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Johnson ready to make final cut

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Bryn Palmer | 16:36 UK time, Monday, 1 August 2011

The first cut has been made. The last cut will be the deepest.

Three weeks from now, England manager Martin Johnson - along with all the other national coaches - will have to decide on his final squad of 30 for the Rugby World Cup.

So the 40 who reassembled on Monday at England’s Pennyhill Park base in Surrey know that now is not the time to be slacking off.

A painful phone call or one-to-one with Johnson still awaits 10 of them, with James Simpson-Daniel, David Strettle, George Chuter, Thomas Waldrom and Joe Worsley having already packed their bags.

With only room for 30 players, you’d think picking a World Cup squad would be relatively straightforward. Just pick the two best players in each position, right?

But most countries deem three hookers and three scrum-halves to be essential, such is the specialist nature of those roles. So the rest of the party inevitably involves compromise.

For the last two World Cups, England have opted for a 16-14 split between forwards and backs. Up front, that has resulted in four props, three hookers, three locks and six back-row players.

England Rugby Union

Paul Doran-Jones, Lee Mears and Andrew Sheridan in action during an England training session at Pennyhill Park PHOTO: GETTY

The ability of Martin Corry, primarily a flanker or number eight, to do a shift in the second row if called upon allowed both Sir Clive Woodward, and then Brian Ashton, to take only three specialist locks.

Johnson might view flanker Tom Croft in the same mould as Corry, in which case one of Simon Shaw, Louis Deacon, Courtney Lawes or Tom Palmer will be an unfortunate casualty.

The South African-born Mouritz Botha also remains in the mix, but must be favoured to be one of those left behind, unless he leapfrogs Deacon or Shaw and Johnson takes four specialists.

Shaw experienced the pain of rejection in 2003, as did England’s current scrummaging coach Graham Rowntree.

The ability to prop on either side of the scrum is understandably valued, so the likes of Matt Stevens and Paul Doran-Jones are in a strong position to join Andrew Sheridan and Dan Cole, though Alex Corbisiero is also a good bet if they opt for a second specialist at loose-head.

Tim Payne and David Wilson look likely casualties.

Probably six of the remaining 22 forwards will get the chop – most likely three props, two locks and one back-rower. Among the latter, Hendre Fourie and Chris Robshaw appear most vulnerable.

The backs are a more fluid affair, with versatility again a prized asset. Delon Armitage - who can do a turn at outside centre and wing as well as full-back, Matt Banahan - an out-sized wing or centre, and Riki Flutey, who has played Test rugby at inside and outside centre and some club outings at 10 or 15, have their attractions for selectors.

With 18 backs left, four more are likely to be culled. One back-three player (probably a wing), at least one centre, possibly two if Johnson deems three specialist fly-halves essential, and a scrum-half. Richard Wigglesworth and Joe Simpson are contesting the final number nine spot.

All of which means selection for the forthcoming home and away Tests against Wales will be instructive, especially for this Saturday’s date at Twickenham.

If there is going to a World Cup ´bolter’ - the uncapped Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi, Gloucester wing Charlie Sharples, or Saracens lock Botha for example - then now is the time to throw them in.

If none of them are on the team-sheet for England’s only home warm-up when Johnson unveils it on Thursday, the chances are they won’t be going to New Zealand. Not many players make their Test debuts at a World Cup.

By the time England play their final warm-up match in Dublin on 27 August, the final 30 will have been chosen.

Whoever makes the final cut, one player who should be in it, injury permitting, is confident England will do themselves proud when they do get to the land of the long white cloud.

Asked by BBC Sport last week if the squad believe they are capable of winning the World Cup, full-back Ben Foden responded: “Yes, definitely. I don’t think you should be here if you don’t believe we can go there and compete.

“If we do the hard work here and get the right blend, we are going to New Zealand with a realistic chance. I think the players and squad we have is second to none.”

England supporters will be looking for a few signs over the coming weeks that such confidence is not misplaced.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Prop suddenly looks like a very strong position for England. You would be happy with 2 props from a list of Sheridan, Cole, Stevens, Corbisiero.

  • Comment number 2.

    injuries will play a part in the next month.

    the balance of the 2nd and back row selections will be interesting with lawes and croft being able to play both.

    can't see tuilagi getting in this time with banahan having been used at outside centre a fair bit and tindal first choice as long as he's fit i don't see them taking another like for like player. if tindal got injured though...

    at this point sharples would be my bet for a bolter. good wing and full back being better than armitages full back/o.centre option at this point.

  • Comment number 3.

    My team for Wales game would be:
    Sheridan, Hartley, Cole, Lawes, Palmer, Croft, Moody, Easter, Youngs, Flood, Ashton, Flutey, Tuilagi, Cueto, Foden Subs: Thompson, Stevens, Shaw, Haskell, Care, Wilkinson, Banahan.

  • Comment number 4.

    Foe what it is worth, this would be my squad of 30:

    Props - Sheridan, Cole, Stevens, Corbisiero
    Hookers - Hartley, Thompson, Mears,
    Locks - Palmer, Lawes, Deacon, Botha
    Backs - Croft, Moody, Easter, Wood, Haskell, Waldrom

    Half Backs - Youngs, Flood, Care, Wilkinson
    Centres - Tindall, M Tuilagi, Banahan, Flutey
    Wings/ Full-Back - Ashton, Cueto, Foden, Monye, Armitage

  • Comment number 5.

    I think Tuilagi is going provided he has a decent game in one warnup as he is an ideally impact player and a different sort of centre to all otehr options. If he does I wouldn't be suprised if Banahan missed out. From the backs I expect Wigglesworth, Hodegson (if Flutey shows any form), Sharples or Monye to miss out.

    On the forwards I'll be amazed (or dismayed really) if Payne gets in, Doran-Jones and Wilson will probably miss out as well as Stevens form has been superb and the others have done enough to get in. Second row wise Botha looks vulnerable and I think Palmer will lose out and backrow wise Fourie adds a different option to the backrow and Jonno doesn't seem to like Robshaw enough to pick him so guessing he will drop out as well.

    Saying that sadly its likely we will lose a couple over the next month so everyone in the squad has a very very good shout really

  • Comment number 6.

