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Who will make England's XV for France?

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Tom Fordyce | 10:24 UK time, Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Auckland, North Island

Enough of stolen walkie-talkies, dissident mouthguards and grainy CCTV footage. With England's World Cup quarter-final closing in fast, let's clear away the side dishes and tuck into the beef: a XV that can beat France at Eden Park on Saturday night.

Marc Lievremont, he of the strange selections and brutally honest barbs ("We don't like the English - this insular country who always drape themselves in the national flag, their hymns, their chants, their traditions...") revealed his hand early on Tuesday.

By his maverick standards it's a relatively safe one, with Nicolas Mas back in the front row and the old warrior Imanol Harinordoquy restored at eight. If he's persisting with Morgan Parra at fly-half, well, that's almost consistency by his standards, particularly considering the mental torment France's haphazard qualification has inflicted on him ("I thought I had experienced everything in terms of shame. But this time round, it's been an extremely violent feeling...")

Lievremont's opposite number is keeping his cards a little closer to his chest. Martin Johnson will not unveil his XV until early Thursday morning UK time, which has only added to the angst and argument about who deserves the nod and who the old heave-ho.

If the narrow, nervous win over Scotland last Saturday told us anything, it was that there are question marks over almost every position in the England team, bar full-back and wings.

Wilkinson and Youngs could find their places on the line this week; pic - Getty

Wilkinson and Youngs could find their places on the line this week; pic - Getty

Johnson's biggest dilemma? Bang on the pivot.

Assuming Jonny Wilkinson recovers from his bruised arm - and noises from the England camp are encouraging - should Johnson stick with his fellow World Cup winner, or switch to Toby Flood, the man who made such an impact coming off the bench last weekend?

It's not a new debate, but Wilkinson's uncertain display against Scotland has given it fresh life. Where eight years ago his right boot won them the William Webb-Ellis trophy and four years ago his left foot somehow steered them to the final, this time both have been wayward.

In the 154 minutes he has been on the pitch so far in New Zealand, Wilkinson has had a success rate of just 36% from penalties and 67% from conversions. The shanked drop-goal attempt from in front on Saturday night was so uncharacteristically catastrophic you feared Andy Robinson had taken a lesson from Dr Evil and employed a fat Scottish underling of his own to steal the Jonny mojo away.

Wilkinson is not easily cowed. Eight minutes after that howler came a peach from much further out; five minutes on and a penalty from distance had dragged England to within touching distance.

Were those ripostes enough to secure the 32-year-old a starting berth against France? Flood's numbers with the boot have been far more impressive out here - 100% from penalties, 75% from conversions - while Wilkinson's use of ball in hand has also come under fire once again.

He is yet to break the line once in this World Cup: Flood has. While Wilkinson's defence has, as ever, been robust, so too has Flood's - the pair average almost exactly the same number of tackles per game.

Wilkinson was not helped on Saturday by the slow ball and uneven service he received from his forwards and scrum-half Ben Youngs. Whether Flood could have cajoled a better delivery from his Leicester team-mate is open to question; their partnership during the Six Nations played a significant role in England's successes, but Flood also benefited late on at Eden Park from Richard Wigglesworth's flatter, faster pass.

It's an issue mirrored in Saturday's other quarter-final. Down in Wellington, Ireland coach Declan Kidney is putting the Wilkinson-like control of Ronan O'Gara ahead of Jonathan Sexton's more fleet-footed guile. Wales's Warren Gatland has gone the other way, moving the experience of Stephen Jones aside to allow tyro Rhys Priestland room to shine.

Johnson is not by nature a gambler. That points to the retention of Wilkinson at 10. The manager also understands the hold the Toulon man has over the French, not only for the 24 points he kicked in the 2003 semi-final and nine in the 2007 repeat but for the myriad other times his calm control and clean kicking have taken key games away from Les Bleus.

Did Wigglesworth do enough in his brief cameo to take the number nine shirt from Youngs? He has his own campaign medals against the French, diving over for a debut try in the 24-13 win in Paris after the last World Cup, but Youngs' zip and dart around the fringes are a key element of England's attack.

In the backs, Manu Tuilagi will keep his place, those big hits and demolishing runs as important as his mouthguard mistake was minor. His partner Mike Tindall may not.
In his 150 minutes of on-field action so far the Gloucester man is yet to break the opposition line once, let alone light up the back line with sweetly-timed distribution.

There have been tackles alright - an average of 3.7 per World Cup match. But Shontayne Hape has made even more, notching up eight in his sole 80 minutes against Georgia and running in two tries to boot. Perhaps the Auckland-born league convert offer a sharper edge, Wilkinson or Flood a second kicking option that the current centre pairing glaringly lacks.

Up front it's no easier. Matt Stevens shipped penalty after penalty at the set-piece against Scotland as England lost four of their eight scrums. Alex Corbisiero stopped the rot, but a World Cup quarter-final would represent the biggest challenge he has ever faced in an England jersey.

England also lost four of their own line-outs against the Scots. Tom Palmer impressed after replacing Courtney Lawes early in the second half, but he could also put Louis Deacon under pressure, his abilities in the loose an obvious advantage when England's forwards are playing with so little dynamism.

What, too, is Johnson's best back-row blend? Should James Haskell start ahead of Nick Easter at eight, his speed and size more suited to the game England are trying to play, or nudge skipper Lewis Moody from his favoured open-side slot?

They are not the sort of headaches a coach likes to have in the days before such a huge game. By contrast, both Kidney and Gatland are almost certain of their first-choice XVs, the problems more about players either missing through injury or fit again and pressing to play.

Such has been England's uncertain form so far that if they attempt to throw caution to the wind on Saturday there's a chance they might miss it.

That stuttering style and Johnson's innate pragmatic conservatism suggests experience will win out over experiment. Whether that chosen blend has bite enough to hurt the French remains to be seen.

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Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Johnny at 10 flood at 12 palmer still on bench as not a scrummager . corbisiero to start stevens on the bench Hape on bench wigglesworth to start .
    A partridge in a pear tree and the media including the beeb to stop rehashing stories re gum shields and Tindall
    If the underlying message is England in disarray be it the rfu or society in general please keep it for the after tour inquests .

