One of the undoubted positives of England’s autumn was the performance of Mark Wilson. Although he played most of the campaign at 7 and 8, his best position is blindside flanker and now the consensus seems to be that he should be first choice. And this time head coach Eddie Jones could relent. Wilson’s versatility was invaluable this November and fitted in seamlessly whenever played at openside or Number 8 – Jones is a big fan of versatility. Plus, in my opinion, Wilson is a Chris Robshaw 2.0, he is an absolute workhorse for Newcastle and that showed on the international stage, but Wilson is also quicker than Robshaw, better at the breakdown and has scored more tries in recent seasons.
So it might very well be the end of Robshaw’s career at international level but in his lengthy injury this season, his club place is at threat too. This was proved by the performance of the Harlequins back row in their Friday night win over Exeter Chiefs. Alex Dombrandt is a player I had done in-depth research on when he was signed by Quins in the summer and I thought, wow what a prospect he is. And by jove, I’m being proved right which trust me doesn’t happen often. He was mesmeric against the Chiefs, running superb lines and almost scored a fantastic try for his efforts.
His partner in the backrow, and captain on the night, James Chisholm (with his sensational Movember impression of Burnley FC manager Sean Dyche) scored a well-worked try from the lineout and was brutal in the carry. Chisholm can also be a very good blindside flanker so Robshaw faces competition from him and the returning Jack Clifford who played at openside on Friday. Is that backrow now Harlequins first choice?
Well, to be quite frank, it’s hard to determine what is Quins’ best backrow and in my opinion they have the one of the greatest strength in depth in that area in the Premiership. There’s club stalwart Luke Wallace who has always been a good breakdown operator. There’s heavy-duty number 8 and Samoan international Mat Luamanu, a bit of a hit-and-miss player but when he hits he hits good. There’s former Namibian captain Renaldo Bothma who has always impressed when fit and he is your typical robust Afrikaner back-rower who has some serious power. And who could forget Gustard’s recent high-profile acquisition, Fijian flanker Semi Kunatuni who has added real X-Factor to the back-row. You can count on the famed Academy picking up on more talents too.
In short, Robshaw has four internationals to compete with plus two more (Chisholm and Dombrandt) who I would argue are deserving of international honours. That’s hefty competition to contend with and that’s just at club level. If Robshaw isn’t getting regular game time for his club, can Jones reliably call on him to step into the England setup?
Realistically for the Six Nations, the former England captain has Wilson, Brad Shields and maybe even Worcester’s Ted Hill to compete for the Number 6 jersey. Compelling evidence perhaps that this maybe the end of one of England’s most beloved players.
What do you think? Which back row players would be in your Rugby World Cup squad for England?