    Would agree with team @giobob123 - perhaps with Tindall instead of Flutey - if this was their strongest team - and not the team they will play in Wales. I would assume they will be trying a few fringe players in that game to work out whether to take them or not.

  • Comment number 7.

    Save yourselves the time and plan fare and stay home. You've got no chance. Double ditto that for Wales and Scotland. Ireland and France can make it interesting so they're worth the trip.

    The rest of you should watch it on television.

  • Comment number 8.

    Gutted for JSD, although I never expected him to get near the cut for 30, Real shame that potentially the highest Premiership try scorer won't get to play a WC, or even double figures of caps.

    I'd have been content with his ommission at Strettle's expense but he has gone too. Ashton/Foden apart who obviously picks themself, there seems a little much of a muchness amongst the bulk of the back 3 & OCs with Banahan, Cueto, Tindall, Monye, Armitage, Tuilagi etc.

    The lack of any creativity at the expense of beef may come back to haunt us in the latter stages, particularly with any injuries picked up.

  • Comment number 9.

    @hunk4hire
    "Save yourselves the time and plan fare and stay home. You've got no chance. Double ditto that for Wales and Scotland. Ireland and France can make it interesting so they're worth the trip.

    The rest of you should watch it on television."

    Haha very good. You're talking about the 6 nations champions who have been in the last 2 world cup finals despite everyone writing them off last time. England know how to win big games, not choke like New Zealand and Australia.

  • Comment number 10.

    Historically, the breakdown of the 30 amongst the bigger nations is usually near identical, certainly in the forwards/backs numbers in most cases will be 16/14.

    It will definitely be 3 second-rows with Croft as the 4th option, 3 hookers, two complete back three's (inc Croft).

    Will the benches be 7 or 8 (with the 2nd prop) in this WC?

  • Comment number 11.

    7.At 21:55 1st Aug 2011, hunk4hire wrote:
    Save yourselves the time and plan fare and stay home. You've got no chance. Double ditto that for Wales and Scotland. Ireland and France can make it interesting so they're worth the trip.

    The rest of you should watch it on television.

    .....................................

    If France were the 2nd seeds in any of the other 3 groups, I'd be having a wager on them not to get out of it. They've been fortunate with this draw - can't see them coming unstuck against the other 3 sides, Japan may be the trickiest.

    They won't get past a group winner in the QF.

  • Comment number 12.

    @giobob123

    You beat me to the comment :P.

    @hunk4hire

    Pathetic, good luck with your prediction, Wales have a hard group, but I still reckon they'll give it a good go, and i'd be very surprised if England didn't make it at least to the final, Ireland are overrated and old, and France will mess up like they always do.

  • Comment number 13.

    Re: No 3) giobob 123 I don't think you'll see Lawes or Youngs starting on Saturday. After being taken off with a neck injury in a behind-closed-doors game at The Stoop last week, Lawes was doing workouts on his own today at Pennyhill Park. Suspect he will be given longer to recover, while Youngs is still on his way back from knee surgery in early July. Doubt we'll see him until Cardiff at the earliest. If Danny Care starts in his place, be interesting to see which of the other two nines makes the bench, in the race for the third spot in the final 30.

    Re: No 4 ) Hugh Davis. Don't think you'll be far away with that selection, although Waldrom won't be going - he's already been cut from the squad! http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/14363155.stm Either Robshaw or Fourie likely to get the final back-row spot, depending on if they feel they need a specialist open-side. But Moody, Haskell and Wood all offer options there.
    Suspect one of the locks will miss the cut, probably Botha.

    Re: No 5) RugbyRugbyRugby Lots of talk about Tuilagi at Pennyhill Park today. Apparently he's impressed everyone in the training camp and will be very interesting to see if he gets a run on Saturday. Certainly the most likely bolter I think.

  • Comment number 14.

    Looks like there are some English born players in the squad then !!!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    Must admit that I'm not a fan of Banahan, (but it seems management team are), so I would hope that Tuilagi gets the nod instead.

    I would have Strettle in all day ahead of Monye. (Have never rated him).

    As for predictions, impossible to call France as impossible to know if they will turn up.

    England are capable of beating anyone but to be honest it's the Kiwi's to lose, (but how many times have we said that before).

    Everyone else much of a muchness, (not good). Ireland possibly surviving purely on auto-pilot and with impact 10's.

  • Comment number 16.

    Will he only take 2 9's on the basis that Foden can cover?

    Have got a feeling that I remember Foden going to 9 a while back and having a stinker, (did I imagine that?)

  • Comment number 17.

    13.
    At 22:40 1st Aug 2011, Bryn Palmer wrote:

    Re: No 3) giobob 123 I don't think you'll see Lawes or Youngs starting on Saturday. After being taken off with a neck injury in a behind-closed-doors game at The Stoop last week, Lawes was doing workouts on his own today at Pennyhill Park. Suspect he will be given longer to recover, while Youngs is still on his way back from knee surgery in early July. Doubt we'll see him until Cardiff at the earliest. If Danny Care starts in his place, be interesting to see which of the other two nines makes the bench, in the race for the third spot in the final 30.

    Ok fair enough but they'd be in the starting line up anyway. Would pick Wigglesworth over Simpson. I'd really love to see Flutey and Tuilagi paired together, people seem to forget how good Flutey was at 12 for england before he got injured, started 3rd lions test at 12. Creative option who can kick in play to play off the Tuilagi battering ram and offload.

  • Comment number 18.

    Personally I'd go

    Forwards

    Hookers: Thompson, Hartley and Mears
    - the only 3 remaining
    Props: Cole, Sheridan, Stevens and Corbisero
    - Corbisero was v.good in the 6Nations
    Locks: Palmer, Deacon and Lawes
    - Shaw is a penalty machine, Palmer was the best lock last 6Nations, Croft can cover second row
    Back Row: Croft, Easter, Moody, Wood, Haskell and Robshaw
    - Robshaw as a dedicated No6, Wood and Haskell can cover Easter as both have No8 experience. Wood covered Moody excellently at openside

    In the backs

    Scrum Half: Youngs, Care and Wigglesworth
    Fly Half: Flood, Wilkinson, Hodgson
    Centres: Hape, Tindall, and Banahan
    Wings: Ashton, Cueto, Monye
    Full Backs: Foden and Armitage.