  • Comment number 2.

    Ive been saying it since the start - why do we not have a single 12 in the squad? 17 forwards and 13 backs wasnt the right way to go about it. Flutey should have been taken. He is a genuine 12, and also could offer cover at 10 if needed (which doesnt look unlikely now).

    Still think England will beat France but it will be a tight game nonetheless.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good blog, how long before our Celtic pals come on and start ridiculing us? ;-)

    What concerns me is Johnson does not know his starting line up and we are in the QF'S. Both of the props were awful, Deacon was poor and Haskell is no number 8. Young's is also one that needs to be dropped, way too slow from the breakdown and I have never cringed as much as when JW persisted in trying to kick penalties from the half way line.

    What about Bananaman at no8, hes fast and agressive!?

  • Comment number 4.

    Tindall has made 3.7 tackles per match on average? Surely that can't be correct

  • Comment number 5.

    Whichever side MJ chooses, France will beat the English.
    The hold they have had on them in '03 and '07 is gone!!

  • Comment number 6.

    JW will start if fit...the French hate him! His kicks early in the match (on a blowy night) were 50/50 and the corner should have been the option to build possession and territory, but his experience will show through in the big arena on Saturday and he will step up to the plate! Youngs is a different matter..all his passes were behind JW and over his head, JW did brilliantly to hold on to some of them. He was indecisive and when he did pick up quickly, he ran sideways for 2 steps before distributing, I'd give Wigglesworth the nod. Completely agree about Tindall, Hape should be in, BUT, I suspect a relatively unchanged starting 15 will be the shout, with an earlier change to impact players to help us out of the trough, if (when) it appears! Johnno does seem a bit dull, but he knows more than us, so we have to trust him!

  • Comment number 7.

    I think it's safe to say Jonno's not going to be telling England to throw it around for the first 60mins, but it's going to come down to wether the forwards have parity up front, which after the first few games isn't exactly a banker. I think JW's had a bit of unfair press, OK, his kicking, by his own standards has been poor, but behind those forwards and receiving looping pass afer looping pass from Youngs would have made Dan Carter look pretty ordinary. I'd stick Hape back in for Tindall (he has his best game for ages then gets dropped which was odd) and if we can clear it off the floor for quick ball I reckon Tuilagi and co can punch enough holes in the French to nick a close one by 5 to 8 points. I hope so, it's my birthday next saturday and I've got permission to watch it at the pub in the wee hours as long as England get there...GO ON BOYS!!!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Fred borg

    Is that the same hold we had earlier this year?

  • Comment number 9.

    Wilkinson 10 flood 12 would be solid to have 2 kicking options + i don't rate Tindall

  • Comment number 10.

    EN-GER-LAND
    EN-GER-LAND
    ENGERLAND ENGERLAND NAH NAH

    Come on boys!!! Let's 'ave 'em!

  • Comment number 11.

    The problem for me, Tom, is that your premise is misguided. You can't "put away the side dishes" to concentrate on the rugby because it is all interconnected. The way players conduct themselves off the field is part and parcel of their preparation for the time spent on the field and hitting the drinking dens, cavorting with "mystery" blondes and making lewd comments to hotel staff are not good ways to prepare for what they are there to do, which is play rugby union against the best sides in the world.

    With the exception of the game against Romania, which was always going to be one-sided, England have been out of step with each other, undisciplined, undercooked, disjointed and any number of other sporting cliches that define a team not performing to the level that it should be.

    A good (but, ultimately, not great) 6 nations campaign was a solid foundation on which they could build for a tilt at the World Cup, but they have gone backwards and look a shadow of the team that promised so much at the start of the year.

    The off-the-field shenanigans are not *the* reason England play badly, but they are surely part of the reason why they don't look like sorting it out any time soon.

  • Comment number 12.

    Never understood why the Wilkinson - Flood combo has not been tried before. Seems to answer many questions. Not sure a World Cup quarter final is the place to start the expriment however if we did it would be very French of us.

  • Comment number 13.

    12. At 12:08 4th Oct 2011, Carroll With a Perm is a Big Kegan wrote:
    Never understood why the Wilkinson - Flood combo has not been tried before. Seems to answer many questions. Not sure a World Cup quarter final is the place to start the expriment however if we did it would be very French of us.

    ---------------

    It has been tried before, for club and country. It worked quite well.

  • Comment number 14.

    re #11, spot on. They look a mess on the pitch at the moment and that mirrors the goings-on off it.

    MJ will start JW at 10 but Youngs MUST improve his service, he was awful on Saturday, two steps then a balloon pass, not good enough. Flood plays a much more aggressive attacking line but is weaker in defence and can be flakey with goal kicks. Can't see Flood at 12, that will play into France's hands.

    Palmer and Deacon will start at 2nd row with Lawes on the bench. France have picked the wrong team again, Trinh-Duc must wonder what he has to do to get a game at 10, Lievremont hasn't got a clue and the French would probably be happy to lose just to get rid of him as soon as possible.

    Ireland Wales will be a cracker, France England will be a brutish ugly mess....

  • Comment number 15.

    Re #3 from smackeyes, why on earth would your Celtic pals start ridiculing you - England rugby needs absolutely no help from others as you can do that all by yourselves.


    Difficult to imagine a greater contrast between the two QFs - two teams at the peak of their powers playing some fantastic rugby and two teams spending lots of time focusing on off-field matters and playing in fits and starts at best.

  • Comment number 16.

    Flood 10 and JW 12? - could be interesting

  • Comment number 17.

    Finally a blog post from the Beeb actually about English rugby. Personally I'd go with a Flood and Youngs partnership. Wilkinson has struggled so far and hasn't had a single good game. OK some of his kicks were in positions that they shouldn't have gone for but at least one of the misses in both the Scotland and Argentina games are ones that should have been buried. In tight games these could have cost the team. Youngs I think has stalled but I still prefer him to Wigglesworth who plays a very conservative game. OK Youngs wasn't good against Scotland but the pack served him very poor possession and I don't like dropping guys after one poor performance. At centre I'd bring in Hape if Tindall's not fit but if he is you have to go with Tindall. With a backline of Youngs, Flood, Tuilagi, Ashton, Foden and Cueto you need at least one more experienced player in there. If not you have to go with Hape as I'm still not convinced Banahan is a centre.

