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England journey just beginning

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Ben Dirs | 11:21 UK time, Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Lots of people will be asking the question this week, ahead of England's Six Nations trip to Dublin: how does the current side compare to the last Red Rose outfit to win a Grand Slam, way back in 2003?

But as much as it is fun to draw parallels between sides of different eras, in this case the exercise is specious. As former England skipper Lawrence Dallaglio deadpanned: "There are similarities - they play for England and they're going for a Grand Slam in Dublin. That's about it."

"It's pretty unkind to compare the two sides," Dallaglio, a key part of the last England team to win in Dublin eight years ago, told BBC Sport. "The England team in 2003 were at the end of the journey, were the number one team in the world and had been for the previous three years.

"They went into the Six Nations as red hot favourites and into the World Cup later that year as favourites, having beaten Australia and New Zealand down under. This England team has made huge progress in the last 12 months, but it is still at the start of the journey."

"We're at a very early stage," said England scrum coach Graham Rowntree. "We've put some very good spells together in this championship, but we haven't done the full 80 minutes. We'll know where we are on Saturday night."

Members of England's 1999 Six Nations team

Members of England's 1999 Six Nations team, who had their hearts broken by Wales in 1999

Without wishing to tempt fate, this current England crop more closely resembles the side beaten by Wales at Wembley in 1999, when a late Scott Gibbs try ruined England's Grand Slam dreams.

England circa 1999 already contained the spine of what would become a truly great side - the classic back-row combination of Dallaglio, Richard Hill and Neil Back; Matt Dawson at scrum-half; Will Greenwood in the centre (although he was injured for the Wembley engagement); old warhorses such as Jason Leonard and Mike Catt; Johnson, the thumping heartbeat of the side; a callow Jonny Wilkinson.

And there were more kids on the periphery waiting to break through: prop Phil Vickery, wing Dan Luger, full-back Josh Lewsey, flanker Joe Worsley, all of whom would play a part in England's World Cup-winning campaign of 2003.

"We've got a lot of young lads," added Rowntree. "Dylan Hartley is only 24, Toby Flood is only 25, Alex Corbisiero is still only 12 (the London Irish prop is actually 22). But we've got experience, people like Wilko, Steve Thompson, Lewis Moody, Mike Tindall, all World Cup winners, and that's all great for the balance of the side."

Like the current England team - and unlike in 2003 - that 1999 group was just striking out on its journey, and there would be plenty of knocks along the way before ultimate glory would befall it. A quarter-final defeat by South Africa at the World Cup followed calamity at Wembley, and they would also be denied Grand Slams in Edinburgh in 2000 and Dublin in 2001.

Scrum coach Graham Rowntree with England's front row

Scrum coach Graham Rowntree with England's precocious front row - and 2003 World Cup survivor Simon Shaw

Dallaglio said: "We would rather have won those games, but it's how you learn from the setbacks. Short-term failure inevitably assisted us on the road to long-term success. It gave us the experience, and maybe even the desire, to really come together."

If coach Johnson's England are to develop into a side anything like as effective as the World Cup-winning vintage, then some of the squad's fine young players will have to grow into great ones, just as happened between 1999 and 2003. And that is not beyond the realms of possibility.

In 21-year-old scrum-half Ben Youngs, contemporary England have a player at least as talented as Dawson. Flying wing Chris Ashton, still only 23, has it in him to be every bit as potent as Jason Robinson. The front row of Hartley, Corbisiero and Dan Cole is unfeasibly young, yet mightily effective.

The 'holy trinity' of Back, Dallaglio and Hill would be difficult to match by any nation in any era, but the good news is competition for places is beginning to create a froth. Add to Nick Easter, James Haskell and Tom Wood, who started against Scotland last week, the names of injured skipper Moody and the returning Tom Croft and Courtney Lawes and it is starting to look like a dog-fight.

"England are growing the depth of their squad, which is really important," said Dallaglio. "When we won the 2003 Grand Slam, England used 36 players. This time last year we were down to the bare bones, but we've made huge progress.

"The players that started their careers 12-18 months ago are now 15-20 caps into their international careers, which makes a big difference. But there's still a long way to go - there are positions where we have a healthy competition for places and one or two where we have very little. And to get to the top you need competition all over the park."

Victory over Ireland on Saturday would be some achievement. But while Dallaglio concedes it would a represent a step in the right direction, he rebuffs suggestions it would instantly transform England into anything like a great side.

"You only have to look at the history of the championship to realise how difficult it is to win a Grand Slam," said Dallaglio. "But you also have to realise winning a Grand Slam does not necessarily mean you then go on to be a super team. Look at where France are now [third in the table having lost to Italy last week] having won the Grand Slam last year.

"Yes, it's a great thing to win it, but it's about where you go from there. What you must not do is dwell on it and think 'we've conquered the world'. Let's not delude ourselves, the difference between the Six Nations and the World Cup is New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, and to overcome them on a consistent basis is the long-term target."

The last time England won in Dublin, they put 40 points on the scoreboard. That will not happen again. But even if England lose by a point, as in Cardiff in 1999, the omens will be good. A great team was forged in such battles, and the same could happen again.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Sorry! Few teething problems with this blog, as well as a nause-up in the third par, which has been corrected and is waiting to go through...

    Peace out.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes, Ben, there is a glaring problem with the blog. The England team in 1999 had their hearts broken not in Cardiff, as you so frequently state in your treatise, but at Wembley Stadium! I'm surprised that a rugby man such as yourself could make such a glaring error given the notoriety of the event!

  • Comment number 3.

    Apology accepted.

    Whenever I see the England team nowadays and everyone tells me how great we are I always do the old "Who'd get into the 2003 side" test.

    Assuming the side is as everyone expects this week, I'd only change a couple:
    Palmer in for Kay (sorry Ben, but that drop on the line was a howler)
    Ashton in for either Cohen or Lewsey, with whoever was dropped sitting on the bench.