    I think as Banahan can play both centre positions as he has in Bath and Armitage can cover outside centre, they go. Monye can also play at No13 which I think will give him the edge over Sharples. Flutey is not good enough to be a No10 at club let alone international level as Flood and Wilkinson can play at 12

    1. Sheridan
    2. Hartley
    3. Cole
    4. Palmer
    5. Deacon
    6. Croft
    7. Moody
    8. Easter
    9. Youngs
    10. Flood
    11. Cueto
    12. Hape
    13. Tindall
    14. Ashton
    15. Foden

    16. Stevens
    17. Thompson
    18. Haskell
    19. Wood
    20. Care
    21. Wilkinson
    22. Banahan

  • Comment number 19.

    @5 how is tuilagi a different type of centre, the centres johnson pick are so one dimentional its unreal, all they do is hit up straight and hard, granted when hape plays he does give you a very good option to offload but still one dimensional, tindal needs someone to play off of him, like in the lions with roberts and o'driscoll, roberts making the hard yards and opening up space for the skill and speed of Bod

  • Comment number 20.

    Tuilagi must surely go -- yes he can be naive in defence and so he won't start the initial matches, however, he is a real game changer. His ability to break a tackle and get over the gain line will be invaluable over the last 20/30 minutes as defences tire. Also, surely, you need to have half an eye on 2015, where the selection is a tough call, then give the younger players the experience.
    England couldn't have hand picked a better platform for this World Cup. Their group gives them underniably tough matches versus Argentina and Scotland, but ones that if they want to reach the semi / final they need to win, without coming up against a direct rival for the title. I certainly wouldn't want to be in the ultra physical group the Welsh have unfortunately drawn, because even if they manage to get through then they will have been battered come the semi finals.
    Seedings suggest that they might face France and Australia in the quarters and then semis, which would both be very difficult matches, however, out of the top World Cup nations (of France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) they are the two sides they have the best record against.
    My head says that England will lose to Australia in the semi finals and my heart says that we will reach the final........which at that point over 80 minutes then anything can happen - just go back to 2007 where South Africa were clear favourites and Cueto was millimetres from scoring a try which might have changed the course of the game, despite we were outplayed in that final and SA deserved to win.

  • Comment number 21.

    Personally I think Johnson's made a big mistake cutting Thomas Waldrom from the squad. Yes I know he's a kiwi who has only been in the country for 10 months but I don't think England have had a good No 8 for a long time especially one who can carry and offload. Easter can offload but can't carry (without crabbing across the pitch) and Haskell (who is now likely to be 2nd choice 8) can carry but cant offload for toffee.

    I'm also sad to see JSD not get in as I think hes a player who could make a real impact if Johnson needed to throw a 6 to stay in the tournament in the later stages.

    As for the rest of the squad I think Tuilagi will go as an impact player and if they are going to take a 3rd scrum half it will be Simpson because of his pace and ability to do something different.

    I think if England play as they did in the 6 nations then they will get to the Semis and loose out to a now much better and more confident Australia than last November - however if they can pull out 7 performances like they did against Australia in November then anything is possible!!!

  • Comment number 22.

    Thoughtful blog, BP, and much thoughtful input.

    Here's a thought from left-field.

    Johnson & co. may feel that they want the best specialist in each position on the pitch and that, in the event of an injury to the best specialist, they would want the next-best specialist on hand as a replacement, so that they will not have engineered the prospect of going into the big games with a jack of all trades filling in for a master of one. That would finish England's eternal preoccupation with utility players as a key feature of the squad.

    Johnson & co. might also feel that their third-string hooker and scrum-half are so short of the mark that it is not worth taking them along unless injury requires them to be flown out - which consideration applies to every position, after all.

    To be frank, after cruel exposure by Ireland, Johnson & co. will probably want to keep their options open at centre, tight-head prop and loose forward, and that may not accommodate the luxury of three players in "key" positions (as if any position in rugby were not important!) and utlity players who are not the best contenders for specific positions.

    The World Cup pools are a quirky business, anyway: from the point of view of the big contenders, there are easier games than occur in a normal test season, which can be won by a well-coached, coherently-selected second string but can be lost my a hotchpotch selection, and going into the climax there is a sequence of enormously demanding games in which there is scant room for selectional error. It's not like your average international tour, in which soft games are kindly interspersed among the tests, at all.

    For my money, much depends on Wilkinson and Flutey finding their previous form again, upon the discovery of an effective loose forward combination, and upon diagnosis and correction of whatever went so terribly wrong in the front row at the hands of the Irish...! Utility players and depth in "key" positions contribute less than little in those regards.

    Still, Johnson & co. are the ones who have to get it right: they're paid enough to know better than the likes of me!

  • Comment number 23.

    Can anyone actually explain to me what Hape brings to the party? He couldn't get back into the Bath team post 6 nations and Geeks (who is no fool) let him co to Scaracens and didn't try to keep him. When he plays for England at center he reminds me of a car crash victim with concussion. He has no vision, cannot tackle and seems totally out of his depth. The reason that Ashton is so effective playing for England is because he is making the moves that Hape should be doing. A point that the rest of the world will be very aware of by now.
    With Hape in the team we do not have a hope in hell of winning in NZ

  • Comment number 24.

    In the days when the ball was put in the scrum more or less straight and referees actually refereed this aspect of the game, hooker certainly was a specialist position. Is it now? Perhaps I have failed to observe this development. In League the hooker gets no where near hooking in the scrum, but the position carries other responsibilities as a ball carrier, play-maker from dummy half. Is there a defined specialism in Union, other than being a traditional actual "hooker". Please comment. I ask this merely because I am curious why three specialist hookers are required in the squad.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think the Friendlies will go along way to decide a lot of the last places, to that end I think that players like

    Tuilagi, Stevens, Wigglesworth, Sharples, Monye Hodgeson, Fourie and Robshaw have to feature at least twice, these are big maybe players.

