your club and playing yourself into contention for your country. The two should never be in conflict.”
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images