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England to emerge from Johnson's shadow?

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Ben Dirs | 21:51 UK time, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

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At times, Martin Johnson resembled a man who'd been sprung preparing some unpronounceable French dish in his kitchen while wearing a pinny. "Adventurous? Moi? Please, it's nothing really..."

The team-sheet suggested - only suggested, mind - that he was bang to rights, with the names of Matt Tait and Danny Care presented as the killer evidence. But still the England manager, as stubborn as ever, was having none of it.

"It'll probably be reported I've picked the most attacking team possible," he said, "but we'll have to defend as well. Matt Tait can do that, and so can Danny Care." Before Johnson added: "The weather reports are cold and wet for Saturday..."

But all around him, Johnson's troops were breaking ranks. "You've got to back your players to play heads-up rugby, and there's definitely been an emphasis on that since January," said recalled number eight Nick Easter.

"Things have definitely changed since the autumn," said hooker Dylan Hartley. "Going into these games there will be a new style of rugby, a heads-up style."

"As a group our mind-sets have opened up a bit to try things," said recalled scrum-half Care. "We've got the full support of the coaches to go out and express ourselves."

And even Johnson let his guard slip at one point, pointing out that Care is "probably the best running 9 that we have... he's the best guy for what we want to do on Saturday", despite earlier insisting that they hadn't made a "conscious decision" to expand their game at all.

What England want to do on Saturday is beat Wales at home in their Six Nations opener. Long-suffering "Twickenham Man", who hasn't seen his side win a championship since 2003 and who saw them score just one try in three autumn Tests, would like to see them do it with a modicum of style.

mjda595.jpgMartin Johnson is looking for a positive Six Nations performance ahead of next year's World Cup

In truth, Johnson didn't really need to shake things up too much. With full-back Delon Armitage and inside centre Riki Flutey back in the side after injuries, England would have looked a markedly more attacking side even without the addition of Tait and Care.

Flutey, a Swiss Army knife in a world in thrall to the cudgel, and Jonny Wilkinson at 10 should make for a game-breaking axis. And with men outside with pace to burn, England's fans have reason to be optimistic.

Whether England's pack can provide them with a solid enough platform from which to attack is open to debate, with the inexperienced trio of Tim Payne, Hartley and David Wilson up against an all-Lions front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones, with 162 Welsh caps between them. (Note: Jenkins and Rees have since been ruled out of Saturday's match)

"There's no escaping we've got our hands full there," admitted England scrum coach Graham Rowntree. "But we can't be overawed. Yes, they're British Lions, but they're a front row coming to Twickenham. That's our house, isn't it?"

With next year's World Cup in mind, what Johnson will most want to see is some evidence that his England side is developing a personality and emerging from what is, if former team-mate Lawrence Dallaglio is to be believed, his very large and inhibiting shadow.

But while Dallaglio claimed players were afraid of Johnson and scared to question his judgment, Easter and his back-row colleague James Haskell insisted otherwise.

"Johnno has always made it very clear that he wants the side to be player-led and moulded in our image, that it should be a players' environment," said Harlequins' Easter.

Stade Francais blind-side Haskell added: "The important thing we've created is the ability to communicate with the coaches, give feedback and make sure we're all on the same page."

Sporting media conferences can be monotonous affairs. Players are pre-programmed to churn out the same old platitudes, and the only time you're in danger of getting a decent quote is if somebody's wiring goes spectacularly awry.

So it's the little signs that can betray the mood in a camp. Whether it's Hartley mugging by the window like a naughty schoolboy, or calling his Northampton team-mate Chris Ashton "a clown". Or Haskell and Ugo Monye commandeering a TV camera and conducting a mock interview, before being told off by a twitchy RFU media man.

Or the story I was told of Flutey, disappearing into the woods next to the training ground before reappearing with a bunch of daffodils for his daughter. Good signs, signs of a happy camp, and heartening, too, for what do they know of sport who only sport know?

For his part, Johnno clearly still thinks most people outside his England camp know nothing. "We welcome constructive criticism. Some of it's accurate, some of it's so far off the mark so as to make me smile." And then he smiled, or at least I think he did.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/bendirs1

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    As ever, I enter a 6 Nations campaign, brimming with totally unjustified positivity. Let's hope the feeling lasts longer than 20 minutes this time.
    Just play rugby England...who knows, you might enjoy it.

  • Comment number 2.

    I wonder what kind of dish Johnno has cooked up... Some British beef, or something with a little more Gallic flair? I'm not yet convinced that he has come up with a way to stuff Welsh lamb.

  • Comment number 3.

    although our backs look electric..dare i say it.. i still feel unless the front 5 produce quick dynamic ball it will all go to waste, and are only pints will come from jonnys left boot. i do hope we finally give the backs a chance to play, then we can look at guys like cipriani when we learn to play on the front foot....!

  • Comment number 4.

    Will be an interesting game although judging by Payne's performances recently in the Premiership, he is not going to have a nice game against Jones. Should be an interesting game though if it is wet it comes dfown to the breakdown and I think Wales have a the better team around the field. But a wet day at Twickernham, who knows?

  • Comment number 5.

    MJ is risk averse...always has been...expect the flair players to have instructions...20 minutes will tell us everything. If England fail this Welsh rarebit 1st course test then MJ has to go. Masterchef he ain't I'm afraid and someone can still delight the palate with the last 4 courses still remaining.

  • Comment number 6.

    English players picking daffodils. And you consider this a good omen for England?

  • Comment number 7.

    Now the 6 nations campaign is almost upon us, I am once again, undoubtedly misguidedly, very optimistic about the chances of England. The selection of the England backs appears to promise tries galore, exciting rugby and, perhaps, even a chance of taking the 6 nations. However there are points to consider:
    Armitage is a great player in attack but he is short of match practice and his performance against Leinster worried me. I hope defensively he will cope under the high kicks.

    We often relied on Flutey last year to provide the inspiration and he has been injured for a while, and again I am not sure if he is back to his best (in fairness though I haven't been following his progress).

    The forwards have to provide the foundations for the backs to express themselves and play some rugby. Yes the backs selection is exciting but they will need a regular, quick supply of good ball otherwise it is a waste of time picking an attacking lineup. Unfortunately on paper it looks like Wales will dominate with really only Moody and Shaw turning in good performaces in recent memory... all this speculation, we will have a better idea on Sunday where everyone stands.




  • Comment number 8.

    Come on, commentators, pundits and fans a like have been agitating for this approach for months, now what is required is for people to get behind the team so that if an attacking, entertaining approach does not yield instant results the players and management do not then go back into their shells.