    We all have a good idea who the ins and the outs are.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think that Charlie Sharples should play against Wales and if he impresses he should go to NZ. He is a great young talent with terrific pace and a born try scorer. He has consistantly scored tries for Gloucester since he burst onto the sceane 2 years ago. He is a great addition to any squad. Our wingers currently are fantastic with Ashton, Cueto, Monye ect but Sharples is the kind of player who can come on atthe death and make a big impact with his pace and try scoring ability. As a Gloucester fan I also feel really sorry for James Simpson-Daniel. He has been brilliant for nearly a decade for Gloucester and if it wasn't for injuries he would have got far more caps for England than his 9.

  • Comment number 27.

    #23. meltonism2. You and I see different players. The Hape I see has all the qualities you say he hasn't. There are certainly better all round centres in England Rugby, but very few. If Tuilagi goes, Hape probably won't, but I wouldn't be surprised if they both went; Martin Johnson seems to agree with me rather than you regarding Shontayne. We will see.

  • Comment number 28.

    meltonism2 wrote:
    Can anyone actually explain to me what Hape brings to the party? He couldn't get back into the Bath team post 6 nations and Geeks (who is no fool) let him co to Scaracens and didn't try to keep him.

    As a Saracens fan, you nearly gave me a heart-attack! Had I missed something? Thankfully Hape is off to London Irish! Phew!

  • Comment number 29.

    Re. 24) Tea Party Brit: You are right in saying that most scrums are fed. The hooker really is still the most specialist role on the field however. The strain and physical demands of being the keystone for an effective scrum, to then make their way around the park, to then be asked to throw perfectly into the lineout (which is a crucial part of the game when playing for territory), makes them very special players. I am not a hooker, but you have to respect these crazy people!! Definitely need extra backup in this position.

    Re. 23) meltonism2: I agree completely, I genuinely don't understand why Hape retains his place.

    Re. All Tuilagi comments: I am a big Tigers fan and have seen him play regularly throughout the season. He has to start against Wales and bleed a little to see if he can perfom in this World Cup. Yes England have a wealth of bulk in the centre, but so do most teams now. There is nothing as bad as tackling a huge guy coming at speed, and I'm a back row player. Yes creativity is important, but some of Manu's hand-offs are magical to be fair.

    Looking forward to this World Cup and clearly cheering for England, but the sensible money really has to be on the other All Blacks ;-)

  • Comment number 30.

    #5, if Palmer is fit then he is certain to be in the squad, and will be first choice along with Lawes. He has arguably been England's best player over the last year. The only question is whether Shaw or Deacon will be back-up (hopefuly Shaw, at test level Deacon is mediocre at best), with Croft also providing cover in the second row.

    #24 Although modern hookers never actually hook for the ball, and many of them seem incapable of doing so, it is still a specialist position because
    a) It is front row, so there is still huge physical pressure on the hooker (unlike league where the packs don't push)
    b) The hooker throws in at the lineout, a huge part of the game.
    In theory a prop could probably play at hooker, but with the lineout, I doubt any team would want to go into a game without a specialist hooker on the bench, which probably means 3 in the squad.

  • Comment number 31.

    We have a good strength squad all round. Disappointing for JSD, he has never been given a fair run in an England shirt and is probably the most naturally talented player in the Prem. Center is an obvious weak link, I would play Banahan at inside and Tuilagi at outside - quite formidable I think!

    1. Sheridan
    2. Hartley
    3. Cole/Stevens
    4. Laws
    5. Palmer
    6. Croft
    7. Moody
    8. Easter
    9. Youngs
    10. Flood
    11. Cueto
    12. Banahan
    13. Tuilagi
    14. Ashton
    15. Foden

  • Comment number 32.

    Re:#23
    After the 6 nations, Hape went in for knee surgery, hence his omission from the Bath squad. In terms of his leaving, he was out of contract but Bath were keen to retain him but not at any price. Contract negotiations stalled and he left the table seeking a better deal with Irish. He enjoyed purple patches with both Bath and England, but on this occasion I would agree that taking him may be a liability given his rehabilitation and lack of game time at the end of the season.

  • Comment number 33.

    At 23:23 1st Aug 2011, SeanW wrote:

    Different in that he has decent pace and looks to get outside his man albeit using a lot of pwoerful handoffs. He doesn't look for the man as much as Tins or Hape in particular. I agree mind its not like having a mike catt style of option but he differes to teh incumbents for those shirts.

    30.At 10:42 2nd Aug 2011, Dr_John_B wrote:

    Sorry I bascially just wrote the wrong name Palmer is on teh plane I agree I meant to say Deacon. Don't knwo how I confused that but Palmer has probably been our best player over the best 12 months. No idea why i mixed those names up though!

  • Comment number 34.

    Its beginning to look like an England Barbarians Club and not an international team.

  • Comment number 35.

    Josh at 31
    I like the look of your team aside from Banahan at 12! He is flat footed, has no 40m sprint pace and would get carved up by the likes of Carter and Cooper. Not to mention the fact he has none of the ball handling skills that Sonny-Bill, Nonu and De-Villiers have. Even the likes of Gordon Darcy would have a field day with him.
    As an Aussie I've always thought England missed a trick by not playing Wilinson at 12. That looks like it won't happen so MJ should go with Flutey there. Hape is not as good as a fit Flutey so if it becomes a choice between those 2 I'd take Flutey, Tindall and the young Samoan Tuilagi!
    Thought I'd also say that Eddie Jones is a never has been so don't pay attention to him England. Youngs is a great 9.
    Really looking forward to this RWC.

  • Comment number 36.

    Johnson will pick a team to do a job and that is why Hape will probably feature. He is absolutely not the best 12 in the country but he's probably the best in the position for the system that Jonno want to play.

    I'm inclined to agree with Eddie Jones on Englands chances in that the half-backs are probably the weak point, oozing potential but still on the steep part of the learning curve and its a bit of an indictment on the English game that Flood is the best we have.

    Both Youngs and Flood have temperament issues (Youngs can get a little impetuous and Flood can go into his shell) which have been exposed by SA and Ireland the season gone and the streetwise teams will look to exploit them again. I personally wouldn't mind seeing Wilko start a few for that reason.

    Don't also forget that Foden isn't a bad scrum-half either

  • Comment number 37.

    Willri, agree with you 100% on Banahan, for all those reasons, as to Wilkinson playing 12, I always liked the Idea of Flood at 12 and Wilkinson at 10, it really has worked before.