    Honestly that's it, although Youngs, Lawes and Hartley would make the bench.

  • Comment number 4.

    Small error on the blog: England were beaten by Wales in Wembley as the Millenium was being built in Cardiff for the 1999 RWC. You can doublecheck this by clicking the link in the article :-)

  • Comment number 5.

    dezzyb - Good spot, that 1999 game was of course at Wembley. Just seems weird now even thinking about Wales playing home games in London...

  • Comment number 6.

    Balanced article. As much as I enjoy watching this England team play, which was not the case with previous sides, I think this World Cup is a World Cup too soon. Highlighted in the article is the fact that as good as the current crop are, there's just not enough experience to win the WC. Love him or loathe him, Eddie Jones' viewpoint of needing on average 50 (the exact number escapes me) caps has been shown to be true. I hope England do well later this year, but it's a WC too soon for this team.

  • Comment number 7.

    A further pedant writes: Martin Johnson was not captain of the England side at Wembley in 1999 although he was a key player in the side. Dallaglio was captain (and very much the focal point) of the England team up until his tabloid incident later that year.

  • Comment number 8.

    TheHoldSteady - Yep, another good spot, all changed again... anything else?!

  • Comment number 9.

    Good Blog Ben, I have been reading them for some time now, but this is my first post.

    I think England will lose on Saturday and think it will be for the good of the team. The players need to feel the pain of losing something which is in a fingers grasp to give them the extra edge in the world cup and years to come.

    I think the 2011 World cup has come too soon for this crop of players, but 2015 on home soil in what they could turn in to a fortress Twickenham again?!?!

    No Time for questions......... How do you feel the 2003 team would cope with the law changes which have taken place since?

  • Comment number 10.

    This England side has all the potencial to be great? I dont care how good or bad they are so long as they win by 1 point on the weekend! the same can be said for the world cup. I do think its natural to compare teams like 2003 v 2011 however the comparison has to run deep and really you nead to look at what the competition are like. This team would be fitter than 03 but so are all the others. The style of play and some laws have changed. I watched Ireland V England last night on the TV and the speed of the passing in 91 and 92 were fantastic really fast passing along the line. The forwards were knocking the bejesus out of each other, it was like a diffrent game (but just as good to watch)

  • Comment number 11.

    No time - you are of course right but the 2000-2003 side arguably contained 7 or 8 of the best players to play for England, in their respective positions, at one time and in the same side. Crucially, they also gelled as a unit and lost very few games over a three year period in international rugby.

    I think what this article is driving at, and it's a view I share, is that the benchmark for this England side is not 2003 and all that because those were fundamentally "finished" players (most of whom offered very little after 2003).

    Instead, the benchmark is 1999 and given that benchmark I don't seriously think you can argue that the likes of Cole, Hartley, Lawes, Croft, Wood, Youngs, Ashton and Foden don't have the age and skill profile of the likes of Johnson, Dallaglio, Dawson et al back then. Its an exciting prospect and I sincerely hope they fulfil their promise under Johnson.

    Even more frightening, and despite his relatively average game against Scotland, I think Tom Wood has been absolutely superb in his introduction to international rugby and as near a Richard Hill type player as we have had since the great man retired. For me, that should be worrying for other back row players around the globe - if we get another Richard Hill this England side will really tick.

  • Comment number 12.

    Jonno78. Obviously by responding to you I've invalidated my name...I'll have to think of another one...But in the meantime:

    I think most of the law changes that have been implemented since 2003 have subsequently been reversed (eg hauling down mauls and "tacklers rights"). The only 2 that instantly spring to mind are
    1. You can't pass back into the 22 and kick straight for touch
    2. The offside line is 5 yards back from the scrum

    What are the others? I assume someone knows.

    Think the 2003 side would cope fine. They were the best side in their era, they were well-coached and they were all intelligent guys.

  • Comment number 13.

    HoldSteady - I agree with you. The reason for defaulting to comparing with 2003 is I don't unfortunately have the 1999 side imprinted on my mind in quite the same way!
    I think the core of the side was there though. I'd guess most of the pack (Back, Hill, Dallaglio, Johnson, Leonard, maybe Vicks?). And Dawson, Wilko, Catt, Greenwood in the backs.
    Obviously a couple of those were only on the bench in the 2003 final, but if 8 or 9 of the 2011 side can have the sort of careers those boys did then 2015 should be good. I haven't written off 2011 yet though!

  • Comment number 14.

    The World Cup surely has come a little early for this team, but it is not inconcievable that they could win it based on their likely draw. If they manage to win their group (although Scotland and Argentina will be difficult to play against), their next likely three opponents are Wales, France and Australia. Whilst not easy matches, they are all teams that England can beat (and know they can beat). Avoiding South Africa and New Zealand until the final has to be a nice quirk of the draw....

    I am not sure however that they will beat Ireland on Saturday. As opposed to the 2003 side, they lack 2 key players - a fetcher in Neil Back and a ball player like Will Greenwood. I would expect the Irish to frustrate at every given opportunity - slow down play and let O'Gara kick to the corners. That said, the England pack are slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Should they get a good nudge on up front and recycle quickly they will give themselves a very good chance.

  • Comment number 15.

    tom palmer? he's only recently cemented his place in this england team, i personally would have atwood if fit- Ben kay was in , instead of palmer at the age of 34 only 12-18 months back!

    notime-it's more the 'initiatives' rather than rule changes that i think have changed the game since 2003- namely the speed at which players have to move away from tackle area-

    also there is a rule change in relation to the tackler having to release the player before he can attempt to play the ball, and some nonsense about how you support your weight when 'sealing off'-

    the 2003 team were a powerful machine that arguably peaked in 2002- the sum of the parts in certain aspects outweighed the individual ability- it is quite humorous how many people cry out for a greenwood replacement now, i believe the old adage of hindsight creating heroes may be at play!