    I am excited by this team selection, I'm not saying this team is going to win the 6 nations but a centre partnership of Tait and Flutey, Cueto and Armitage playing and then Foden and Flood on the bench to make an impact in the second half is all a signal of intent that I for one approve of.

  • Comment number 9.

    Does anyone see similaraties between roy keane at sunderland and martin johnsons first year as england manager i.e. iconic former players intimidating/inhibiting their teams.

  • Comment number 10.

    i am really pleased with the inclusion of Tait, the recall of Care and the jettison of Banahan, but I'm also worried about that welsh front 5. To be honest, Gethin Jenkins is the best prop in the world right now - and did any see him break away from a centre in the recent Blues match?! the guy's a machine...

    i'm gonna stick my neck out and say that suddenly after 5 years of the same forwards coaches and the same slow ball, they're actually going to do their job and get our forwards producing quick ball....

  • Comment number 11.

    Not sure which weather forecast MJ's been looking at. Saturday's the only day due for sun this week!

    I have a feeling things might actually start coming together this 6N. Whether it will happen in time to beat wales is another matter.

    Most people seem to forget re: the scrum that it's often as much to do with the 2nd row (the engine) to provide power and ballast. The inclusion of Shaw can only help.

  • Comment number 12.

    I try to be optimistic too, but my guess is that we'll see the usual kicking away of possession leading to kicking pingpong, and the usual very slow recycling of the ball which gets us nowhere. Would love to be proved wrong. England players are good enough, but everything needs to be done snappily to get the opposition on the back foot. C'mon England prove me wrong.

  • Comment number 13.

    #5 - There's no harm in being risk averse sometimes (although against Argentina and the Wallabies we did go too far in that direction).

    The point is that England are not the better side for this game, both in terms of personnel and the evolution of this particular side and so we can't simply go in hoping to trade blow for blow with Wales in attack and defence. There will need to be discipline in terms of sticking to a game-plan.

    The weather forecast is ominous. Despite Wales' superiority to England in open play (at least in my opinion), their superiority in the front row is far greater and a cold, wet day will make the scrums arguably even more important.

    It's crucial that Jonny's kicking from hand improves markedly from what we saw in Autumn. Personally, I don't want to see England commit to open, attacking rugby in their own half unless its turnover ball and we will need our no. 10 to give us the opportunity to open up a bit.

    Glad to see Tait in there. I'm still very much unconvinced by Flutey but I think he'll have a great deal more to offer with Tait outside him. What is encouraging is that our bench does now seem to offer genuine alternatives who can produce at a similar standard to those on the park.

    Will the overall standard will be enough to create an upset? Sadly I don't think so, but I'll be at Twickenham for the first time on Saturday and willing them on as much as poss (not that this will help in the slightest!).

  • Comment number 14.

    The team feels more positive and there seem to be noises about attacking with intent that can't be bad...

    However, I do wonder why we didn't allow Shane Geraghty to play 'heads up' rugby in the autumn. When he is on his game there is no-one better in the England camp at opening up a defence but he was chained back out of position 40m behind a deep standing Wilko...

    I wonder whether a creative FH and playmaker will be able to emerge and prosper in Johnson's reign... Cipriani has disapeared and lamb doesn't get a look in. For me these are talents that need nurturing and this is surely part of Johnson's remit. I've yet to see any evidence that he can bring young creative players out of their shells on the international stage. They might be slightly difficult, temperamental characters who don't fit the template but this shouldn't mean they just don't get a look in. If Wilko has another dismal series this will very quickly become a pressing issue.

  • Comment number 15.

    Backs look exciting but I'm not convinced that the back row will produce the quick ball needed to get space.

    Good ball carriers, Easter, Hartley, Haskell but hope they have learnt when to carry and when to just get out of the way. Johnson also says that Care is our best running scrum half but to be honest I hope he just gets the ball out quickly rather then his usual one step to the and then pass.

    Its going to need a big performance from the England front 5 as the Welsh look extremely powerful and Adam Jones especially will be full of confidence following the impact he made on the Lions tour.

    If Lewis Moody can hold his form then this is an area of strength for us and there are some good battles all over the pitch. Really looking forward to the game.

    Swing low sweet chariots.

  • Comment number 16.

    #13

    How can you still be unconvinced about Flutey. He has performed brilliantly for England. His form was so good he was called up to the lions squad. When included in the lions team he performed brilliantly again. I'm not sure how much more you want from the guy. Great attacking play, great defence and and a good reader of the game, hence his role as fly half for his club.

    I believe the key to success will be quick ball from the forwards and Wilko standing a bit flatter (especially with his kicking not what it used to be) which will allow flutey and tait to cause mischief with well angled runs!

    Slow ball and the inclusion of tait will be made nonconcequential

  • Comment number 17.

    I really do hope we play with our heads up and keep the ball alive. I'm looking forward to seeing at least a glimmer of inspiration. Is it time to see Geraghty, if we're going to play in the open? I'm sure Jonny would make a great coach!

    As for what Johnno is cooking up....fine british beef up front is one thing, I just hope he tries a little Cole-man mustard too.

  • Comment number 18.

    Have we all forgotten that what will happen is that as soon as England come under any pressure JW will just kick it back to Wales. Having "electric" backs is useless unless they are given the ball in space.

  • Comment number 19.

    #16 - I realise that I'm in the minority on this issue and I'm totally willing to change my mind. And I should stress that I'm not saying he's a bad player.

    I'm also not arguing that he hasn't been an outstanding performer for England, its just that for me he has been having good games in sides that were performing badly and I'm not sure whether he can elevate his game beyond 'good' when what England will need is 'excellent'.

    My difficulty is that while it is hard to pick a particular weakness with Flutey, I also find it hard to pick any part of his game where he excels. He has never surprised me in a game and that is something I always like centres to do.

    I confess to not having seen much of his club rugby and accept that this may undermine my judgement and, as I said, I'm totally open to having my mind changed when I watch him. More than that, I'll be willing him on to produce some stunning performances.

  • Comment number 20.

    #13 - not convinved by Flutey? In my opinion, he's one of the best 12's about. If Roberts hadn't had that amazing game for the Lions, I suspect he would have started. My concern is the quality of ball he will get from Jonny. If it's more deep ball I fear he won't have the chance to do what he's good at. Flat fast balls will allow him to show the guile and subtlety he posseses.

    So lots of positivity from the selection but key areas are front row and in my opinion where Jonny plays. Get these 2 right and I would be quite excited!!

  • Comment number 21.