    The real worry for me for England is the Breakdown. When teams have counter rucked England, Scotland, Ireland and South Africa, we really have struggled. We need more grunt at the rucks which means sacrificing some of our dynamism.

    Palmer and Croft seem to be a particular weakness there but are still far preferable to Fourie and Deacon who are stronger ruckers.

  • Comment number 38.

    I think people underestimate banahan's handling abilities. He always looks for an offload and has the size to usually provide one to a supporting player. Compared to tindall's handling skills, there's no contest. Banahan's quicker than tindall as well and needs only to improve his defensive positioning.

  • Comment number 39.

    The England backs will get crushed by pretty much every team in the top 5 rankings.
    In international terms:

    Tindell is average
    Hape is below average
    Flood is average
    Cueto is average
    Banahan is average
    Tuilagi has yet to prove himself at international level
    Ashton is just above average
    Foden is just above average

    None of the above would even make the bench for any of the top 4 ranked teams.
    How can this be possible for a country that has 50million people to choose from and then probably another 100 million from foreign countries to choose from?

    It defys logic

  • Comment number 40.

    39: lol. And we still win the 6 nations with half a team!

  • Comment number 41.

    is this actually an England team, which part of the country is Fourie ,Botha, Hape & Tuilagi common surnames

  • Comment number 42.

    Tuilagi is a pretty common surname in the Leicester area

  • Comment number 43.

    #41 I think Tuilagi originated in Oxfordshire and Botha is obviously a Yorkshire name. I think the famous poet William Botha was from there. Then Hape and Fourie are cousins of the Armitages from south London.

    Dohhhh!

  • Comment number 44.

    Re: No 16) Jimbokav 1971 - There's an outside chance that Foden might be considered cover at scrum-half, if they wanted to take for example an extra centre or prop or lock, and the compromise was sacrificing a third nine. But suspect MJ may share SCW's mantra in 2003. He said: "I'm not taking a squad of utility players" when discussing why Austin Healey didn't make final cut, opting for Andy Gomarsall as third scrum-half behind Dawson and Bracken.

    As No 22) Segnes points out, versatility or 'utility' players may not be as sought after as I have suggested. The scenario MJ would be considering is if he only takes two scrum-halves or two hookers and one gets injured in the 48 hours before a big game, it takes at least 24 hours to get to NZ from the UK, let alone ask someone to potentially play in the World Cup straight off the plane. Foden, at a push, could maybe switch from full-back during a game, with Armitage or Cueto moving to 15, but he wouldn't have that option at hooker.

    Re: No 24) TeaPartyBrit - I think no 29 ) yourestillalive and 30) Dr_John_B have done a pretty good job in explaining why hooker is probably the most specialist role on the field, and why all 3 still in the squad will go.

    Re: No 18) Kernowboy. Think your forwards selection could be spot on. Probably backs too, unless Johnno develops a slight gambling instinct in next 3 weeks (unlikely). Be interesting if Flutey gets a run and impresses, and how Hape is shaping up after knee surgery, who gets the call at inside centre.


  • Comment number 45.

    39 James Mathew- I think you're being a touch harsh. And I'm an Aussie.
    Youngs is class (probably only behind Genia and Du Preez right now). Wilko and Tindall bring huge experience wnd are solid. The back 3 of Ashton, Cueto and Foden are as good as any- showed up Mitchell, O'Connor and beale didn't they?

    Besides I think this whole question of how many 'World XV' players each side has is a little over egged. It's about combinations and how teams gel. In any case, I think England would do as well as NZ, Australia and SA in A World XV:

    1. Sheridan
    2. Du Preez
    3. Cole
    4. Horwill
    5. Matfield
    6. Burger
    7. McCaw
    8. Harinorduquy
    9. Genia
    10. Carter
    11. Ashton
    12. Sonny Bill Williams
    13 BOD
    14 Ioane
    15 O'Connor

    Controversial and arguable but sure you get my point. I think England will give it a real shake this year.

  • Comment number 46.

    I think England will make the semi finals but not because of the strenght of their team but because of their group and run into the semi final where they will lose to a very strong Australian side.

    This WC is very clear cut I believe...NZ and OZ are too far ahead of the rest at the moment to be challenged.

  • Comment number 47.

    After this world cup the image the rest of the world will have of the England Rugby team will be of tanned Pacific Island looking players in a black jersey!

    Somethings not right here!

  • Comment number 48.

    Some difficult decisions to be made. As a Tigers fan I've been pleased with Manu throughout the season (educated in sunny Hinckley too - pretty much an Englishman I reckon!) Perhaps we can look away for once from where players are from - it's hardly surprising or revolutionary that people from foreign climes settle in a hugely diverse and multicultural society. My family did! Anyhow, that boring old chestnut aside I hope Saturday gives the outsiders a good chance. I think England will do well in the RWC - New Zealand will win the RWC no doubt. SA will be strong come RWC too as they always are. Wales may struggle in their group - when it's lose they struggle against teams that play an open game like themselves. Very excited about it all!

  • Comment number 49.

    Thanks for responding to my previous, BP. As ever you make a good point, and you've been kind not to dismiss mine out of hand. England may be the only wealthy union whose "stand-by" players don't all appear to be in New Zealand on family holidays for the duration of the World cup. Not counting Scotland, England was - by some accounts - the only rich union to make the transition from amateurism to professionalism without an intervening decade or two of "shamateurism", and no English club would cheat by falsely replacing uninjured players ... hm. Let's see what Johnson & co. do.

  • Comment number 50.


    England will not win the world cup with Toby Flood at 10. Watch him defend, probably one of the worst in test rugby. He adds very little in attack, people get obsessed by saying he's 'a distributer' or 'has a great offloading game'. It's nonsense, his offloads are generally within a cluster of defenders and to a player standing still who is stitched up. The best coach to grace rugby, Ian Mcgeechan didn't even put Flood on the reserve list for his 2009 Lions, in spite of his position as England's incumbant no 10. Better than Wilkinson? What a joke.
     
    Cueto has 1 try in his last 27 games. It was in the 26th against Italy. Mike Tindall also scored. As I would also say for Flood, Hape and Tindall, name the best other international team they would get into? NZ? no. Oz? no. Ireland? no. SA? no. France? no. Samoa?! no.
     