  • Comment number 18.

    Hogdiesel

    Is that the fantastic rugby like Ireland v Australia?

    Yep a veritable feast of flowing running rugby that was !

  • Comment number 19.

    Johnson won't go for JW and Flood, if only because it'll make him look stupid for not trying it out before a world cup QF. I agree that Flutey should have gone but with the players there I'd take Hape over Tindall every time. He's certainly not the perfect 12 but he's offers a little more in virtually all areas

  • Comment number 20.

    I think England should go with the following

    Corbisiero, Thompson, Cole,
    Palmer, Lawes,
    Croft, Moody, Haskell,
    Youngs, Wilkinson,
    Hape, Tuilagi
    Cueto, Ashton, Foden.

    Bench: Stevens, Hartley, Shaw, Easter, Wigglesworth, Flood, Banahan

    England are going to need Palmer and Lawes on the pitch for their extra mobility, it should give them an edge over the French pack and getting good go forward ball (especially in the first 20mins) will make the difference between winning and loseing. If we can stick it to the french in the opening periods I think they will struggle to motivate themselves (it looked to me like they just wanted their world cup to end against Tonga).

    For me Stevens should be on the bench, he has been found wanting at scrum time (in the loose head berth) and I don't see how MJ can stick with him and just accept the penalties. But he can cover both sides of the scrum and therefore could be an important option from the bench.

    Also as far as I'm concerned Wilko has to start, if he gets good go forward ball from the pack he is the better option, and I like the idea of Flood entering the affair after 60mins or so to increase the running threat, along with Hartley who also increases the mobility of the pack.

  • Comment number 21.

    As much as i'd like to see England play a more expansive, free and attacking game I think we all know it will be the same old conservative England. However, if England produce the same kind of performance they have offered so far the result of the match will rest entirely with what French side show up.

    For me, as bad as England have been the French are fragile and are definitely there for the taking, therefore I'd personally be inclined to take a risk and opt for a more poweful attacking line-up. If England give them an early sniff their confidence will grow and it'll be curtains.

    My preferences would be for Corbiserio in, Stevens out, Palmer in, Deacon out, Easter in, Haskall out, Flood in, Wilkinson out, Hape in, Tindall out.

    I'd keep Youngs, he had a poor game against the Scots but he will be needed against the French to find the gaps in their defence, I would expect him to make more of the opportunities than Wigglesworth but needs to improve his distribution.

    Likely to be far too many changes for Johnno but I think this would give us more destruction up top and more attacking flair in the backs. Let's not forget that Flood has kicked superbly in the last 18 months or so but poses more attacking threat than Wilkinson. We've seen little of Foden and Ashton so far and I'd back Flood to let these guys see more ball than Jonny...

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    I would start with Wigglesworth at 9 and Wilko at 10. Wilko should be able to give us a decent enough start, he is a big hitter as well as rarely misses a tackle, and he is not a favourite to see in the opposition, especially for the French. Floody should come on earlier than he did against the Scots, the impact he has from the bench is pretty good. Tinders should stay in the squad and also be told he can put boot to ball if needed, I'm assured by my Glouster housemate that his kicking is blooming good.

    As for all the press coverage about off the field activities it is the same whenever England play in whatever sport, the media look for anything they can to bring the squad down. I don't know of any rugby player (except one strange welshman I heard about the other day) who does not enjoy a beer after the game, it is part and parcel of the game. Rugby is very physical and demanding and to be honest a nice beer after a game (ale is my preffered choice) does wonders to calm everything down and relax from the intesity that is playing rugby.

    Will we beat the French? Yes.

  • Comment number 24.

    if france turn up we will get stuffed, we are creating nothing behind the scrum, so i think we need to go for flood. as for that whiner ashton, if he's not getting any ball why doesn't he do what all good wingers do and go looking for work. deeply unimpressed by this england side right now, where's the spark coming from?

  • Comment number 25.

    Johno is conservative in his selection, there will not be huge changes, except for forced changes.

    Youngs and Wilko to start, with a swift replacement just after half time if not going well.

    Stevens and Laws to swap to the bench.

    Hape in for Tindal. Cueto in for Armitage.

    Banjo will start and count himself lucky, since his throwing yips came back in the Scottish game.

    Personally I'd like to see Tom Wood for Moody and Shaw in the 2nd row, I'd also like to see Flood at 10 and Wilko at 12 .. but I dont think any of those will happen.

  • Comment number 26.

    Wilko for the 1st 60. Easter to 8, Moody to the bench. Hape and Manu. Cueto. Youngs, Flood and Lawes to come on at 60. Jonno needs to consider changes a bit earlier than he's used to.

    Really enjoying the soap opera, Guscott's played a blinder. How very dare they.

  • Comment number 27.

    andy its not the same every time an england team play, its the fact that they are always messing about in some way or another, no smoke without fire eh, they look to me like they're treating it a a standard tour rather than a world cup...pretty disgraceful behaviour from so called professionals dont you think

  • Comment number 28.

    Can someone tell me why the apologists for the players off field behaviour keep referring to being 'on tour'? It is not a tour, they are being employed to go there, represent their country and are being paid for it. If they want to 'go on tour' where 'what goes on tour stays on tour' then so be it....but do so with a local club at the end of the season and stop taking the rise out of those left at home!

    Wigglesworth, Flood, Hape, Tuilagi, Cueto, Ashton, Foden

  • Comment number 29.

    I think England has to pick the following

    1.Corbisiero
    2.Thompson
    3.Cole
    4.Lawes
    5.Palmer
    6.Croft (c)
    7.Wood
    8.Haskell
    9.Wigglesworth
    10.Flood
    11.Cueto
    12.Hape
    13.Tuilagi
    14.Ashton
    15.Foden

    Bench: Stevens, Hartley, Shaw, Easter, Youngs, Wilkinson, Banahan

    Wigglesworth has been getting unfair flack in my opinion. He also got very poor service in the Argentina game. When he came on vs Scotland,England scored.