    I think that the England world cup campaign starts on Saturday.
    Even if this team loses, if they play 'heads up' rugby, and give it a proper lash, then nobody can rightly give Johnson more of the hystrical criticism he has been receiving (although they will).
    Biggest test of all will be if Wells can move on, and does not revert to type. He may well be the only person in the England camp not intimidated by Johnno's reputation, having tutored Johnno man and boy. The fault lines between defence first rugby and attack have been the biggest challenge of Johnno's reign so far.
    Also, too much has been made of the Welsh front row; it's good (Jenkins is remarkable around the park), but it is not a destroying front row; we were all releived when they held their own in the second Lions test, but that was more because we had seen Vicks blown away the week before.
    (Although I am baffled as to why Payne is on the field - I have never seen him play remotely near to Test class; I hope he proves me wrong on Saturday).
    Good stuff about the daffodils, Ben; I think that the point you make there is the right one - for great players to properly express themselves, seems to me that they need to understand where rugby fits in in life, God's own game as it is....

  • Comment number 22.

    One question I would ask about the selection is if England are going to play a more expansive attacking game, maybe they should have gone with Stefan Armitage on the openside.

    No question about Moody's workrate, he just isn't the classic fetcher that seems to be essential in bringing continuity when you are looking to constantly shift the point of attack. You know Martyn Williams is going to make a big nuisance of himself at the breakdowns, there's a question in my mind if England are equipped to deal with him.

  • Comment number 23.

    Seems Mr Dallaglio can't be pleased, in the last world cup he was complaining that Ashton was providing no direction (or not enough) and that the players had to organise things, now he is saying the opposite!!! Maybe he is missing limelight....

  • Comment number 24.

    "Flutey, a Swiss Army knife in a world in thrall to the cudgel".
    So England are now the standard bearers for running rugby is that it?
    Excuse me while I have the orientation of my head readjusted...

  • Comment number 25.

    Yep, joesoaps, I think there are similarities between Roy Keane at Sunderland and Martin Johnson as England manager, but there are big differences. Keane came in when Sunderland were down at the bottom of the table and he inspired the team to win the Championship and get promoted. Johnson hasn't inspired much greatness yet.

    Keane's inspiring influence potentially began to run out when his lack of tactical nous was uncovered and all he could fall back on was authoritarian intimidation. He's definitely better as a manager now.

    Perhaps it will work in reverse for Johnson. Johnson has had the tactics right in most games, but many of the the better players have often been unavailable and the team has been playing within constraints to avoid getting battered. England have done pretty well over the past year or so considering how few first choice players have been available. Now some of the better players are back, Johnson can relax the control a little and allow the players to make decisions on the field, knowing they will make the right decisions.

    Ben..... I am worried about the symbolism of the daffodils. Did Flutey's daughter drop them to the floor and then ruck them, or did she run off holding them up victoriously?

  • Comment number 26.

    Hello, and many thanks for your comments so far, some interesting stuff.

    Deep-heat - Have to agree with what others have said about Flutey, if you're not convinced by him, then I'm not sure how you can be convinced by anybody, he's currently one of the best game-breaking 12s in world rugby, and there aren't many of them about.

    Alan - No, I didn't say England are now the "standard bearers for running rugby", I said "Flutey, a Swiss Army knife in a world in thrall to the cudgel". Not sure about your orientation, maybe just your eyes.

    To be honest, I'm cautious like everyone else seems to be. If England's forwards get stuffed, there's only one thing England's backs will be running on Saturday, and that's a bath after the game. England's back-row looks encouraging though, I'm quietly confident they can win enough quick ball, and with Flutey able to make things happen close to the opposition line, we should see a few tries...

  • Comment number 27.

    Ben - "with Flutey able to make things happen close to the opposition line" - I agree BUT (and it's a big but) the key is him playing there and not 5 yards back.

  • Comment number 28.

    Sorry for misunderstanding Ben. I thought the whole knife/cudgel thing was, you know, like a metaphor. ;->

  • Comment number 29.

    Bobbysmith - Very true, and it's something attack coach Brian Smith addressed yesterday. He knows Wilkinson needs to be playing flatter, and only then will England's key-rattling pay off.

    Alan - Haha! Yes, it is, my point was just that Flutey is that rare thing in modern international rugby, a three-quarter with a bit of nous, someone who can pull a rabbit out of the hat when needed, rather than continually running in straight lines. Then again, I shouldn't really be blaming you if you can't understand what I'm getting at!

  • Comment number 30.

    OK, so I'm in a minority of 1 when it comes to Flutey. I'm feeling pretty lonely over here and I'm hoping that after Saturday I'll be able to come and join everybody else, as it may mean that we've got a result.

    But Ben, "one of the best game-breaking 12s in world rugby"? I just don't see that at the moment (with my earlier caveat about not having seen a huge amount of his club rugby applied in liberal doses). He has played well for England but I would expect a player with that accolade to have done more, even in a team that has been performing poorly.

    I guess I simply feel that expectations for him have been raised simply because he is one of few players to have performed particularly well under MJ thus far and as such has stood out more.

    As I've stated a few times, I am ready and willing to be corrected on this but I think at the moment the superlatives being bestowed on him outweigh his actual achievements on the park.

  • Comment number 31.

    If a player falls while trying to tackle Riki Flutey in a forest and no one is there to witness it, did he play well?

  • Comment number 32.

    Deep_heat: OK, so I'm in a minority of 1 when it comes to Flutey.

    It's not a minority of 1, Dirsy's mancrush for Flutey doesn't change the fact he's only so far got 9 caps and not exactly established himself as an international 12, let alone a game-breaking superhero.

    Maybe I watch a different sport altogether, but the best game-breakers in the 10-12 area are Giteau and Barnes, who interchange positions. There's also that Jamie Roberts guy, he can do some damage.

    No question Flutey has the skills to be a top 12, but I'd like to see him unlock a few top defenses before I start going all Philippe Sella on him.

  • Comment number 33.

    I think we will definitely see a more attacking England team on Saturday. Looks like the penny has finally dropped with Johnson that size isn't everything. He was been finding his way as much as the players, and now he has a fairly injury free selection, other than the front row, I'm feeling positive.

    Headlines on this website like "Johnson fury at Dallaglio remarks" don't exactly help. What he said was:

    "It takes time for players to find their feet in Test rugby. You are not going to come into a squad and start challenging people,"
    If that's fury I don't know what a reasoned debate would look like.

  • Comment number 34.

    The_same_Eddie-George - Flutey man-crush? Haha! Well, as the say, any port in a storm, I've got to have something or someone to get positive about...

  • Comment number 35.