    Johnson is too proud to break up Hape and Tindal. He has stuck with it for so long. Even now if it clicked would it have been worth 17 games of utter rubbish to get there? I'd like to think 17 tests is too many to be 'building'. Jonno is a poor poor selector, people seem to forget that the whole of england was telling him to pick Ashton and Foden for a whole season, and it took an injury before he actually did.

  • Comment number 51.

    @ 49

    I've heard some rumblings that as the EPS is 32 players, Johnson may try and swing it with the clubs to have two extra players in NZ on stand by. You're right though. It's a shame the RFU was too dense to consider centrally contracting players back when the opportunity was there.

    @ 18

    I don't really understand the logic of taking Monye instead of Sharples for 13 cover when you've already got Tindall, Banahan and Armitage in the squad. How many 13s do you need? Sharples, on the other hand, offers better cover for fullback and (more importantly) would appear to be a better wing.

  • Comment number 52.

    @ 50

    Not that tired old bilge again. Yes, yes, we all know Johnson never picks any new or young players except by blind chance, through injury.

    And yet, somehow, during his tenure we have seen the establishment of Hartley, Cole, Lawes, Croft, Haskell, Youngs, Flood, Ashton, Banahan, Foden, plus Armitage and Flutey before their injuries, and the blooding of Corbisiero, Doran-Jones, Attwood, Wood, Fourie, and then the imminent inclusion of Tuilagi and Sharples, not to mention chances given to Armitage S, Hipkiss, Geraghty, etc. etc. etc.

    For someone who only finds new players by chance, he's a very lucky boy, isn't he!

  • Comment number 53.

    @52

    Capping players doesn't automatically mean you've done well, of that bunch who are now 'established' there aren't many that would threaten a world XV, and that is how we have to measure our players. Ashton, Foden perhaps. Croft and lawes are maybe on the way. Toby Floodgates will never ever get there. He'd be 3rd choice (at best) in Wales or Ireland, I'm not going to go into OZ and NZ.

    How bad a try scoring record does mark cueto have to have before we drop him then? How well does Tuilagi/badly does tindal have to play before we make a change there? Bath refused to pick Banahan in the centres when England asked them to because they've got some sense. He's a donkey, it's a shame they took him out of the second row cos he'd have been far better there. BOD certainly didn't look too frightened by him.

  • Comment number 54.

    I wasn't a big fan of Banahan at first, but I think he's getting better, and he offers something different, and he's only 24.

    Flood wouldn't get anywhere near Oz, and yet he somehow managed to engineer home and away victories against them last season. 3rd choice at best for Wales or Ireland? Pull the other one.

    How well does Tuilagi have to play to get in? Er, quite well, for one season, at the age of 20, by the look of things so far. Sorry? Would you have picked him last season? On the basis of what, exactly?

    Cueto, in my opinion, has been retained solely due to the whirlwind of change around him. While you're constantly chopping and changing 9, 12, 13, 14 and 15, I don't think it's utter madness to keep one experienced head in there. He's not scored tries, but he has cleaned up a lot of potential try conceding messes for the surrounding kindergarten. And now it looks like he's under some serious pressure from Sharples. Who is 21.

    Finally, I don't see why you have to be world XV material to be the best in your position in England, but anyway: I reckon Cole would threaten a world XV, and Youngs isn't far off, especially considering he's only 21. So, four years ago we had absolutely no players who would threaten a world XV, and now we have accidentally stumbled upon six new, and very young ones. He really is a very, very lucky boy, isn't he? Lucky, lucky, luck luck.

  • Comment number 55.

    I would pick Stevens over Cole. If England are to compete at the world cup these players have to be up wiht the top in their peer group. Ashton and Foden are, they are credible competitors to the best back three players out there. Cueto is not, neither are any of our other backs.

    Johnson's selection is very poor. He gets stuck, he's doing the same thing with Tindall and Cueto that he did with Borthwick. Everyone said Borthwick had to go a long long time before he went, and it was only once his hand had been forced that Johnson realised that he should have dropped him a long time before that.

    This is the same Johnson who brought Ayoola Erinle out of nowhere for one cap against NZ then sent him back straight away. Now if that had worked I would have said it was pretty lucky.

  • Comment number 56.

    If he's got a think for picking the same old players, where is Worsley? Where's Care gone? Why's his old mucker Wilkinson behind Flood? Why isn't Thompson ahead of Hartley? I could go on, but there's not point. And you don't think that Youngs is a credible competitor?

    That's what really winds me up about the selection denialists. You hold up a couple of examples and claim Johnson gets stuck and never selects new players, and yet I say again:

    Corbisiero, Hartley, Cole, Doran-Jones, Lawes, Croft, Wood, Haskell, Youngs, Flood, Banahan, Ashton, Foden. Attwood and Tuilagi knocking right on the door.

    I can basically make up an entire team out of the new players that have been brought in in the last few years, and who have more or less made the grade. OK, I'm still not 100% sure with regard to Banahan, and Flood is a bit limited, but he's currently the best we have seeing as Cipriani and Geraghty HAVE BOTH BEEN TRIED, but not worked out. The rest could well be the core of a very good England team for the next 8 years or so. An entire team!

    You say two players, I point out fourteen others. You see why I feel I am winning this argument by a ratio of 7 to 1, don't you?

    The honest truth is that you just can't replace an entire side all at once. It simply doesn't work. You need to have a couple of experienced players still in there. In this case, Tindall and Cueto, but only because neither Hipkiss or Monye (or Strettle for that matter) took the step up and out played them, or they'd be gone too.

    Honestly, if you want to have a good old whinge, at least do it about something that has some basis in fact - like "It doesn't matter what team they select as long at Wells is coaching the forwards out of a manual from 1999".

    The one thing that has actually been distinctly progressive about this management has been the selection. Would you like me to list the cavalcade of young talent that has made it's way into the team again? Is their any chance that it might actually stick?

  • Comment number 57.