  • Comment number 16.

    "Alex Corbisiero is still only 12"

    Wow we really do have a young side :D

    I think this team definately has potential. One of the last things that needs to be done is remove the remaining old boys. Right now they form a nice experienced support but we have to eventually let them go to free up more spaces for the up and coming younger players. It would be good though if some of the older players had some role helping to coach the new England side though.

  • Comment number 17.

    Good blog and I do believe that England are showing the potential to become a very very good team the one area that concerns me at the moment is open side flanker.

    England have some very promising options at blind side and eight but no one who really shines out at 7. Moody will not make it to the next world cup (I always thought he had more atributes of a 6 than a 7 anyway)and although Fourie is solid I don't think that many people would argue that he is world class (or will become so).

    I always had very high hopes for Tom Rees sadly looks like he could be a big talent lost to the physio's table. Does anyone know of any young up anc coming out and out open side flankers?

    Center is the other area I think we are weak but there is enough young talent to fill these positions after this world cup. But I would love to know if anyone know's of exciting prospects at 7.

  • Comment number 18.

    I have great belief that the negativity concerning the Ireland game at the weekend comes off the back of what people perceive to be a poor performance against the Scots. I think that England lacked the tactical nous to beat Scotland by a bigger margin at the weekend but only that element. The players were trying to force the pass and especially the offload in the tackle so that they could up the pace of the game, possibly due to frustrations that Scotland spent the entire game looking to slow England down. This I don't think will happen on Saturday. Ireland, and their teams in the Heineken Cup have showed this year, are slightly ageing and are starting to rely on moments of brilliance from the likes of O'Driscoll to win games. I don't think that Ireland are as strong or as fierce in Dublin as they have been in the past and actually think that England can go there and win and win well. In terms of their comparison to previous teams, there is comparison. Rugby is a completely different game now and as some have pointed out, the release in the tackle is a huge change in the laws. England have so much potential in this team but irrespective of whether they had an extra 15 months to prepare prior to the World Cup in September, they would still be going to NZ up against it to win the tournament. NZ could be at the same stage as England now going into the World Cup and still be classed as favourites because of where it is to be staged and I have no doubt that a southern hemisphere team will win the World Cup this year because their players are used to playing in those arenas. Last weekend, Scotland spent their entire afternoon seeking to thwart England and do what the Scots do best, which is to spoil. They conceded penalties at good times and England made errors at good times for them too, otherwise I imagine we would have been looking at a 15-20 point win instead of the 6. If the Scots are happy with that, fine, but ultimately, away from the 6 Nations, I would fancy England to beat any of the Northern Hemisphere teams on a neutral ground which I why I think we could be looking at Semis or even Final in the World Cup. England perform when a tournament requires them to do so, and there are so many exciting players in the backs especially who can cause damage. You need the experience of Cueto and Tindall but with a fit Wilkinson pushing players along to perform, the likes of Flood, Ashton and Foden being so effective, Youngs causing damage at the breakdown round the sides and with his pace, the only place that England lack is at 12. Flutey is nearing full fitness, Banahan is a good option when things are not going well, Wilkinson is possibly the best replacement in the world, the only place that England lack depth is on the wings but Ashton is not the injury prone softie that you sometimes tag to flair players. England can win on Saturday and they can go deep into the tournament in NZ but ultimately, by the time 2015 comes round, they need to be beating the likes of SA, Australia and NZ on a regular basis at home and not to freeze in the way that they did against SA in the Autumn.

  • Comment number 19.

    I was at the Wembley match and it was terribly one sided until Gibbs scored out of the blue at the end! Incidently saw Frank Bruno fight Gerry Koetzia the same evening at Wembley Arena as they were selling double tickets for both event at a discount!

  • Comment number 20.

    Another good blog Bennyboy, not sure specious is quite the right word, a good word but it just doesn't quite sit right with me - I can;t think of the word to go there instead though.

    You definitely can't compare 2003 side to this one, the 99 side is a much better comparison which is why I expect us to lose on Saturday. The Irish will have too many cunning old heads. I think key is going to be the back three running ROG's kicks back. I wish they'd move it away quicker from that area as they keep running into the kick chase wall. One of the few consistent things I remember being shouted to was 'two passes!' every time I fielded a kick. Against the French it took until Johnny came on for some one to pass a fielded kick and we immediately made yards on the other side of the pitch. Foden and Cueto were guilty again on Sunday against the scots.

    Really like the look of the forward pack though now, back row will soon be best in the world again once McCaw retires that is. Need a bit of extra experience in the backs and then we can let go of Tindall to add a bit more dynamism to the back line.

    Love it if we beat the Irish.

  • Comment number 21.

    good blog Ben.

    I cant believe how good we were back then.... I think part of it was because we had a team full of leaders, for example, Back, Hill Dallaglio, Greenwood,Hill etc. Even JW captained the team for a few matches.

  • Comment number 22.

    @handofjohnson - Tom Palmer has been a very consistent performer for england over the past games, strong in the tackel and definitely an underrated part of what is mobile pack.

    @trueblue - The only time the positions of a 6 and 7 differ is at scrum time. given that, nowadays, scrums nearly always end with penalties or free kicks, and rarely result in ball being passed out, i dont think the need for 'a 7' and 'a 6' is the same. Rather a team needs two complimentary flankers seeing as they both play essentially the same position now. a croft/haskell combination would be a great one to see - quick, athletic line-out forward who is at lots of rucks, and a dynamic ball carrying workhorse who is very physical.

    i think the only real area of urgent attention in this team is the centre pairing - tindall is really not good for 80mins any more, and no others stand out for selection

  • Comment number 23.