    Flutey's a fine player and a good line-breaker. As a Welsh supporter, he's one of the players I'm most worried about. The midfield battle will be interesting in this game I think.

  • Comment number 36.

    Will England use the Worsley approach seeing as Roberts is playing ?

  • Comment number 37.

    paul edney

    I suspect that we won't have seen the last of this device. Although whether it's used so conspicuously against the Welsh again remains to be seen. Surely they wouldn't fall for that again. Easier to have the 8 break off and attack whichever flank that Flutey's attached himself to.

  • Comment number 38.

    Can't complain about the selection here Ben, it's just a question of how the style is going to change and whether we can execute those changes

    In bringing Tait in alongside Flutey i think Johnno has given England a decent chance of doing that in the middle of the park but as #15 pointed out, Danny Care's speed of delivery needs to be up to the mark for that to be effective.

    2nd Row looks fine but we may struggle with line out options if we want to go for variety and i, too, am apprehensive about our front row v Jenkins & Jones. Not too sure about the quick ball though - how many of our back row will arrive before Mr Williams?

    Realistically this 6N is going to be about getting the team playing the right way and being comfortable with the style they have adopted. I think Wales have too much quality in too many positions for saturday but would be satisfied with a positive style and a close match (don't think i'll be as sanguine about Scotland! )

  • Comment number 39.

    "Will England use the Worsley approach seeing as Roberts is playing ?"

    Roberts is a big bloke, but if JW brings his tackling game on Saturday, England will not miss Worsley in defence.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think it is a good squad he's putting out there. Tait is finally getting his chance to shine. The only thing which concerns me is Payne at loosehead but this is only a minor worry. It will be an interesting game on Saturday. Two sides which will look to attack; I can't wait!

  • Comment number 41.

    What worries me is that everyone quoted in the article seems to have had a Road to Damscus moment about the style of play. The fact it has taken about 4 years is slightly worrying but I'm a little nervous that we'll spend the game running around like headless chickens.
    And it's all very well picking Tait and saying he's magic, but that doesn't explain why he was ignored for 2 years, skates neatly over the fact that despite his poor treatment he's had 1 good run in his entire international career and fails to reassure me that he won't spend most of the match being dump tackled by Roberts & Hook.

  • Comment number 42.

    On the Flutey debate - I agree with Mr Dirs - he is an old school creative 12 and thus there aren't many to compare him with in the current international teams. He is an oustanding player - as evidenced in the last 6N - where he was the fulcrum of most good things the back line did and a key part in England running in 16 tries both in terms of scoring a few himself and creating a number too. That earned him a Lions call up and he was good over there too - I think he created 2 tries in the last test. Reports from France say he has been looking sharp since returning from injury, but is he fully match fit? I hope so since he is also going to have a certain Mr Roberts to deal with on D.

    The one thing that is causing me pain is Payne (pun intended) he has been part of a Wasps scrum that has been going backwards at a rate of knots against pretty much anyone and coughing up penalties for fun...how I would have loved Johnno to go one step further and put in Dan Cole from the of after the lesson he gave Payne at Leicester a couple of weeks back...after all as you say Ben, if our set piece is rubbish it doesn't really matter how exciting our back combinations could be....

  • Comment number 43.

    'Most people seem to forget re: the scrum that it's often as much to do with the 2nd row (the engine) to provide power and ballast. The inclusion of Shaw can only help.' A good point but his inclusion has done little to improve the hopeless inadequacies of his clubs scrummaging. There is technique as well as power required and for all his undoubted other qualities I worry for his prop. Taht said I will be surprised if the Welsh front-row impose themselves - as someone else said they aren't a destructive scrummaging unit. Just good enough and in Jenkins they have jewel!

    'No question about Moody's workrate, he just isn't the classic fetcher that seems to be essential in bringing continuity when you are looking to constantly shift the point of attack. You know Martyn Williams is going to make a big nuisance of himself at the breakdowns, there's a question in my mind if England are equipped to deal with him.' That's an odd sort of point made on the basis of a general misapprehension on Moody. Actually he *is* a fetcher and he is a link man and one of the few English players that grasp the idea of running on the shoulder of the ball carrier. What he doesn't do is spoil well enough - but in Haskell England have a blind side who is more attuned to that. I think the balance will work well as long as Easter can keep up.

  • Comment number 44.

    Yes the front row is a concern, but as said by earlier comments, it is not a destructive one.
    Not sure about Cueto, for me he always fails to deliver when it matter at international level. I think it will be very close and if England chain Roberts down then the Welsh will struggle.
    England need Armitage to play a good running game, his pace added to Monye and Tait will prove a big problem, but if he and Wilkinson kick away possesion then it does not matter if you have 7 speed merchants on the park.

  • Comment number 45.

    I think far to much is being made of the Welsh pack, Jenkins is not a destructive scrumager, AWJ and Charteris are hardly the most bulky locks about. Can't say im too impressed with the backrow either. Willams is still good but Powell is a useless lump.

    This is anger the welsh posters but I fully expect the Welsh backrow to get creamed at the break down Williams can't do it all by himself, especially when hes up against Moody and Haskell.

  • Comment number 46.

    Mr Dirs, a good blog, although *still* no return to the comedy pairing of you and Tommy F providing us with good video blogs. The sooner this happens again the better in my view.


    However, back to the game, it's going to be quite close I think, with maybe the last five minutes deciding the result. I'll guess at England winning something like 21-19.


    Will there be any blogs about any of the other countries involved, or will Carl Hicks cover that? Personally, I think that the wider audience needs to hear about what's going on with all the other teams as well, particularly the problems Italy have to face with Parisse injured, Marcato dropped and a new import playing 10.

    Cheers (in both senses).

  • Comment number 47.

    Dan

    Dan Cole plays on the opposite side of the scrum to Payne, hence coming up against him in the Leicester Wasps game. In order to get Cole in and Payne out, you'd need to move Wilson across which would leave you with a frontrow with an average age of 23, with about 6 caps in total, one playing out of position. This all up against a front row that even the esteemed Phil Vickery calls the best in the world.

  • Comment number 48.

    Interesting. Problem with attacking open play is that if goes wrong at all, it usually goes horribly wrong. Attacking open play is no good if you are being ground into the dirt. But I do say IF.

    I am interested as to what people think are the English teams chances this year? Any chance of a triple crown? championship? Grand Slam ? Wooden spoon? Although from what I read Italy will have that one sewn up this year.

  • Comment number 49.

    Martin Johnson is an abysmal manager and frankly, hasn't got a clue.