    Tuilagi must go and I think he may cause a stir. Otherwise England's midfield of Hape and Tindall looks pedestrian - the two shouldn't play together. In fact, my most controversial selection is leaving Tindall out (although MJ will take him) - Banahan and Tuilagi offer more speed and explosive power (and at least as much strength and bulk). Our pack looks very dangerous. And our back three will cause problems...if they get some ball!!

    PROP: Sheridan, Cole, Stevens, Corbisiero
    HOOKER: Hartley, Thompson, Mears
    LOCK: Palmer, Lawes, Shaw
    BACK ROW: Croft, Haskell, Wood, Moody, Easter, Robshaw
    SCRUM HALF: Youngs, Care, Simpson
    FLY HALF: Flood, Wilkinson, Hodgson
    CENTRES: Flutey, Hape, Tuliagi, Banahan
    BACK THREE: Foden, Ashton, Cueto, Monye

  • Comment number 58.

    Watch Flood carefully and then say he's better than Wilkinson. He's not, he cannot tackle, and he's very limited going forward. The aussies are laughing at us for playing Flood ahead of Wilkinson its like tying our hands behind our back and putting a bullseye on our chin.
     
    There are 7 players in a back line and 3 of them (Hape, Tindall, Cueto) have consistently underperformed, they should have been dropped by now. Tindall hasn't done anything for club or country since 2004/5, Hape never has in rugby union. Now I do believe we've had a kiwi rugby league convert walk straight into the england 12 shirt before and the coach got clattered for it, Henry Paul anyone? Cueto doesn't do tries any more, I suppose we should sacrifice the ability to score on his side of the pitch for his cool head and experience?
     
    You can't just list players that have been capped and claim we have a progressive coach, look at how they came in to the side, if the only way someone can get in is through injury to the incumbent you're not going to get very far. Andy Robinson was strung up for his selection mistakes, Johnson is hailed as the messiah.

  • Comment number 59.

    anenglandfan -
    "Johnson is too proud to break up Hape and Tindal. He has stuck with it for so long. Even now if it clicked would it have been worth 17 games of utter rubbish to get there? I'd like to think 17 tests is too many to be 'building'. Jonno is a poor poor selector"

    Hape only has 11 caps.

    Flood plays flat and holds defences which creates space out wide for Foden and the back 3 to attack. He mixes the game up well and is coming on in terms of his game management. His kicking from hand is longer than Wilkinsons, he is a strong defender and a good goal kicker. He's not there yet but he is a test-class player. Cueto is in as he's a strong kicking option, he reads the game well, he's experienced and he's a good counter-attacker. He's not a superb finisher, true, but Ashton is. One reason he's not scoring is because the way we're playing he's coming off his wing and looking to add an extra player, hence he's not on his wing. He's naturally a right wing anyway so is playing out of position.

    Stevens has been playing loosehead for Saracens. He can play both sides but he's only just come back from his ban and Cole has been playing superbly. We've had a dominant scrum in nearly every game this season and he's been a major reason. Why would you change a player who is playing well and is contributing to a massive area of strength for us?

    I note you don't rate Banahan. He's a big, quick, aggressive lad who has a good offload. That's what Johnson is looking for in his outside centres, someone who is big, can set a platform for others to play off, who can hold the defence and who can offload as and when it's on. Whether Banahan can step up will be interesting, but he's got the raw materials to do very well.

  • Comment number 60.

    I dont know if anyone else is baffled by this, and I really do not mean to drag this into a jingoistic "my country is like well better than your country" debate, but how on earth are Ireland so fancied, it genuinely, objectively shocks me.

    They were absolutely dire in the 6 nations, bar the England game where they played a blinder. Other than that though they lost to Wales (I know it was a dodgy try and really they should have won but it was not the performance of a potential world cup winner) and should really have lost to Italy had the Italians just caught the ball of the kick off (again ifs and buts, but (ironic I know) not the performace of WC winners) I was staggered to read editorials, admittidly by an Irish journo, claiming Ireland where the "real" winners of the 6N, WHAT! I was staggered then but this WC stuff is even crazier.

    Again not an attack on the irish but just confusion at why the team is so highly rated going in to Sep?

    I think itll be an odd World Cup as noone at all really to challenge NZ. Aus-too young/volatile but will be quality next wcup Eng-same but not such great potential France-could be great but coach is a nutter wales-all over the shop at the moment SA-combination of Wales and France's problem yet buzarrely I think their game suits WC rugby down to the ground and prob be NZ main threat.

    ps Also sharples to make Eng squad, young dynamicand better than Monye :)

  • Comment number 61.

    I don't get the some of the anti-Cueto comments on here. He's experienced, very solid defensively, willing to make the hard yards and he's a good enough finisher - IMHO he just needs to be given chances to do it. He's never been a player who creates something out of nothing like say, Shane Williams, but he will do a job and a good one at that.

    For me England's weaknesses are centres and back row. Hape and Tindall for me don't cut it - they're both too similar, too direct. I would like to see Flutey/Banahan or Flutey/Tuilagi, but neither are likely to happen as Tindall will presumably not be dropped. Definitely Flutey at 12 though. I was also wondering what people would think of the option of playing Wilkinson at 12 with Flood at 10. Is it too late to try it out and what would be the pros and cons?

    How far can England go? Potentially all the way, but this can be said of any number of teams. I'd be disappointed of we didn't make the last 4.

  • Comment number 62.

    Re. 61 et al: Wilkinson at 12

    I can see what you are all getiing at suggesting that Wilkinson might make a good centre, but really I don't think he's got the pace going forward anymore. I'm certainly not saying that he isn't still quick, but compared to the explosive acceleration of modern centres there really isn't much of a comparison.

    I think there have been a lot of harsh comments on here regarding selection, what we have not considered is the team and attitude dynamic. MJ is choosing from top flight professionals at the top of their game, but sometimes there are dynamics in the changing room or on the training field that require different selections. One of the things I noticed watching the England vs. Wales game in the 2003 WC last night on ESPN Classic is how much every member of that England team was playing for the team. Neil Back spent as much time at scrum half as he did on the floor, Johnson was epic tackling like a back row, Jason Robinson could run himself into corners as the rest of the backs were there to ruck over and so on.