    Comment from Sam1982

    "Ireland, and their teams in the Heineken Cup have showed this year, are slightly ageing and are starting to rely on moments of brilliance from the likes of O'Driscoll to win games"

    I take it you havent seen Leinster in this years Heineken Cup then, they have been the standout team, playing some outstanding rugby. Its not that Ireland lack the individuals, they just have a ridiculously conservative coach who sticks with the same old tried and tested, even when it is clearly not working.

  • Comment number 24.

    usedtobefast, how does the inclusion of Sexton at the expense of ROG
    see: change your perception of how Saturdays game will play out

  • Comment number 25.

    A bit off topic but why is Hape still in the team! He just seems to be filling a hole in the midfield. As far as I'm concerned you can only be a worldclass backline if you have a quick and skillful center. Tindal and Hape are neither. Just think about it, all the top teams in the world have one for ex Giteau, Steyn,Sonny Bill,Conrad Smth..

  • Comment number 26.

    onetrydown- granted palmer has been effective in the last few games............but he's also been terrible for the previous 2 years, and remember your talking about replacing the best english lineout jumper of the last 20 years (ben kay).

    i'd have to disagree that 6 & 7 are basically the same role- lokk at McCaw of NZ, and Pocott of AUS, england are lacking an out and out 7, a guy who does the dirty work on the ground aka neil back- haskell is a good ball carrier but a great 7 he is not- croft offers pace, athletisism and dynamism, but woods has been outstanding so far, especially considering he's had 4 caps- the first away against wales on 'firey' friday night baptism.

    completely agree wuth the centres issue - there are other candidates, MJ obviously feels the benefits of tindalls exoperience outweigh his limitations as a player.

  • Comment number 27.

    Agree with 25 to some extent, particularly with Tindall who is labouring a little these days. I quite like Hape, he's often the top tackler in the team, good at offloads and his pass to Cueto for the try on Sunday was the best of the game. This team is only a couple of faces away from being top class - Lawes in for Deacon, Croft somewhere in the back row and a replacement for Tindall - Banahan, Tuilagi??
    I wouldn't despair if we lost on Saturday but I think we will win - and if our half backs click off quick ball, we will win well

  • Comment number 28.


    Leinster have been able to secure themselves a home quarter final and have played some good rugby but I still think that on the whole, England will have too much for the Irish at the weekend. Ireland rely on their set-piece to such an extent that when that goes even slightly wrong, they struggle.

    Call me biased but I believe that England will have too much for Ireland on Saturday.

  • Comment number 29.

    Have to say I agree with most of comments made regarding this team being a comparison to 1999 rather than 2003.

    With regards to the Back row I also have to disagree with the fact 6 and 7 are the same, you only have to look at the SH back rows. Where in my opinion Juan Smith is the best 6 and McCaw the best 7. I personally would like to see a back row of 6. Croft, 7.Woods, 8.Haskell. I think Haskell gives a lot more go forward than Easter. Though I have to admit he does lose the ball in contact to often (though the last few games have improved vastly). Also I am unaware of how good he is at the base of the scrum.

    With regards to the centres, I'm not sure if I agree with the comment about Greenwood's profile being created in would be interesting to know what Wilkinson has to say about that.

    Other than that I see it being very close on Saturday with England pinching it with a JW drop goal...though that is just dreaming!!!

  • Comment number 30.

    usernametaken1, I think them playing Sexton plays right into our hands to be honest. As pedestrian as our midfield is defensively they are solid so I can't see Sexton opening us up. Added to the fact that his kicking has been attrocious this six nations I can't see why they've picked him unless ROG is carrying a knock. I can only think they are hoping it will be close and bring him on to close the game out.

    If Sexton's kicking is poor then correct decision making from the back three will be just as important to look and communicate where the spaces are. I'm not feeling as pecimistic now knowing that Sexton is playing put it that way.

  • Comment number 31.

    # 24

    Think Sexton's inclusion is a great move as he's a far better defender than ROG, who would have been targeted. O'Gara will come on, early-ish if Ireland are behind, and later if Ireland are leading.

    I'm looking forward to a classic game, just hope England have the intelligence to play their own game and not react to Ireland's somewhat, um, crafty, play at the breakdown.

    If not I'm sure that a defeat will ultimately be as beneficial as a win.

  • Comment number 32.

    Also I have to say, it does seem odd that after the Scotland game many people were saying "well a win is a win". Now it seems in the long run a lose is also a win.

    This mind-set seems very odd to me, I doubt you will hear the SH saying well today's lose will lead to greater glories in the future. Surely one wants to win every game.

    Sounds like people making excuses before the game has even started to me.

  • Comment number 33.

    Ben , stick to what you know it aint rugby, poorly researched factual errors and lack of real knowledge about the England team. You blagged it a bit didn't you.. not too sure,, the martin Johnson thumping heart beat of the side comment gave you away you were nt sure if he was or wasnt captain then so that litttle metaphor was designed to get you off the hook.. 'the classic back row combination'?? dont think so , just three very very good players. Back was a bit small in fact...but what an engine. Dallalleo a big Italian bully...
    now getting onto the game saturday, I really hope Tindall is fit to play. he is a carthourse always was. if Banahan plays he will run over the top of D'Arcy like a sixth former playing against the under 14's. or Trin Duc of France did to him. school boy error in the tackle area and game lost right there. looking forward to seeing OBrien against Haskell no contest, Haskell will be mullered. Ireland by 12 points.

  • Comment number 34.

    #17 trueblue - Phil Dowson, although at 29, I think is a quality flanker that hasnt had the international recognition he deserves.

    For the Ireland match, I think the performance is more important than the result in terms of the WC. If we win without putting in a great performance like we did against the scots then the team could be in danger of complacency, assuming they can win even if they dont play at their best. I think it is therefore v. important that they play well, be it win or lose, not just for the 6ns grand slam but also for the future.

  • Comment number 35.