    It was an absolute disgrace the day the RFU asked Brian Ashton to leave and replaced him with a man who has ZERO managerial credentials. OK he may have had an excellent international career as captain, and is somewhat sensible and considered, he was in no way appropriate for this role. Brian Ashton had dragged a poor England side to the World Cup Final no less, and 2nd in the Six Nations Championship. The whole thing is a total fiasco.

    England won't have a chance to win the Grand Slam this year either. Not strong enough. Bad decisions from top to bottom means the biggest Union of the lot will languish behind the likes of Ireland and France.

  • Comment number 50.

    Re Flutey- I have not seen him this season but I noted that he was referred to on the Sportspage when he was named in the match-squad as playing Fly Half for his French club.. Given the fact that I started a thread on 606 in the Autumn about Wilkinson the attacker I wonder whether we will see 10 and 12 interchanging as has often happened in JW's career.

    Other points on this thread:

    (a)I think as Leicester Captain MJ knew that Austin Healey might have been *** annoying at times, but more so to the opposition. I think he does understand that such players have their place, they just need to have AH self-belief.

    (B) The alternative to Payne at prop would probably be Wilson with Cole coming in at TH.. That is almost certain to happen sooner or later.

    (c) The Second Row match up will be interesting. Wynne Williams is a terrific player, but I am far from convinced that Charteris is the kind of "beast" that is needed to complement WW.. A Welsh colleague told me many years ago that England would never beat Wales because England just cannot produce the forwards ( a long time ago). "Forwards have got to be animals, man".. The Welsh pack did not look like that in the Autumn.

    But overall it looks like an interesting match-up. I just hope that England do not suffer the injury problems of two years ago, which saw Ben Kay having to play blind side wing forward. I noticed that in his last match in France Steve Thompson played in the back-row where he played all of his early rugby. Perhaps it was in part to broaden the back-row cover on the bench.

  • Comment number 51.

    Casseroleon

    Do you mean Wynne-Jones?

  • Comment number 52.

    Ben started this all off with a cooking twist....Here's a prediction for all you 'cautiously optimistic' posters.....

    Recipe for 6

    - First take the cream of 2,000,000 eligible white ones....about 15 will do and ensure they are ripe with no sign of bruising
    - Add a generous twist of media speculation
    - Add the usual management claptrap (about 2 weeks worth)
    - Leave to marinade for 4 days occasionally stirring

    - Then take about another 15 from 70,000 eligible red ones and repeat as above.

    After 4 days transfer them both to a much larger pressure cooker and set to simmer. As it starts to come to the boil some noises will be heard; a mixture of close harmony followed by unadulterated patriotism.

    At this point add the special ingredient. (Depending on age, vision and wisdom this special ingredient can make or break the dish.)

    Typically turn up the heat at the beginning.

    After 40 minutes you will have a fairly good idea as to how it's all going. Remove from the stove for 15 minutes, add a little media musing (I always prefer 1 red and 1 white) and then return to the heat.

    After another 40 minutes we are done.

    I expect your dish will be curdled because the red 15 just worked better in the marinade. Their juices were allowed to flow whereas the white ones couldn't release all their flavour.

    Don't worry you can try again 4 more times this year but I would always look long and hard at the chef especially if this recipe doesn't work in your own kitchen!

  • Comment number 53.

    It looks like a close game, Wales will kick more then England and they will attack the high ball looking to get quick ruck ball off the brak down after taking the up and under. It will be a busy day for the England back 3 and their back row will have to be on top form to stem the Welsh attack, but if England can get parity up front they have plenty of pace and guile to score trys.

    Interesting to see if the Heineken Cup form of the Ospreys and Cardiff against English clubs carries over. I am worried about the Scrum, Payne has been demolished a few times recently for Wasps and Dan Cole didnt fare very well against the Ospreys. Hopefully young Wilson and Hartley can compete and disrupt the potential dominance in this area.

    And is Armitage back to his best yet - on the evidence of the London Irish game against Leinster he isnt!

    Still I back England to win narrowly and continue their good form from the last 6Ns. Dont judge England on the Autumn games. They were 2nd last year, lost by 1 point to the grand slam winners and thrashed France so if they beat Wales they have an excellent chance of topping the 6N this year with Ireland at home!

  • Comment number 54.

    I am sorry, but I have to disagree with some of the comments regarding Riki Flutey. Yes he had a few good games, but one of the best 12's in the world? Don't make me laugh. Roberts is a superior 12 in every way, as proved by being named man of the lions tour. I do not understand why everyone is talking about how exciting England's backline is looking when Wales' backline is looking just as exciting if not more so. Hook has more ability to change a game than Tait, and Monye Vs. Shane Williams is obvious if were talking 'excitemnt'.

  • Comment number 55.

    Gabriel - Post 54

    This article is England orientated, so I would not feel shocked that everyone appears to be talking about the exciting nature of the England backline. The blog is called 'England to emerge from Johnson's shadow' - it would therefore be a little unusual to start waxing lyrical about the Welsh backline.

    Furthermore, Flutey is one of the best 12s in the world - one of the best, not the best.

    I think the team selection finally looks like a team that can cut loose. It looks more exciting than anything we have see in a while, and now undermines the point of picking Erinle and Goode earlier in Jonnos selection - wasted opportunities.

    But as for the Welsh, well, I am not entirely sure why so many believe they are the complete package - they are far from it. There performance last 6 nations was poor, and in the Autumn, they struggled to find an identity. I think many believe England are below where they really are, and many Welshman have an over inflated opinion of where the team really is.

    Good game ahead of us on Saturday.

  • Comment number 56.

    Wales did not have Lee Byrne in the autumn, ONE of the best fullbacks in the world, and ended up paying for it as the backline lacked the incisiveness it had during the 2008 grand slam year. Their performance last year was poor, yet they were close to beating France and could have done had Henson passed in the last minute, and were obviously close to getting a result against Ireland, had it not been for Stephen Jones' missed penalty and Ronan O'Gara's drop goal. Wales played poorly last year, yet managed to finish with the same amount of points as England, which I think is a good indicator of where the two teams are. Having James Hook at 13 should hopefully freshen the midfield up, but this remains to be seen. If Hook adapts well at 13, and provides a good foil for Roberts, Wales have a very good chance of beating England.
    Also, I am still shocked that everyone is talking about England's exciting backline, because to me it looks quite ordianry, especially Wilkinson and Care, who are not going to set the world alight.

  • Comment number 57.

    Hesperion

    Yes.. Thanks for the correction..

    Cass

  • Comment number 58.

    One of the last England backlines England saw consisted of an aimlessly kicking Wilkinson, Erinle and Hipkiss, with Monye, Banahan and Cueto. Not exciting in the slightest.