    He brings a lot more control and structure than Youngs has. He put in some excellent cover tackles vs Argentina and has an excellent pass.

    Youngs will serve England better by coming on with 20-25 minutes to go to up the tempo.

  • Comment number 30.

    Has Ben Dirs got fed up of the abuse from writing England blogs and passed the batton on ?

  • Comment number 31.

    First thing England need to do is drop our pair of ineffective captains, not simply because they are poor at leading the team but because they offer very little if anything to the England side. Lewis Moody took one carry and made 0 metres against the Scots yet nor did he do anything of any note in terms of securing or stealing ball. They only time I notice him during a game is when he make a kamikaze chase after the ball, surely he is not in the team just for that! And Tindall - I honestly don't think I have seen a player as poor as him playing for England in the last ten years. Around 2003 he had something to offer, now he has nothing. As Ventor said he cant pass or run and for the size of him he can barely tackle!

  • Comment number 32.

    I think the comments about Tindall are unfair, I have never been a fan but I think he is playing his best rugby for England including some good distributution. Having said that Flood at inside centre outside jonny could be interesting but wc q'f's is not about experiments. Youngs was awful lets hope it is an aberration like the Irish 6 nats game if not get him off early.

  • Comment number 33.

    4. At 11:46 4th Oct 2011, akaTommySmith wrote:
    Tindall has made 3.7 tackles per match on average? Surely that can't be correct?

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Not sure exactly but i would imagine they worked it out using how many minutes he spent on the pitch.He has played 4 games (3.7 by 4 =14.8) so unless they thought one of his tackles was only considered 80% of a tackle ;-) then it doesn't add up.

  • Comment number 34.

    beshocked

    That would be my England side too, cant understand why Wood and Palmer are being left out. How poor is Tindall now, even Bananaman would be better at 12 in my opinion.

    Bit sad Guscott has got involved in all this media hysteria too, i believe should the team fail against France, then berate them but until then stick with them they are human beings and so falable much like the rest of us.

    I believe Ben Dirs is currently painiting his face green whilst trying to find an allotment with copious amounts of leeks to wave around.

  • Comment number 35.

    I'd like to see Flood start, the combo of him and Youngs has been effective at club and country level. Corbisero deserves to start he has done brilliantly. In the second row I would have Palmer and Lawes with Shaw on the bench.

    I think this game could go either way - depends on which French team turns up on the day.

  • Comment number 36.

    BESHOCKED , Good call on the team as a whole just worry that palmer /lawes combo does not give enough to a front five in the scrum.
    Not apologising for their behaviour but, hardly think lumping the wearing of a gum shield to alleged shennagins and constantly bringing up the same stories after they have been dealt with is constructive either .

  • Comment number 37.

    From a Celtic view i hope England win for a few reasons.First of all i hate the French more than the English.Both Wales and Ireland would prefer England in the semis as they will feel alot more confident of winning rather than meeting a revived French team who have just knocked out England in the Q/Fs.The French can still turn things around and we all know they have the players to do so.

    Also just want to say thanks to the English players who couldn't even act responsibly for a few weeks in their lives.It is after all "only a world cup".Thanks to your media as well for blowing things up and concentrating on the scandals rather then getting behind your own team.

  • Comment number 38.

    I would start with Shaw (Palmer on the Bench)' Wigglesworh & Wilko combo and Hape at 12. Front row is a big worry as the present incumbents will struggle to mix it with the French

  • Comment number 39.

    ioc1984

    oh dear, hate is a strong word to use in relation to sport

    Did the big English boys bully you at school?

  • Comment number 40.

    Yup jackcowper Youngs and Flood combo was so effective in the AP final when Youngs look like a rabbit caught in the headlights and Flood got outplayed by a 19 year old.

    Youngs would be a lot more effective coming on later in the match in my opinion.

    naughtybutnietzche I can understand that but I think it gives better balance in the lineout.

    Croft has to be captain as one of the only players' whose place is nailed down.

  • Comment number 41.

    Interesting proposition thrown up in this article. For sure Eng have their critics about their style of play - boring, dour, blah, blah, blah...

    But it works and it's got them this far. So stick with the master plan, albeit with a few slight adjustments - I would like to see Shontayne Hape get a run (watched him a lot when he was a Warrior. Great runner), maybe a change of halfback.

    What happened against Scotland is exactly how NZ used to play - keep the pressure on for the entire 80 mins and trust that your opponent will eventually crack. You can do it with a powerful forward pack. You don't need a pace game v Fra. Just a high pressure one that turns the screws.

  • Comment number 42.

    @ 29 beshocked - nice one! Fully agree, exactly my line up too but I fear MJ's conservatism and faith in old buddies will mean it won't happen.

  • Comment number 43.

    It's amazing how much grief England have got for playing 'so badly', while Wales and Ireland (amongst others) have been praised to high heaven for their amazing open style.

    Looking at the most recent IRB world rankings, Georgia are better than the USA, yet England put more points past Georgia.

    Ireland and Australia beat Italy comfortably, but didn't beat them by as many as England did in the 6N.

    Fiji are ranked only two places above Romania, but Wales were praised for being so dominant against them, whereas England 'only did what was expected of them'.

    Argentina and Scotland are ranked higher than Samoa, yet Wales are praised for beating the 'tough Samoans', but England are criticised for 'scraping past inferior opposition'.

    I openly admit England haven't been playing brilliantly, but each Wales and Ireland performance has been magnified and exaggerated wildly. The complete opposite of England's which seem to have been criticised more extremely because of the off-the-field 'non-stories'.

    England's backs look so much more dangerous when Flood plays. He should start with Youngs (although he needs to pull his socks up). Palmer in for Deacon and Hape in for Tindall.

    I don't rate Easter really, but he's still better than show pony Haskell.

  • Comment number 44.