    #20, your back row is older than Irelands. none of your back row would get a game in a green jersey( if they were irish),, I wouldn't change OBrien, Heaslip and Ferris for any of yours, or for the next 5 years. and with such a huge pool of English players why do you pick a Yank ( Corbiserio) and an ex league Kiwi ( Hape) ?? You are the first logt whining on about the Irish football team picking someone granny's son.. or SImon Hughes at the world cup constantly reminding us every 3 overs that Trent Johnson , that adpoted Irish Aussie.. He even managed to get in of course Cusack was born in Brisbane.. well haven;t the South African B team done well in the world cup ,,NOT.

  • Comment number 36.

    Yes Oli I totally agree with your back row selection of Haskell at 8, Croft and Woods. I've said words to similar effect before but it always amazes me how Easter manages to both retain his place in the team and continue to escape criticism for his performances. Can anyone reading this really come out and sing his praises in response to this post?

    I agree with comments made on a previous blog that he hangs out in midfield far too much, doesn't make the yardage he needs to when carrying the ball and always seems to overestimate his footballing skills, often losing the ball as a result. Haskell has great potential to fill the role at 8 very nicely, here's hoping that he keeps on turning in performances that leave Jonno no choice but to give him a go.

  • Comment number 37.

    Much has been made of the relative merits and shortfalls of ROG and Sexton however from my point of view I would say that Gordan D'Arcy has had a terrible 6N not really adding anything in attack and often error prone....some likenesses to Tindall. If anyone can think of any player in particular who has been effective at beating Tindall then perhaps this could give clues about how to unlock the Irish midfield more so than just concentrating on the FH slot. If nobody can identify anyone who has exposed Tindall, perhaps you have your reasons for his inclusion in the starting line up, especially alongside Hape if could find the flair he had in RL.

  • Comment number 38.

    A number of other differences between the 2003 team is that for the most part, they were experienced at winning. The likes of Easter, Shaw, Moody, Hartley, and those on about 20 caps have largely experienced bad times.

    On top of that Woodward had a clear selection policy and a gameplan, but seemed to combine the best players with the most appropriate gameplan. Johnson's team has only just started to work out a gameplan that suits.

    Finally, the 2003 world cup team was made up of world class players - About 10 of which would have a good argument for being in a world 15.

    I am not convinced anymore than 2 or 3 would get into a world 15 at the minute.

    This team is nowhere near the standards of the 2003 team.

  • Comment number 39.

    HandofJohnson - just a point re Greenwood and hindsight. My view - absolutely not. Greenwood was a tremendous player in his own right, both in attack (a gifted footballer who was superb in offloading and had an ability to ghost past opposite numbers without any hint of supreme pace) and in defence (he was by all accounts England's defensive leader for much of the early part of the last decade).

    His try scoring rate was superb for a centre and he made three lions tours. He also effectively took the position of Guscott - a sublime footballer himself - and after 1998/9 to all intents and purposes improved the side by being admittedly slightly less "creative" but much much better defensively. I do not think there is any element of chance behind the fact that altough England serially won grand slams in the 1990s with an occassionally weak back line (defensively) they only starting beating the southern hemisphere teams with regularity when their defence was fully world class, including at centre. For me Johnson has taken that lesson into management, hence Tindall and Hape.

    Not sure if they would have made a great combination but, as individuals, Guscott and Greenwood are on another level of England centres, compared to the rest of their peers.

  • Comment number 40.

    although karlwbrown is a little exciteable, i would agree that i would pick the irish back row 3 over the current back row of england- the only exception would be a fully fit croft.

    disagree that hill,back, and dallaglio weren't a perfect combo- individually very good yet as a combo unplayable- back scrapping on the floor pushing the boundaries of 'legality', hill one of the best rugby brains to enter a field- the quiet man, turning over ball- and then the big, brash in your face ball carrying ability of the big man........

    this is a balance that the current england team are lacking, definately agree that reese could and should have been the next iconic 7 but injury has plagued him- individually haskell, wood and easter are good players but with 2 0f 3 playing out of position(wood is more a 7 than 6 and haskell more of 8)as a unit they don't quite seem to click.

    someone mentioned dowson as a flanker- he's an out and out 8, but still deserves international honours and has so for the past 3/4 years

  • Comment number 41.

    theholdsteady- don't get me wrong i like and rated greenwood- i was just pointing out that he gets more praise now he's retired(mainly due to the fact we have the footballing capacity of a grape in midfield) than he did whilst playing........

    the constant crticism with him was lack of pace and while he did actually become england backs defence captain towards the end of his tenure- in an interview he himself stated that the england defence coaches didn't want him anywhere near the side for the first 3-4 years! incidently he made that statement whilst defending the opinion that tuilagi should be in the squad, which i agree with.

    guscott for me was on another level,the man floated along - but this was at a time when an international centre was about 2/3 st lighter! couldn't imagine guscott and greenwood with nonu and sonny billwilliams running at them!

  • Comment number 42.

    @38 Tino
    Moody played in the 2003 RWC final and Shaw played 3 matches before the final so got his MBE. A bit unfair to say that these guys don't know anything about winning!

  • Comment number 43.

    Interesting to compare with with 1999 team. Back row apart (who's qualities have been discussed often enough above) current team matches up pretty favourably with 1999 team. I remember England had ball with few seconds to go before referee penalised Rodber for some phantom infringement allowing Wales one last chance with the ball. Cost me a fiver but I'm not bearing a grudge or anything.
    Btw replacement hooker for England that day was Neil McCarthy, an England player who has managed to leave an indelible blank in my memory. Anyone with any info on him to help bring him to mind ?

    On this Saturday's game, this is the game I most want to win. Fair play for Grand Slam a couple of years ago but at least qualify for knock out stages for world cup once before shouting from rooftops.