    If Care is allowed to play, like he does for Quins, then Wales will be in trouble. If Wilkinson stands flat like he does for Toulon, then Wales will be in trouble. Tait is one of the most exciting players in English rugby, and Flutey (outstanding Lions performer) can open up any opposition.

    Hard to see why anyone could consider this not exciting, particularly compared to what we have seen recently.

    The truth is that England and Wales were on a relatively similar level throughout 2008 - both played poor rugby and both struggled to move forward. The difference is, going into this Six nations England have a group of players playing together for pretty much the first time. Wales have the same bunch who have been stuttering.

    Bring it on.

  • Comment number 59.

    I like this new look England but I'm not optimistic about these championships. We don't have a settled team, or even a settled approach to the game.

    I don't worry so much that our club teams are consistently getting beaten in both the Anglo-Welsh and Heineken Cups, three or four years ago we dominated both competitions England still kept getting beaten.

    We seem to have swapped places with the Welsh team of ten years ago, stuck in the vicious circle of underperformance leading players being dropped and systems abandoned

    How many times have we been here before. For example, I think it was in 2006 that an England team with B.A as attack coach were about to play N.Z at home. As usual half our team were injured and we were well beaten, but we were not disgraced and our team were congratulated for continuing to play positively when we started to ship tries. This, we were told, was how it would be from now on.

    Now here we go again, but if it all goes pear shaped and we end up playing Italy to avoid the wooden spoon, can we please stick with it this time. We will never build a good team if we don't build a settled team and England players get injured so often we are always going to be up against it trying to do that. Lets not make it even harder for ourselves.




  • Comment number 60.

    I am not an England fan but guess what, I am crazy enough to go for an England grand slam, as long as they beat Wales in the first game. I am going to put £100 on it at 10 to 1. What do you think? Here's why. If England can beat Wales, a match I see marginally in their favour with home advantage and Wales so poor on their last outing, they will get a bit of confidence. Scotland away and Italy they should win. Ireland at home is tough but they are at home (they won convincingly last time at home to Ireland did they not?) and with the confidence from the Wales win I don't see why they can't do it. The big one is France away but England have won in Paris on their last two visits and, of course, if I am right will be going for the grand slam. Ok, so England, who have only won one grand slam in 15 years, will probably lose to Wales in the first game and then go on to lose to Ireland and France and may even get beat in Scotland but I'm going for it, you just try and stop me.

  • Comment number 61.

    It will be a very close game.
    Stop Roberts, you will stop Wales. Hook is so inconsistant at international level, even the Welsh fans always question his inclusion. S. Williams is not what he was 2 years ago and the Welsh back row is average, add that to a not great 2nd row. A very good front row though and you have an average Welsh team.

    England have a weak front row, average 2nd row but a better back row.
    Wilkinson is not what he was 7 years ago, stop Flutey and you will stop England. Taits inclusion will be questioned by Englisg fans, so a pretty average team.

  • Comment number 62.

    Nice to see that I've actually got a couple of mates to keep me company on my 'undecided-about-Flutey' island!

    #61 - Have to say I disagree with your comments suggesting that if you stop Roberts/Flutey you stop Wales/England. Not going to discuss Flutey any further because I'm scared of what Mr Dirs might say to me but I will share my views on Roberts.

    I don't think there's much argument about the fact that Roberts potentially one of the best game-breaking 12s playing at the moment (;->), however there's also not much doubt that he's been a long way from his Lions form on recent outings for Wales. Could go three ways: He could discover his Lions form again (please God, no) or he may still be on the path to recovering it and we only see marginal improvements from Autumn. In favour of the former is simply the occasion - great players turn it on in the big games. If however we see the latter (and maybe it was BOD's presence that lifted him to the heights in SA?), that doesn't mean Wales will lose. He is still perfectly capable of moving the ball quickly with great hands and will still be excellent in defence, he just might not break the line so much.

    Great players will generally provide flashes of their greatness even when not on form.

    Personally, I think the key to Wales' success (in addition to the front row) will be Byrne, as the question marks over the Welsh wingers are - in my eyes - greater than the question marks over Roberts. There will be a huge amount of the territory game being played (hey, its a northern hemisphere test match after all!) and Byrne has the ability to seriously punish any wayward kicking out of hand, whether through running or applying the boot. I think England will be looking to avoid him at all costs and aiming for SW and LH wherever possible. Byrne may end up carrying more than his fair share of defensive duties. On his day, he's more than capable of doing this. If he's slightly below par England may benefit.

  • Comment number 63.

    i say get rid of jonny and get cipriani or geraghty or lamb in there..even if we lose all 5 games it would be better than watching the same old drivel over and over! wilko is the only fly half in world rugby able to slow down quick ball unnesacarilly. drop the guy and give england a chance to build something new..also as far as our 2nd rows being an "engine room" i watched dan cole destry timpayne (with simon shaw behind him) so i dunno how well that bodes for jenkins smahng him to shredes...unfortunatley i see wales winning this by 12 or more

  • Comment number 64.

    #54 - "Roberts is a superior 12 in every way" to Flutey.

    Utter one eyed rubbish. Roberts is a top player but fairly one dimensional. He runs strong straight lines but it's been proven by England and the Saffas that if you mark him, he doesn't have the variation or guile to be effective. I also think (my opinion) his defence is a little suspect, which came out in the Lions.

    Both excellent players, but Flutey edges it (just) for me with his subtlety and guile.

    A lot is being made of Flutey on here (so building him up for a fall in true English fashion!) but i think what England fans are hoping for, is the same Flutey that finished the last 6Ns and appeared fleetingly on the Lions.

  • Comment number 65.

    'also as far as our 2nd rows being an "engine room" i watched dan cole destry timpayne (with simon shaw behind him) so i dunno how well that bodes for jenkins smahng him to shredes...unfortunatley i see wales winning this by 12 or more'

    Whilst I share you conclusion about Shaw's scrummaging you've got your props the wrong way round and I'm not certain of Jones' 'destructiveness' at scrum-time. In actual fact I've always thought him the weak link in any Welsh scrum. That said he will not be even remotely challenged by Powderpuff Payne. I know England are currently short of Loose-heads but this is one selection I cannot fathom!

  • Comment number 66.

    #64, Bobbysmith:

    "Roberts is a top player but fairly one dimensional. He runs strong straight lines but it's been proven by England and the Saffas that if you mark him, he doesn't have the variation or guile to be effective."

    Sorry, but the Saffas didn't have that many answers to Roberts in the Summer. To say he doesn't have variation or guile is a bit absurd in my eyes - his partnership with BOD was built on those very qualities. I accept that he's not playing with BOD now and also that his form has dipped but I don't think that justifies this view.