    Bananaman at 12, god help us. Agree with many comments and "beshocked" has picked the team I would have - Easter is too ponderous as a No 8 who you want ball carrying and scattering defenses a la Keiran Read, Harinordequy, Pierre Spies (and no, Banaman can't fill that role). Perhaps Flood at 10, JW at 12 - Jonny's defense is still up there, he can distribute from 12 no problem and gives the right/left kicking option just from one position further out. Palmer and Lawes worked well at the 6N so why have they not been given the chance now. Too many variables still hanging around for the QF's but then again, Les Blues are on the verge of imploding, so we'll probably turn them over - again !

  • Comment number 45.

    Sorry not Banahan is not an international centre, shame that we did not choose Flutey but Tindall offers more than Banahan not a lot but.

  • Comment number 46.

    Getting a bit bored of this "England are awful Ireland and Wales are so great" stuff now.

    England P4 W4.

    Wales? Well it's all about how you spin it: lost to SA, could have lost to a Samoa side who'd only had 4 days rest, and incidentally are ranked BELOW Argentina and Scotland. Yes Wales played very well against Fiji, but that is a Fiji who are a shadow of the team of 4 years ago, had nothing to play for, and incidentally are ranked BELOW Georgia.

    Ireland? Scored 3 less tries than England. Hardly the bastions of free flowing rugby some are making them out to be.

    Why not accept that all the teams have limitations? England have clearly under performed, which is incredibly frustrating but this is the business end of the tournament now so let's reserve judgement until around 10am on Saturday.

    Having said all that I do expect Wales - Ireland to be a far more exciting game than England - France!

  • Comment number 47.

    Am I really the only person to have noticed that last weekend the game began in pouring rain with a strong and blustery wind blowing?

    Given those conditions was it really that surprising that both teams began playing a territory based game with a lot of garryowens to try and induce condition related errors? Apparently so. And apparently the rain relenting had nothing to do with both sides playing with more ball in hand as the game progressed.

    Frankly the level of journalism seen on the subject is so poor it barely deserves mentioning.

  • Comment number 48.

    The England team selected for the QF should primarily focus on player form, suitable combinations, experience and essentially grit and passion. In the WC so far realistically the only players that have acquitted themselves well on the pitch are Armitage (suspended) Croft, Haskell, Tuilagi, Shaw, Corbisiero, Flood and a cameo from Wood. A number of others have performed well against weak opposition (Cueto, Hape, Ashton) but several players have had a number of opportunities and failed to offer anything i.e. Tindall, Youngs, Wilkinson, Hartley, Stevens, Deacon, Thompson, Cole, Lawes, Easter. The selection options must be extremely difficult for Johnno as his players generally haven't shown enough to fix themselves in place or pressurize the incumbent. For Me I would like to start with the following:-

    Corbusiero, Thompson, Cole, Shaw (Gritty and athletic for 38), Palmer, Croft, Wood (dynamic and extra line out option), Haskell
    Wigglesworth (conservative and stable), Wilkinson, Hape, Tuilagi, Cueto, Foden, Ashton

    Bench:
    Wilson (solid if unremarkable) Hartley, Lawes (Dynamic sub in last 1/4), Moody (Not convinced fit enough for 80), Flood, Youngs, Banahan (purely as utility option, not on performance).

  • Comment number 49.

    From a Scot just want to say good luck to the English on Saturday!

    They played an excellent 2nd half against us when the pressure was layed upon them and fully deserve to go through to the quarter finals.

    Glad the Northern Hemisphere teams have played their part in making this an exciting World Cup!

  • Comment number 50.

    @ smackeyes

    I think hate is a common word in sport actually.In what context you want to take it is up to you.Tribalism is perfectly normal in human nature and in today's world (for the most part) we can express our differences through sport.You should maybe switch over to the blogs on bowls and billiards smackeyes.

  • Comment number 51.

    Tom

    I reckon you should have 2 parallel blogs rather like the 2 parallel universes that this England squad currently inhabit.

    Their sheer moronic arrogant attitude off the field (Ashton, Haskell, Hartley, Tindall) and their sheer moronic arrogant attitude on it (Jonny Wilkinson, illegal play Courtney Lawes dangerous play and Delon Armitage dangerous play

  • Comment number 52.

    'Palmer and Lawes worked well at the 6N so why have they not been given the chance now.'

    Funny that. Lawes was out injured for the 6N and so didn't play. I think you meant to suggest the AI series, where Lawes and Palmer worked well against NZ and Aus, but looked seriously underpowered against the Boks as the English pack, as the front five got beaten up that day and England never had any decent possession to work with.

    Lawes and Palmer are both good in the loose but don't hit rucks often or hard enough, and given that one of the big problems England currently have is forwards not securing decent ball at the breakdown I'm not convinced that as a pairing they'd work particularly well against a strong pack who counter ruck hard

  • Comment number 53.

    England to beat France at the weekend me thinks! both sides come into the QF with relatively poor form from their own standards and the simple reason for this is no one including their managers have a clue what their strongest side is. bar a couple of positions i and most others could tell you the starting line up for Ireland, Wales, Australia, Scotland, even Southafrica and NewZealand. No consistency for England and definitely none for France! is this partly due to both nations having such a massive pool of players to pull from?

    Anyway - wilkinson to start, Tuilagi to score twice!!!

  • Comment number 54.

    ioc1984

    So apparently you do not hate England in bowls or billiards?

    If you hate England to the extent you appear, why are you concerned about our team or press coverage? and I believe hate can only be seen in one context.

    Perhaps you should concentrate on that dole queue in front of you rather than your i phone!

  • Comment number 55.

    if that stat about Tindall is correct (3.7 tackles per game and not broken the game line once) what has he been doing(!!!!) and why is he being considered for a starting place?

  • Comment number 56.

    I have argued lawes / palmer too lightweight in the scrum would like to see lawes as an eight but needless to say not this week .
    So far been a reasoned response not sure where the arrogant Wilkinson is or maybe you also inhabit a parallel universe ?

  • Comment number 57.

    You ain't half chippy smackeyes!

  • Comment number 58.

    1974andallthat

    Bored and at work might have something to do with it

  • Comment number 59.

    My choice for the France Game:

    Foden, Ashton, Tuilagi, Hape, Cueto, Flood, Youngs, Corbiseiro, Hartley, Cole, Lawes, Palmer, Croft, Moody, Easter. Bench: Thompson, Stevens, Deakin, Haskell, Wigglesworth, Wilkinson, Banahan.