    One last thing BOD is best European player of last 8 years but one thing I guarantee this Saturday. At one point in the game he will be lying on the ground and for all the world will look as though he can't carry on. Then he will make a Hollywood recovery and be good as new 5 minutes later. He is a great player but this happens every big game for Ireland.

  • Comment number 44.

    Has anybody thought of replacing Easter at 8 with Fourie, they are both similar players but Fourie has something to prove and is playing well where as Easters mind seems to have been wavering recently and not playing up to scratch.

  • Comment number 45.

    A couple of things must be noted here.

    The 1999 grand slam should have been awarded to England as Wales fielded two ineligible players in their side for that tournament.

    Look up Grannygate if you're interested.

    One of those players (Shane Howarth) scored a try in the match against England. This result and the Welsh win over France should be overturned for the record books thus giving England the grand slam.

    Secondly Ben Youngs is a much better player now than Matt Dawson ever was. Dawson wasn't even the best English scrum half at the time.

  • Comment number 46.

    Karlwbrown Post 33

    Before you lay into someone make sure you are in the clear as well.

    I sense a REAL lack of rugby knowledge by the way you fail to spell Dallaglio correctly.

    All you had to do was look up to where Mr Dirs had in fact spelt the name accurately.

    Practice what you preach...

  • Comment number 47.

    As has been said, comparisons with the 2003 team - that being very much a finished article - are wildly unfair. So who of the current crop do people think would have been pushing for selection vs the 1999 squad?

    I'd say definitely Cole, Lawes, Youngs, Ashton. Probably Hartley, Corbisiero and possibly even Flood and Foden. You'd think a player like Croft would have been in the mix as well, although being unable to forget who we had and what they became, it's tricky to say exactly where. It's unlikely they'll hit the heights of the 2003 team, but the signs are very encouraging. The main over-riding weakness being in the centres.

    I completely agree with handofjohnson re: the backrow though. If the Lions tour was this year, you wouldn't go far off picking the Irish boys pretty much like we did 2 years ago (with SOB having picked up where Ferris left off), again with the possible addition of a fit Croft. The current English unit looks a bit makeshift, and we're still in desperate need of a true, out-and-out 7. The 'holy trinity' were all remarkable players in their own right, but the balance was near perfect and that's what really elevated them.

    And it's not so much Greenwood that we miss as any sort of midfield ball player, which I think may have been edgroves point originally anyway.

  • Comment number 48.

    42 - Shaw didn't play a single game at the world cup. He was too similar to johnson to play alongside him, and woodward has said since that not being able to pick shaw was always a tough decision.

  • Comment number 49.

    England dont have any world class players apart from Croft but only on his form of a couple of seasons ago. What England do have is a bunch of players who have the potential to be world class. In the pack Cole, Corbiserro, Lawes, and Wood. The backs Youngs, Ashton and Foden. If these guys stay fit for the next 4 years and Johnston brings on more youngsters we could have a team capable of winning the RWC and a couple more Grand Slams. Personally I cant wait to see this team develop its going to be an exciting 4 years.

  • Comment number 50.

    To those people placeing Youngs on a higher pedestal than Dawson: Eh? Youngs has huge potential, don't get me wrong, but Dawson was a world class scrum half over many years. At the times when he wasn't having the ball offered to him on a plate, he knew how to work with scraps (Youngs still seems to want the ball on a silver platter at every breakdown). He knew when to pass from the base, when to dart and when to hold on. It me be that in time Youngs can be regarded a better player but I'd certainly like to see a few medals round his neck first.

    Anyway, Saturday promises to be pretty fascinating. The reality is that neither side has really fulfilled their potential so far this 6N. Whichever side hits their straps first is likely to get the win in my opinion. If neither of them do, then it will simply come down to who keeps their error count lowest. Ireland haven't convinced me at any point in the Championship and the flip-flopping between ROG and Sexton seems indicative of their stuttering play with ball in hand. That said, they have a back row who can not only ensure good ball but are also likely to provide BOD et al some great opportunities with turnover ball.

    I'd love to think England could win it, but I think a combination of Irish home advantage, English inexperience and a pressure that is new to many of the English players will see Ireland win through by 5 points.

  • Comment number 51.

    Deap-heat, I completely agree. Youngs is much quicker than Dawson over the ground, but the top two inches is where Dawson had it by far. I was always a big fan of Healey - much like the Spencer / Mehrtens debate. On his day Spencer was the best 10 by far. But Mehrtens was consistently better. Healey could do things on a rugby field no others could - but he was also a liability when it didn't go right. Dawson was a much more consistent performer.

    Youngs is a precocious talent, and if he can improve the top 2 inches through experience then he will surpass Dawson. But he's had less of an impact over the last couple of days. Now is the challenge for him. Particularly with Care, who is more akin to Healey, snapping at Youngs' heels.

    I like the contest - but both have some way to go before they are on a par with Healey and Dawson.

  • Comment number 52.

    I have to say that Lawrences comment about being the best in the world for 3 years prior to the 2003 Grand Slam is a little bit exagerated as that would be the Feb after a very good Aussie side won the RWC! Incidentally the England team did not officially take the number one ranking until December 2002 after which they held it with a ranking of >90 points for 4 quarters. Lol was a fine player and influential leader however a one McCaw has been part of an AB's team that have held the number one ranking for 25 quarters.

  • Comment number 53.


    I also think Youngs needs to improve his fitness. He seemed woefully off the pace the last two games, slow to arrive at the breakdown, needing to catch his breath, skill levels dropped off as he tired. There was a shot of him on the bench just after he was taken off and he looked like death, he'd only played 55 minutes! It may be a reason why he struggled to put in consistent performances in November too, as he was unable to maintain the same pace against Samoa and South Africa.

  • Comment number 54.