    Couple of other points: The fact that JR has the strength to straighten up an attack is one of his greatest assets. It doesn't mean that he doesn't have variation.

    You are right to an extent regarding the fact that Roberts can be nullified to a certain extent if man-marked a la Worsley, but think of the impact this has on the opposition, taking England as an example: 1) it made them commit to a more defensive game-plan than they otherwise would have liked, 2) they had to pick a specific man for the job - Worsley arguably wouldn't have been the first choice openside - and so this compromised them in attack and in other defensive aspects, 3) essentially, one of our forwards was taken out of our broader defensive game. If you can pick a no. 12 who forces the opposition to do that then you're on to a winner in my eyes.

  • Comment number 67.

    Hesperian,
    Good shout regarding Cole - but I thought he could play both sides? Could be wrong. I agree it would mean a young FR but we have to build on something and if Payne isn't cutting it why persevere? Having said that I don't have a clue what really goes on in that dark underworld...

    Rees being out is is good for England and also I think the selection of Charteris over Gough further helps England's cause as that makes a pretty lightweight 2nd row...

  • Comment number 68.


    In the words of the great Brian O Driscol "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad"

    Johnson was a legend of a player but that does not mean he can coach or even motivate as a coach. If he wasn't who he is he would have been fired a long time ago. I think if England lose to Wales then that's the end of Johnson and rightly so. If they lose to wales there's no way they will beat both Ireland and France so that's a 4th place finish.

    Personally I think if England got an experienced coach and started picking english players who will play with their heart and stop picking foreign players who are only playing for money...then and only then will they start becoming a force again in world rugby.

    Theres a HUGE difference between playing for money and playing for your country!!

  • Comment number 69.

    #68 'Personally I think if England got an experienced coach and started picking english players who will play with their heart and stop picking foreign players who are only playing for money...then and only then will they start becoming a force again in world rugby.

    Theres a HUGE difference between playing for money and playing for your country!!'

    I do not really think that you can say that about foreign players, look at Riki Flutey, for a current example, put in solid performances for England and played for the Lions, all this from a Kiwi??? There are further examples from the past, world cup winner in Mike Catt. Yes there is a difference in playing for money and playing for your country, but if they are the best players available for selection we don't have much of a choice.

  • Comment number 70.

    Quite a bit of talk on here about the front and second rows on Saturday.
    Going back to the Lions tour, we all saw Vickery's demolition by the Beast in the 1st Test. Most people put this down to the Beast's technique.
    I mention this now because it may have a bearing on the game tomorrow. Jones came on and nullified the Beast in the 2nd Test. Some of this will be down to Jones technique (he's a solid performer in the scrum but has never been a destructive scrummager). The second row behind Vickery in the 1st Test was Wynne-Jones. The second row behind Jones in the 2nd Test was Shaw. The second row in the 3rd Test behind Vickery was Shaw. In the 3rd Test Vickery held his own against the Beast.
    My point (finally!) is that Gatland may have thrown away the advantage of playing against Payne (who is not a Test calibre player) by picking two lightly scrummaging locks in Charteris and Wynne-Jones. If Payne can stay standing up (something he has never achieved in any game I have ever seen him play) then I believe that the advantage at scrum time has been handed back to England.
    I also expect Borthwick to do a number on the Welsh locks in the line-out, neither of whom strike me as particularly robust individuals.
    It really could be a classic on Saturday.
    Re: Flutey and Roberts. Both are very good players - but I would back Flutey to release Tait before I would back Roberts to release Hook - in fact, I would expect Hook to play a lot of the game at IC or being brought back into the inside channel on the switch - where he is likely to meet a certain Mr Wilkinson some time quite soon after the first whistle...

  • Comment number 71.


    in response to tl227

    mike catt is an exception...he played as well with england that he would have with the saffa's. but with riki or delon when they play they are good...but nothing special...they have way more talent but the fact of the matter is when no matter when the reward is money, over the reward of winning a title with your home country and keeping your place.. the drive just isn't the same!

  • Comment number 72.

    #58 "The truth is that England and Wales were on a relatively similar level throughout 2008 - both played poor rugby and both struggled to move forward."

    Personally, on the whole I was very pleased with Wales's performance in 2008.

  • Comment number 73.

    Gavelaa - 'Brian Ashton had dragged a poor England side to the World Cup Final no less, and 2nd in the Six Nations Championship. The whole thing is a total fiasco.'

    You could argue that England got to the last World Cup final in spite of Brian Ashton - not because of him. Remember the highly publicised confrontation between players and coach following the South Africa group game? If anything, I think it was sheer will and bloody-mindedness that dragged us to the final, possibly with a healthy dose of anger - witness Nick Easter's TV interview after the win against Australia! And let's not forget that despite finishing 2nd in the Six Nations under Ashton, we were never anywhere near winning the thing.

    However, I agree that the strength and unyielding will that characterised Johnno as a player have recently manifested themselves as stubbornness, and blighted his management career thus far. We can only hope that lessons have been learnt - as the selection of Saturday's team would suggest - and that the inventive 'heads up' rugby we've been praying for over the last seven years might actually be on its way. But let's not say it too loudly!

    Anyone else other than Johnno might not have had the crack of the whip that he's had. But now he's got the chance, let's hope that he'll one day become the successful England coach that we all want him to be.

  • Comment number 74.

    you might be waiting a while for that Only1keano :)

  • Comment number 75.

    James, I fear you may be right! Maybe I'll tinker with the colour settings on the TV so the game's in negative and we look like the Kiwis.....!

  • Comment number 76.

    C'mon Only1Kean0, its not all gloom and doom - and anyway, the ABs aren't that great at the moment either!
    Everybody forgets that in the second half of last years 6Ns, England played some very good rugby, and the star players in those games were not available to England in the AIs.
    Johnno has had a great deal of bad luck with injuries, not least because of the attritional nature of the Premiership.
    We start our World Cup campaign on Saturday, and I think that England's performance will shock a few people - and for all the right reasons!

  • Comment number 77.


    I think his is Johnno's last chance, if England don't come top 2 in the 6N then they should cut their losses and let him go, if he cant take a team that was fresh off a world cup final and make them better within 2 years then you never will. England are too good a rugby nation to be winning less then 50% of their games.

  • Comment number 78.

    I think we have every chance of finishing in the top 2 again - I just want to do it playing some creative and coherent rugby, and showing that we've belatedly made some progress.