    This last point of Jason Robinson I guess speaks volumes about the selection this year, do we have a wizard? Someone who can create magic like he did in that awesome break through the Welsh midfield (sorry Wales to focus on this game)? For me as an amateur player it is worrying that too many players are being rejected because their benchpress isn't good enough.

  • Comment number 63.

    I think that the reason why Cueto doesn't get too many tries for England is simple. With the present incumbent at outside center, no-one playing outside of him is likely to get any decent ball to play with. That is why Ashton always comes inside to take the pass from Flood, he misses out the centers and gets tries!

  • Comment number 64.

    Here's my squad
    props - Cole, Corbisiero, Sheridan, Stevens
    hookers - Thompson, Mears, Hartley
    lock - Lawes, Palmer, Shaw
    back row - Croft, Fourie, Haskell, Moody, Wood, Easter

    scrum halves - Care, Youngs, Wigglesworth
    fly halves - Flood, Wilkinson
    centres - Flutey, Hape, Tindall, Tuilagi
    wing - Cueto, Monye, Ashton
    full backs - Armitage, Foden

  • Comment number 65.

    Sorry to bash on about Ireland but noone else has answered my question one way or the other...This was on the independant this morning

    "having finished the Six Nations strongly and brought home the bacon at Heineken Cup and Celtic League levels. We are talking about a rugby nation on top of their game"

    WHAAAAAT!! How, the Celtic league is very uncompetitive and as said before, one good result and thats it. I remember when Eng beat Aus everyone was quick to point out (and rightly so) one swallow doesnt make a summer. But for Ireland it somehow does. I am dumbfounded

  • Comment number 66.

    England have progressed in the last year however i believe the Centres still provide the problematic area as England lack vision and slight of hand here. I believe that playing Wilko at 12 gives you those options (he might of lost some pace however is still as tough as old boots and gives the dynamoc dimension in the midfield). If Manu shows the talent that he undoubtably has in the forthcoming games I would play him at 13. So my starting XV would be:

    1 - Sheridan
    2 - Hartley
    3 - Cole
    4 - Lawes
    5 - Palmer
    6 - Croft
    7 - Moody
    8 - Haskell
    9 - Youngs
    10 - Flood
    11 - Cuteo
    12 - Wilko
    13 - Manu
    14 - Ashton
    15 - Foden

    This a team that can effectively compete with the Aussies and AB's and win and has the blend of youth and experience to be very competitive in the forthcoming WC


  • Comment number 67.

    Our big weakness is at center. I don't rate Hape but I believe Tindall should be there for the experience that he offers. Tualangi, Wilko, Banahan and Flood can all play there instead.

    I memtioned in a seperate post that I felt sorry for James Simpson-Daniel. I have seen many posts about the use of a Utility player. (ie. Banahan can play at wing or at either center.) JSD has played exceptionally well for Glucester at wing, inside center, outside center and at full-back for nearly ten years.
    Should have been given his chance long before this world cup. I agree that he should not be at this world cup now but he should have been picked consistently for England long before.
    Peaple have been having a go at Cueto because he doesn't score tries and this shows up against Ashton who scores tries for fun (against Italy at least.) but Cueto is a much better defender than Ashton is and can also play at full back. This will be his last world cup though before Sharples breaks into the team.

  • Comment number 68.

    What about Manu and Wilko in the centres? Flood has played centre befoe so they can swap and change. Wilko would be able to guide and "look after" Manu, and thats not meant to be patronising, just a steady head. Manu does have a habit of flying up looking for the big hit, but is very strong in breaking the tackle.

  • Comment number 69.

    gGod to see the England set-up doing its best to give as many countries as possible a share in their putative World Cup win. Armitage, Flutey, Stevens, Tuilagi...I thought England had more RU players registered than anyone else, so why the reliance on imports? It must be depressing for young England -born players.

  • Comment number 70.

    To quote (apocryphally) the quintessential Englishman - Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington - "Being born in a stable does not make one a horse." He himself was born in Ireland. I doubt he'd ever have pulled on a green shirt.

    Play to the rules - and that includes eligibility.

  • Comment number 71.

    Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have Hape in the England team either but this "can't tackle, can't pass, can't run" stuff is just ridiculous. He's solid, he gets across the gainline, he makes his tackles and he's got a good offloading game. I think he has actually played pretty well for England at times, including one game (I think against Samoa) where he was man of the match. A debate about whether we should have a more creative 12 is valid but to say he is completely useless is just unfair on the guy. England have got a team of coaches and analysts, all of which in the case of the coaches played at the highest level, who analyse every minute detail of every game, do you think he'd be in the squad if he couldn't pass or couldn't tackle as some people are suggesting.

  • Comment number 72.

    Seems to me that there's general recognition that England hasn't world-beaters at centre, somewhat less recognition that, even if there were world-beaters at centre, England hasn't the ideal half-backs to unleash them, and occasional recognition that England also hasn't a loose trio which can do much about it.

    Here's a thought: maybe the solution is not to hope for the last-minute emergence of a miracle player, or to contemplate different permutations. Maybe the solution is to think of a way to win tests with what is available, and then to look at the best selections and combinations to execute that strategy. Personally, I think that if England wins through, it will have been because there was a lot of kicking and a lot of tackling, and there will not have been many long-range tries scored by England or its opponents. If England wins through, penalty goals and field position, along with grinding down the opposition and ruining their game-plan, will have earned more comment than creative genius and crowd-pleasing running. However, that will not come about if selection is based on sentiment and combinations are designed to achieve what England is not well-equipped to achieve.

    In a nutshell, I am (and by the sound of it, I am not unique) not confident that England can select players and combinations who will assure exciting wins against the opposition which matters. My hope is that Johnson and co. will be mindful that England's public will be better delighted by grim, narrow wins than by exciting defeats.

  • Comment number 73.

    Heres my world cup squad:

    props: Sheridan, Corbiesiero, Cole, Stevens

    hookers: Hartley, Thompson, Mears

    locks: Lawes, Palmer, Shaw

    back row: Croft, Robshaw, Moody, Wood, Easter, Haskell

    scrum halfs: Youngs, Care, Simpson

    fly halfs: Flood, Wilkinson

    Centres: Flutey, Tuilagi, Hape, Tindall

    wings: Ashton, Cueto, Banahan

    full backs: Foden, D Armitage

 

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