  • Comment number 60.

    Am I the only one who finds pretty much all the TV pundits show so much bias towards Wilkinson? The comments such as "he's found his kicking boots just in time", and these stupid comments about his favourite ball and difficult conditions are ridiculous. Just look at the impact Toby Flood made when he plays. He sets up and makes try winning passes, he kicks his goals from out on the touchline. Plus other kickers in other teams aren't complaining, and in fact have kicked very well. The facts are this. Wilkinson is over the hill and is clearly not the great kicker he once was, and the sooner the powers that be realise this, the sooner England will improve as a team and move on. He plays too deep all the time causing the momentum of attacks to slow up. What does Flood have to do to get recognition for his efforts? It seems about twice as much as Wilkinson does.

  • Comment number 61.

    On form the side is not setting the world alight but now its straight forward knockout rugby it is definately game on. France are beatable, and with the semi against either an impressive Ireland or and equally impressive Wales, we are guaranteed to have a decent home nation in the final.

  • Comment number 62.

    England look ordinary but they annoyingly manage to stay in a game and somehow sniff a victory out - take the Scotland QF. Stevens better at tight than loose head as Cole is no great shakes, plus Hartley less of a loose cannon than your niggly Thompson. Palmer MUCH better than Deacon whilst I would find a place for Wood in the back row somewhere as he is quietly efficient and reliable. Youngs is even slower than our Phillips at getting the ball out, whilst Flood will get your line moving better than Wilko and Tindall should have been put out to pasture long ago. Time to start that home-grown partnership of Hape and Tuilagi....

  • Comment number 63.

    Just_Not_Cricket (43)
    Joeler (46)

    AGREE!!

    This is all that realy needs highlighting during such debates:

    Points scored in WC group tables:

    N.Z. 20
    ENG 18
    S.A. 18
    IRE 17
    AUS 15
    WAL 15
    ARG 14
    FRA 11

  • Comment number 64.

    If England keep giving away cheap and avoidable penalties then this will be the end of them against the French. They need quick ball out of the scrum and yes they are missing a genuine No 12

  • Comment number 65.

    Haskell should not be @ number 8. He does not have the skills/ability to control the ball at the back of the scrum. If, as expected, the French apply pressure here we will need someone to make it easier for the scrum half. Easter or Waldrum to start. Waldrum would also provide the open play impact Haskell has. Easter did show some decent open play form when he came on against Scotland

    Hape in for Tindall also seems to be the way to go. Tindall has been poor and his leadership skills haven't had an impact on the penalty count.

    Shaw in the second row with lawes.

    Wilkinson to start @ 10 because that is the option the French would not want.

  • Comment number 66.

    @ 51
    well that was a very moronic and arrogant post are you with the England team now have you been with them all world cup?
    If not why are you commenting on their off field behaviour you don't know them personally do you?
    Were you there?
    Maybe you should take a look in the mirror before commenting on people you don't know.
    Please explain how Wilko is arrogant on the field on try?

  • Comment number 67.

    The media do seem to be down on England and whilst Ben Dirs goes off again about how great Wales looked whilst beating the mighty Namibia and how fantastic Ireland looked putting Russia away you have to wonder if looking at the actual games played they are actually in great form?

    England had the easiest group to top of any of the home nations but the hardest group to get out of. The reason being they had the weakest of the Southern Hemisphere 4 but by far and away the strongest 3rd seed. It's also the only 3rd seed team that should offer genuine competition to a side looking to qualify for the world cup. I mean look at the 3rd seeds in the other groups Italy OK they're a six nations side but they are the worst of the six nations side and generally get thrashed when playing outside of Italy. Before we slap Ireland on the back for managing to beat them 36-6 let's remember that in this years Six Nations England beat them 59-13. Samoa are not even a top 10 nation yet Wales struggled to beat them.

  • Comment number 68.

    I'd also say it's very easy to play champagne, expansive rugby against weak teams, as England did against Romania but the saner members of the fanbase said let's not get carried away by that game. Sadly this seems to have been missed by the media and certainly the Irish and Welsh fans who now seem to think they're on course for the world cup because they managed to beat the likes of Russia, Fiji, Namibia and USA.

  • Comment number 69.

    Have found England's group to be a bit of a grind so far and the opportunities for flowing rugby have been few and far between. Again considering the world rankings putting aside Australia (well done Ireland!) Wales were always playing for second place in their group behind New Zealand against weaker opposition.

    Could not understand England's tactics against Scotland as it seemed to me that we were happy to accept a defeat albeit by less than 8 points for a large portion of the game. Did think Flood lit the game up when he came on and did take that pass off his bootlaces to send Ashton in after 75 minutes. That could have been helped by the Scots being out on their feet at that stage.

    The match against France will surely be another close affair but I would not have Stevens in the front row. Would stick with Youngs as long as he improves his passing dramatically. Lets also kick for possession and territory rather than attempt penalties from the half way line. Not sure Jonnie has the legs anymore from this distance.

  • Comment number 70.

    @58
    That'll do it! ;)

  • Comment number 71.

    Wilkinson's sheer moronic arrogant attitude came when he thought he could change the blooming balls!

  • Comment number 72.

    Get the Tank on!!! Waldrum at 8 punching holes through the French will give England the momentum they need.

  • Comment number 73.

    We need quick ball, have done for years.

    Wigglesworth to start for me, I can't actually remember anything positive Tindall has contributed this World Cup, I'd be tempted to play Flood at 12.

  • Comment number 74.

    Corbisero
    Thommo
    Cole
    Lawes
    Palmer
    Croft
    Wood
    Waldrum
    Youngs
    Wilko
    Flood
    Tuilagi
    Ashton
    Cueto
    Foden

    Easter is awful at #8, as is Haskell, Waldrum therefore has to start. Moody isn't doing enough, Wood was great during the 6N and deserves a chance. Wilko and Flood to work much like Wilko and Catt did in WC's past.

  • Comment number 75.