    Following last year's Grand Slam and their displays against the Southern Hemisphere in the autumn, Ireland are the team to beat. France? God knows. But our last couple of visits to Paris have shown we have no reason to fear them, despite their undoubted talent. Wales are a wildly inventive side with a fearsome front row (minus Matthew Rees admittedly) and mobility all round the pitch. All the talk here of making special provision for Jamie Roberts says it all about the threat he poses. But they'll be as wary about going to Twickenham as we are about receiving them!


  • Comment number 79.

    I don't know what to make of Johnno yet but I refuse, like Hotspur, to be all doom and gloom yet. The AI's were damage limitation and he was unable to build on progress made towards the end of the last 6N - remember we came 2nd and scored the most (16) tries. He has to make progress on the pitch in this 6N with a number of the injured players back and, critically, what they are trying to do in training has to transfer to the pitch. However, progress for me means playing with a plan and executing that plan and adapting that plan when it ain't working - that is what I need to see and if I see that I am less worried about the results.

    Regarding the 'foreigner' debate I have to say I am very relaxed about it. I think people get too hung up on boundaries. One of the most fervent Englishmen I know was born to 2 very scottish parents, but having spent most of his time and rugby career south of the border he felt more English than Scottish - his decision and his only. Often people who adopt or are adopted by a country become it most fervent supporters/advocates for a variety of reasons and it is not my place or yours to tell them they have less claim to that passport than someone indeigenous. I don't think anyone who truly sees themselves as one nationality could, in honesty, play for another. If Flutey says he is English - he is English.

    Anyway, back to rugby - Jenkins out - massive, massive blow for Wales - not just in the scrum but his workrate in the loose is huge - his tackle count is usually in the top 2 or 3 for the teams he plays for and James is not even close to him in ability. That could genuinely be a game changer.

  • Comment number 80.

    but Dan dont you think that with more and more foreign players playing for other countries for money that our international teams will turn into clubs...the richest countries will be buying the best players and give them enough money and anyone will call themselves english (eg: flutey)

    none of those guys have a hint of english decent and someone like flutey who has only spent 4 years of his life in england, now mainly lives in france, born in new zealand and calls himself english....i just dont get it and i dont think its good for home rugby.

  • Comment number 81.

    Jenkins will be a huge loss for Wales. I was feeling quietly confident of a Welsh victory on saturday but after this my feelings have changed. He is such an influential player within the team that i would consider this a much bigger blow than had Byrne been suspended. Just think Jenkins workrate around the park inspires the other forwards around him, especially Adam Jones. And who knows what effect this will have on the already suspect confidence within the squad?

    A loss on saturday and Wales could be fighting for the Wooden spoon, a win and anything is possible especially with Mike Phillips maybe available later in the tournament.

    Anyway, can't wait for saturday and the 6nations to begin. Personally think the competition is wide open, Ireland would seem favourites but everybody is capable of a beating each other bar Italy and i think everyone will lift their game against the Irish. I fancy Scotland to provide a few shocks this time round.

    Only two more sleeps to go!!!

  • Comment number 82.

    I agree this is the most even 6N in years...Ireland, England, Wales and France can all win it and even Scotland could have a few surprises up their sleeves just like what they did to Australia.

    Bring it on :)

  • Comment number 83.

    I get what you are saying James and I wouldn't want to see that. I still think that (or like to think) that motivations for playing international rugby are not really cash orientated and I don't think Flutey has done this for the moment. If that was the case he would have gone for France surely? I suppose my point is that you have rules/laws on effectively changing nationality and if you change within those laws for whatever reason then that is up to you - you become that nationality - you or I are not in a position to slam the motive when we probably don't know. Like anything I guess it could be abused but I think these people would be found out pretty quickly. Besides Flutey would definately make the current All Blacks squad if he felt so inclined but he appears to think of himself as English - I see nothing in his game to suggest he doesn't want it as much as the other players in the team - indeed working on that basis would you say Rooney could never give heart and soul to Man U because he is a Liverpudlian?

    I would also say that making the decision to stay somewherem, build a life/family there ties you more to a country than descent - ie a grandfather somewhere down the tree - remember Howarthgate!?

  • Comment number 84.


    I just hope it doesn't go too far down that line. At the moment its not bad but because its so easy to become a citizen of a country thats what makes it so appealing to foreigners. All you have to do is work for 3 years in that country legally and you can become a citizen...then as long as you haven't played for your own country you can play for china if you wanted :)

    Anyways flutey is a great player and seems like a good guy and does love playing for england so more power to him. I just hope it doesn't happen too frequently. England have 4 foreigners on their panal of 22 for saturday which is nearly 20%...if that ever hit 50% then we're in big trouble!

  • Comment number 85.

    I would agree with you there James. The world we live in today has to allow some give and take but as you say it has to remain an international sport (that is, after all, the idea) rather than some sort of superclub basis.

    Anyway - good luck saturday.

  • Comment number 86.


    Same to you Dan.

    My predictions for Weekend :-)

    Ireland 30 : Italy 12
    England 18 : Wales 12
    France 22 : Scotland 15

  • Comment number 87.

    'mike catt is an exception...he played as well with england that he would have with the saffa's. but with riki or delon when they play they are good...but nothing special...they have way more talent but the fact of the matter is when no matter when the reward is money, over the reward of winning a title with your home country and keeping your place.. the drive just isn't the same!'

    Says one who knows how it feels to play at the highest level? No? Really?

  • Comment number 88.

    Hmmm.
    I had an England by 1 point before Jenkins was injured - 20-19,
    Ireland 43 - Italy 10,
    France 12 Scotland 15

    Role on Saturday

  • Comment number 89.

    Deep-heat - I take your points and I wasn't trying to do roberts down because I think he is quality, just to make a point that I believe Flutey to be at least his equal, and certainly not inferior in all departments as was said. In the summer he had an amazing first test but was pretty quiet after that and BOD running brilliant lines will help any 12. JR has had very subdued start to the season, so I am not expecting anything special on Sat.

    Great news on Gethin being out, his loss will be more in the loose than the scrum. Role on Sat!!

  • Comment number 90.

    I think Englands chances before the welsh's front row problems was 50-50. The 2nd row and back row look balanced and very industrous. The backline looks balanced with a degree of excitment with Wilko, Flutey & Tait. However now that the welsh have lost 2/3rd of that very good lions front row I would put Englands chances at home at 70-30. It will be a cracking game with an england win on.

  • Comment number 91.

    The (late) great England sides won turnover ball. Even the best backs will not prevail over 80 minutes unless this happens.

  • Comment number 92.

    Sounds like Cipriani will be emerging from MJ's shadow with the Melbourne Rebels...

 

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