This weekend’s action offers a last chance for players from three of the home nations to play their way into the World Cup. Ireland take on Scotland whilst England play France, before the deadline for squad announcements on Tuesday 14th August.
Ireland’s squad seems to be nailed down everywhere except the back row and the back three. Brian Carney and Tommy Bowe go head to head for the last spot on the wing, whilst Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip, Keith Gleeson and Alan Quinlan are battling it out for the fifth back row place. Ferris and Heaslip are both named in Ireland’s starting lineup, so it looks to be a two-horse race.
Eddie O’Sullivan is in the comfortable position of knowing his first-choice XV, and will be using the game at Murrayfield to assess his back-up options. Scotland coach Frank Hadden, on the other hand, is using the game to identify his optimum starting team.
Chris Paterson will start at fly-half for the first time in three years, where he will win his 75th cap. Jason White returns from a knee injury to captain the side, and to reunite the impressive back row trio along with Ali Hogg and Simon Taylor. Hadden is looking for his first victory over Ireland since he took charge and hopes to build some momentum before the World Cup starts in a few weeks’ time.
At Twickenham meanwhile, England coach Brian Ashton will be closely watching his back three of Nick Abendanon, Paul Sackey and Josh Lewsey as he considers the best replacement for David Strettle who has been ruled out today with a broken metatarsal. Olly Barkley gets a chance to impress at fly-half, with Mike Catt and Jamie Noon in the centres. The game could be Noon’s last involvement with squad, with many expecting him to miss the final cut.
James Haskell is under pressure to perform on the blindside flank, following rival Nick Easter’s four-try haul last week, and Lawrence Dallaglio’s impressive cameo as a replacement.
France will provide a much sterner test than Wales, and the forwards will certainly be no such walkover. The World Cup hosts will be looking to open their campaign on a positive note to make sure their supporters are behind them.
Bernard Laporte has not yet named his starting line-up, but has announced a match-day 22. The squad includes the prolific Sebastian Chabal, as well as Serge Betsen and Yannick Nyanga in the back row – they will offer a serious challenge to England’s triumvirate of Haskell, Lewis Moody and Dallaglio.
Unfortunately, whatever happens this weekend, there will be a handful of devastated players that miss out on the chance to go to the greatest tournament in the world.