    Just a thought but a couple possible changes could be to drop Deacon and Easter from the pack for Lawes and Croft, with Haskell moving to 8 and play Wilkinson and Cueto as 12-13, putting Varndell in at wing? That midfield would have a bit of invention, guile, power and pace coming from Cueto as well as a more than solid defensive side to it. However, it would need more time to gel before a World Cup and neither Wilkinson nor Cueto are young enough to make this a long term strategy. Could be effective if tried out once or twice though. And with regards to Varndell, what does the lad need to do to gain a place in the side?! He's a regular try scorer in the Prem and has pace to burn!

  • Comment number 55.

    I agree with #47 in saying that at the moment you probably would pick the Irish lads ahead, but I think that Wallace is the weak link in our back row and maybe only has a year or two left at his level. I have been really impressed with SOB as I thought that Ferris was irreplaceable. How often is he injured anyway?
    For as long as I've been watching rugby (about 25 years), the English back row of 2003 is by far the best I've seen. I have seen, in my opinion, players who were individually better, but as a unit, there were perfect. Or as close as you can get in this wonderfully imperfect game of ours.
    How about looking ahead to Saturday in terms of the Key areas?
    Scrum - England by a country mile, the front row have the muscle and technique to mix it with anyone in the world, whereas the Irish scrum would be pushed off the ball by more than a few Heineken Cup teams
    Lineout - Ireland by a whisker, if Best remembers to throw it to the guys in green. The 2 OC's have enough experience now to nick a couple, and Heaslip is getting pretty good.
    Midfield - Ireland, unless Banahan knocks out BOD in the first few minutes. There is serious grunt in the English centre pairing but the Irish boys have been playing against bigger men all their career.
    3/4 - England, Bowe and Ashton are both exceptional, but Foden and Cueto have the edge over Earls and Trimble. I worry about Earls at Fullback, and just don't trust Trimble. Cueto is supremely solid and unflappable, and Foden is very dangerous. Rob Kearney where are you?!
    Fly-Half - England, I don't think ROG can win us a game anymore, but I sure as hell think Sexton can lose us one, his kicking, from hand and from tee has been very poor for a while now, and I'm fairly sure you need to be able to do at least one of them to be a good 10. Flood has his critics, mostly amongst you English fans but he is the best the NH has to offer at the moment, and I actually quite rate him.
    Breakdown - hmmm, possibly Ireland, but I worry about our penalty count, being as you have a 10 who can slot the ball over the posts fairly consistently, and we have one who does a good show of being really annoyed with himself every time he misses from 35 yards out, in front of the posts.
    Scrum-Half - England, although pretty close if Reddan recovers and plays. I'm glad O'Leary is out as he holds onto the ball for too long, and I think Stringer is a decent replacement, but he hasn't got enough tricks to keep the Enlish pack guessing. Youngster is probably on his way to being world class, he is having a slightly tricky time at the moment, but I really think he will be up there with the best of them, and I also think he will make a few good, quick, tap and go, breaks, as we NEVER defend well against them, and tend to go sleepy time when the whistle blows. Which is maybe why we never use them, don't want to put the idea in the oppositions head, eh?
    So all-in-all, I have no idea who will win, you certainly have more at stake than us, and are a team on the up, as opposed to a slight decline, but we have more experience and home advantage.
    Oh, and I apologise to all the muppets out there who want me to be ravingly anti-English, or blindly adoring of the Irish team, but I just love Rugby, and talking with rugby people, wherever they are from.
    Except the French.
    And South Africa.
    But that's it.
    Anyone got any differing opinions about the Key Areas on Saturday?

  • Comment number 56.

    Post 55, Greyandcold: liked your analysis (and I liked the article, BD). Hope you won't mind if I add a few thoughts, G&C.

    In the matter of the first-phase possession, I think "Ireland by a whisker" is a pretty good guess, but England will have to do something about Irish skill in quick, channel one scrummaging to win that phase by "a country mile". I don't dispute your view that the English "[...] front row have the muscle [...] to mix it with anyone in the world", but do you really think that they have the collective quickness of wit (which I think of as a matter of technique) to delay the Irish delivery from the scrum and burn down the Irish forwards? Without incurring penalties? Guess we'll see.

    I entirely agree with your view on Sexton. Stampeding at the defence and then either executing tactical options poorly or ruling them out altogether plays into the hands of the opposition, and it squanders possession, of which Ireland won't have an abundance if the scrums go as you predict. That may substantially (or even entirely) negate any superiority which the Irish enjoy in the mid-field, in which matter I concur unconditionally with you, all else being equal ... which it might not be, by your analysis.

    I'd have been much more worried had O'Gara been starting. His detractors notwithstanding, he'd have done everything possible to keep Ireland in a field position from which scoring would not be a wild fantasy, might have made a contribution to the scoring itself, kept some pressure off his pack, and certainly negated England's rolling maul at least to the extent of requiring them to roll very great distances. On the other hand, if England's loose forwards mis-fire and fail to shut Sexton down, and O'Driscoll as well, just for good measure, it could be a real white-knuckle day.

    Well, bring it on, and may it be an even competition: a bit of case-hardening before the World Cup can't do much harm.

  • Comment number 57.

    From a SH perspective it is awesome to see a resurgent England. We've had it our own way for too long and the competition will only make the entire sport better. As many here have stated, I think this year's WC is too soon for this English squad and indeed the rest of the NH sides. NZ is the toughest place to tour and win, and with the current form shown by the ABs and the Boks, it is unlikely that the NH sides will have any luck this year.

    It really is awesome to see so many good back rows emerging from the NH too. At the moment I'd rate the Irish slightly ahead of the Scottish and Welsh with the English and French some way back.

  • Comment number 58.