    'Wigglesworth has been getting unfair flack in my opinion. He also got very poor service in the Argentina game. When he came on vs Scotland,England scored.

    He brings a lot more control and structure than Youngs has. He put in some excellent cover tackles vs Argentina and has an excellent pass.'

    He got stick because he was awful against Argentina. He was incredibly pedestrian, and his so slooooow service meant that the English backs never got going. When Youngs came on he injected some urgency, England looked transformed, scored a try and won the game. Neither got good ball in that game, but Youngs went digging for it and gambled whereas Wigglesworth waited, and waited and waited.

    He clearly copped some flack for that performance from the management (and rightly so) and was dropped from the squad for the next game. When he came on against Scotland he was dramatically improved because he'd clearly been told to speed the game up and play with tempo. If he can continue to do that he might challenge for a spot if Youngs continues to play poorly, but on when on form and playing well Youngs offers a lot more than Wigglesworth.

  • Comment number 76.

    lastking of england...remind me again who have england beaten?

  • Comment number 77.

    England were generally very poor against Scotland and this blog has highlighted some indisputable facts about certain player’s performances. Youngs and Wilkinson were dire and Tindall was nowhere to be seen. The pack showed little cohesion and plenty of indiscipline. Only Croft seemed to come out with any credit. Thomas Waldren gets no mention. Amazing that he didn't make the squad but it would be equally amazing, given England's performances, if he didn't make the team.
    England will scrape past a very poor French team but won't get past either Ireland or Wales without some major transformation.

  • Comment number 78.

    My starting 15 would be:

    1. Corbisiero
    2. Thompson
    3. Cole
    4. Deacon
    5. Palmer
    6. Croft
    7. Wood
    8. Lawes
    9. Youngs
    10. Wilkinson
    11. Cueto
    12. Hape
    13. Tuilagi
    14. Ashton
    15. Foden

    The forwards need to get to the rucks quicker and with more purpose. I think the coaches need to work hard on Young's technique this week. As soon as he gets to the ruck he should be getting the ball out and releasing it quickly. I think Wilkinson will be fine, he just needs reminding that there is nothing wrong with going through the phases in the oppositions half. Lets put the pressure on them rather than burdening ourselves with difficult kicks. I appreciate that Lawes at 8 is a risk but my only concern would be his handling if the scrum was under pressure. I think our back row is our weakness and it's worth the gamble.

  • Comment number 79.

    'Shaw in the second row with lawes.'

    Really?! Because the second row doesn't have to do anything in the lineout?! This is just moronic. Shaw is a front lineout jumper. As is Lawes. And usually that job is done by Croft for England.

    Deacon and Palmer can both jump at four and are the ones who call lineout moves (usually Deacon, but Palmer did when he played with Lawes in the AI), you cant play without both of them and expect to compete in that facet of the game.

  • Comment number 80.

    It doesn't really matter (to answer the question posed by the title of this blog). Neither England nor France look anything like good enough to win the tournament. Would be more than happy to see Wales or Ireland contest the final - this would be good for Northern Hemisphere rugby.

  • Comment number 81.

    splke0@66
    I don't need to look in the mirror but if you ask me if I think that newly married Tindall and all of his drunken louts think that they are doing the right thing representing England in that most facile, puerile way my answer is an emphatic no. Do you think that it is ok for them to act like that?

  • Comment number 82.

    'Thomas Waldren gets no mention.'

    Who? Do you mean Thomas Waldrom the uncapped, untested Kiwi who's barely trained never mind played with the rest of the squad? If so he was in the squad of 45, was looked at in training and was deemed not good enough to make the final squad. It would be a major shock if suddenly he's good enough to earn a starting spot without injuries to the guys who were selected ahead of him.

  • Comment number 83.

    15. Foden
    14. Ashton
    13. Tuilagi
    12. Flood - his defence is much better than he has been given credit for, and he has also played alongside Manu. Ok if Hape did well against Georgia but Flood deserves the opportunity.
    11. Cueto
    10. Wilkinson
    9. Wigglesworth - we need to get the ball away from the scrum quicker

    8. Haskell - Easter is a plodder and the French backrow will eat him up
    7. Moody
    6. Croft
    5. Palmer - knows the French from Stade Francais
    4. Deacon
    3. Cole
    2. Hartley - we need is energy at the start
    1. Corbisero - Stevens proved he is an impact prop only

    16. Stevens
    17. Thompson
    18. Lawes
    19. Wood
    20. Youngs
    21. Tindall
    22. Banahan

  • Comment number 84.

    Doesn't matter whether it's JW or Flood.

    France will have one gameplan and one gameplan only, because France, sadly, has only one strength to play to nowadays: the scrum.

    The two targets - you could even say the two sitting ducks - will be Stevens and Haskell.

    If Stevens plays, expect 5 or 6 penalties against in the first half, then a hasty replacement by Corbisiero.

    If Haskell plays, expect the French scrum half and flankers to harass him after each England put-in: he hasn't yet learned how to pick a ball out of a scrum.

    If by any chance the games goes wide to the back 3 and Tuilagi, England should win comfortably.
    If it's played tight, France will win.

    Take note, MJ.

  • Comment number 85.

    Has to be Wilkinson. Form is temporary, but class is permanent. And boy does he have class.

  • Comment number 86.

    71. Meiklelogie
    Did Wilkinson get suspended for changing the balls? mmmmm I think not. It's obvious your not his greatest fan, but just making stuff up makes you come over as a bit of a clown...how about posting some rugby related stuff instead of bumph if your knowledge runs that far?

  • Comment number 87.

    so another tight game required from England...what a surprise...do they play any other way

  • Comment number 88.

    Man this blog is loaded with cr@p talk.

  • Comment number 89.

    Should be interesting this one. Both sides have a habit of turning their poor perfomance on its head and beating big sides. France find their flair switch and England remember how to win at all all costs. France seem to be really struggling off the pitch, whilst England are being distracted by petty media nonsense, France seem to be imploding.

    Looks like a day for England to me.

  • Comment number 90.

    @ meiklelogie
    Drunken louts?
    Not so sure about that they had a night out no one was hurt, killed or raped they had a good time you are being very harsh on them.
    Tindall has stated that the women is known to both him and his wife.
    And the media have blown every little "story" out of all proportion just to to sell papers, i think you are jumping on the bandwagon a little.
    Really please lets just wait for the end of the world cup to judge these guys until then if you are English please just support your team!

  • Comment number 91.

    well james mathew enlighten us with your wisdom mate

  • Comment number 92.

    Joeler (46) ,

    Didn't England play their 'minnows' in the Otago greenhouse? Ireland played USA in a monsoon and Russia in heavy rain. On RWC form, Welsh backs clearly the best of the 6N, then Ireland. England potentially excellent provided that they can sort out 9,10,12 axis.

    Kidney's tyro's kicking a little off, but his old-hand's form is sublime. Key difference between England and remaining Celts is lack of external pressure from off-field shenanigans (entirely self-inflicted, media cannot be blamed) and momentum. England can restore this with good performance against France but need a solution at 12. For me the answer is Flood at 10 and Wilkinson at 12.

  • Comment number 93.

    @ meikelogie
    it was not wilko who changed the ball, it was the two coaches who have been punished themselves.

  • Comment number 94.

    @ James mathew
    did not think it would take long for the rubbish you spout to make it on here please add something intelligent or be quiet.

  • Comment number 95.

    Wilkinson surely will start if he is anywhere near fit- not least because Flood has shown that he can make an impact off the bench.. And if JW is not fit will we see Wigglesworth having to cover FH.. Ironic with France playing Parra.

    I too feel that Corbisiero probably deserves the nod- not least because he is Italian enough to address the ref with a different bodylanaguage from some of the others. Thompson and Cole surely pick themselves.

    Second Row I had always assumed that Palmer and Lawes, having helped to win the 6N would be first choice.. But I think that Deacon has done well enough in the last two games to start.. Palmer and Deacon were the England A SR for some time.. And Lawes on the bench could always cover the back row as well.

    Personally I always think that Easter brings a solidity and control to the England game that some people may find boring, but his inclusion was crucial against Scotland, and his extra physicality is needed because Croft just has to play, but though he has bulked up his height, which is so useful in the line-out, has its costs and well as benefits. The hard one I think is Moody. Haskell played seven throughout the 6N and he played in the French league. Much depends upon how things go in training, but I would be inclined to put Moody on the bench.

    At half-back I think that Youngs just needs more game time, and if- as seems likely- England are going to keep it tight and up-front initially then Youngs' ability to make breaks around the set-piece and ruck (as against Argentina) could be crucial. I am not sure, however, that he has yet really made a pair with the legendary JW.. But that too is in part a question of just gaining mutual trust on the training ground. And Wigglesworth and Flood seem to have clicked.

    I can not see beyond Foden, Ashton, Cueto, Tuilagi, and Tindall for the back five. I have seen all the negative comments on Tindall- but he is the old head. Foden is still learning at FB. Ashton is a recent convert from League, as is Hape. Banahan is a recent convert from the pack via the Wing. And Tuilangi has only been playing international rugby since the summer.

    As ever there can be no guarantee that England can beat France. That is the point of playing the game.

    Cass

  • Comment number 96.

    I think the stratergy is more important than the selection for Saturday. With france confidence frail at best, its best not to let them get into any kind of flow. So I would go with a high intensity forwards display, keep the ball but keep it narrow. Give them as little ball as possible and their frustration will turn to despair and they'll start looking forward to the one thing that seems to be on their mind...

    going home.

  • Comment number 97.

    I was surprised Wilkinson didn't move to 12 earlier against Scotland, with Flood replacing him at 10. France are a 'mental' proposition however, meaning JW starting will psyche them out even if he is playing at 70%.

    Hape and Cueto should come in for the injured Tindall and suspended Armitage.

    There is something to be said for starting on the front foot and getting a lead at half-time... But I think most games seem to be won in the last 20 minutes.

    Wouldn't you rather have Stevens, Hartley, Wood, Youngs, Flood, Banahan coming off the bench to cause havoc with fresh legs when the opposition are tired?

  • Comment number 98.

    splke0 .... sorry mate its not a debate I want to get dragged into...I think England could start Banahan at no 10 and they will still win, it doesnt really matter. France are just awful and by the sounds of it dont even want to be there. So England have the game in the bag! And if England cant beat this pathetic French side then they should be shot.
    England by 20+ easy.

  • Comment number 99.

    For me one of our better players has only been mentioned by posters and his impact rarely recognized - he who didn't loose a game in the 6N - Tom Wood. Good assertive forward with a work ethic.

    I Don't think England are too far from a decent team but are finding their places late but that doesn't mean that they can't win the 50:50 matches that are to come.

    I would pick:-
    1. Stevens
    2. Thompson (c)
    3. Cole
    4. Lawes
    5. Palmer (though Shaw is impressive - Deacon I don't rate at all!)
    6. Croft
    7. Wood
    8. Haskell
    9. Youngs - very marginal but given another go with Wiggles at the ready
    10. Wilkinson - will benefit from quick ball and not being asked to take long shots
    11. Cueto
    12. Hape - Can't be less threatening than Tindall
    13. Tuilangi
    14. Ashton
    15. Foden

    Picked my side then struggled to find a skipper. Whatever team starts what England must do - an only started to do at 1/2 time against this opposition in the 6N - is commit numbers to the ruck and hit hard, take the ball on at pace and generate quick possession. If they can't do that it doesn't matter who plays we will continue to struggle.

  • Comment number 100.

    Ref #88, Thought that was the idea of a blog. Here's some more for you... boyo.

    Think we are all agreed Beshocked should be the new England Coach/manager. Fine pick.

    Can anyone help me? What does MJ see in Deacon, other than he is a a Leicester player? I don't get it. Not sure it matters who is picked, this isn't a squad over-brimming with flair and looks a little one dimensional. The one player I would never pick though... yes youv'e guessed it.. is Deacon, any other combo looks to be much of muchness.

    Thank God the French have got one god damn gigantic gallic shrug on at the moment. Have a feeling the EvF will be a classic and IvW dull as ditchwater. It is the way of the world.

 

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