    I do wish people would stop comparing the 2011 team with the 2003 team. There are no comparisons (2003 was 2003) a different time, different mentality, different achivements. The team of 2003 did what they set out to do and got it. So will the team of 2011 but in their way. We cant compare them because they are different people. We should support them at the team of 2011 not the team of 2003

    Handofjohnson - how many times now have i told you to stop trying to change the team and make suggestions who should play - are you coach NO so stop complaining

    England will do well at the weekend - Ireland are not the force they used to be - England will hopefully be able to relax knowing they have already won the six nations - the weight and pressure is off - i just want to see them go out and play fluid great rugby - rugby we all know they are capable of.

  • Comment number 59.

    No. 48

    Good spot re: Shaw - my mistake. He played three times in the warm-up games. The point with regard to him being a winner stands, however.

  • Comment number 60.

    Interested to hear people's thoughts on the likely inclusion of Banahan in place of the injured Tindall. I have to confess to not being a huge fan of any back whose main asset is to be massive and run straight lines. Having said that, he offers an attacking option that I don't believe we would have had with Tindall.

    Concerns are that I think his strength taking the ball into contact might be negated by the fact that BOD is still an extrememely effective defensive operator. D'Arcy would be a target, but I think that BOD will have the nous to line him up on most occassions.

    Despite his size, I do think that he is a defensive liability in comparison to Tinds. There is no doubting his strength, but - to coin a phrase from a poster above - I think the Irish midfield will have a significant advantage in the top two inches that they wouldn't have had against Tinds.

    There has to be a likelihood that he will be detailed with simply taking the ball into contact centrally. This could obviously benefit England (if nothing else it may mean that we see less of Easter popping up in the backline) but would seem to negate his strongest asset. I'd rather see him taking the ball in space and building up a head of steam. He isn't quick off the blocks.

    Also don't want to see him get sucked into the breakdowns too much. Always a temptation for a big centre and in the few club matches I've seen him play this has happened too often for my liking.

    Despite all this, I do believe that his presence could increase our chances, just think that the temptation to utilise his abilities in defense rather than attack could be our undoing. Its fine to rely on your back three for the spark and the tries, but once you have been wored out (and I think we have been now) by the opposition, you need to attack from elsewhere. All of our back three are gifted defenders and the burden needs to be shared more.

  • Comment number 61.

    @ #54 / rainbowflashyboots

    I'm not sure I would be too keen to bin off selectorial consistency in favour of picking two players out of position in the centres, especially while acknowledging it as a purely stop-gap measure. Hape isn't the best IC in the world, but I think he's probably still a better one than Wilkinson. The Saxons is currently over-flowing with exciting young centres. It would be better to give some of them a go than wedge Wilkinson and Cueto in there.

    Varndell's weakness has always been his defence, which is a hard monkey to get off your back as even if you only miss the same number of tackles as any other player, they will all be scrutinised much more.

  • Comment number 62.

    # 60 Deep Heat

    You are quite right in your assessment of the Banaham problem.

    The big question is this, and apologies if it's already been asked: Who goes on the bench??

    Other people have noticed that Hape has played more than just about any other player this 6N, and the reason is not because he's been fantastic, or indispensable - far from it. It's because MJ has systematically picked a bench with only a fly half (Wilkinson), a scrum half (care) and an OC/winger as replacement backs. Thus, Hape cannot be replaced except in an emergency.

    Now that Banahan is set to be picked as a starter, what will Johnson do with his bench? My feeling is he needs a specialist 13 who can at a pinch play elsewhere - but do we have anyone? Armitage and Tait are the only ones that spring to mind.

    Because if banahan proves to be a disaster faced with BOD, we will need a plan B, and quickly.

  • Comment number 63.

    Not sure what Flutey's current fitness is, but he would be a good bench option now Tindall is out. He can cover 12 and if Banahan is injured, Hape can move to 13 (where he plays mostly for Bath anyway).
    I assume Delon Armitage is still suspended as he'd be another option.

  • Comment number 64.

    # 62 hermmy

    I don't think we currently have a 'plan B' if Banahan doesn't work out. There are no other centres anywhere near the squad. Tait is injured and Armitage is banned.

    I think the bench man will be Strettle, with Cueto providing injury cover for fullback, and Flood covering centre. Otherwise it would have to be Flutey, but that leaves us very light on cover for the back 3.

    I haven't heard any rumblings of anyone else being called into the squad.

  • Comment number 65.

    In response to several comments...

    Banahan has done nothing wrong when playing at OC, Tindall looked like a rabbit in the headlights against Wales and has only ever been mediocre - ergo Banahan for Tindall is a definite improvement.

    Hape has had the misfortune to have to play inside Tindall, he looked much sharper alongside Banahan... should improve.

    BOD is not the player he used to be.. nuff said.

    O Connell is not the player HE used to be and O Callaghan has been a workhorse but nothing special. England have a great advantage in the front five and the back rows should cancel each other out. O Brian and Wallace both had relatively tame games against Wales.

    As for the Wales "win", that was just cheating, plain and simple, and I felt very sorry for Ireland. They knew they couldn't throw in a quick throw with a ball handed to the hooker by a ball boy... irrespective of whether it was the same ball or not, but that's another topic entirely.

    Foden and Ashton are outstanding players and can rip holes in defences, I wonder if the Irish defence can shackle as Scotland did.

    Haskell could go either way but has played well so far.. but is inconsistant at best.

    England have the edge up front and some excellent finishers and the Irish are not playing well. The match against Scotland was not their best performance but as a previous poster noted, Scotland picked a spoiling team which did their job well.. England will have learnt from this.

    England 'should' win on recent history but Ireland in Dublin have always been difficult. Should be a cracker, oh and Italy to beat Scotland too I feel ;-)

  • Comment number 66.

    Banahan at centre is certainly a concern. I watch him at Bath and my observation last year was that he was a bit of a lump...very fast when in his stride but lacking the acceleration of a true winger. This year he has actually lost a bit of bulk, has speeded up and improved his offloading game considerably. Against Scotland he was pretty effective at times and can always be relied upon to draw in tacklers. Whether he is a proper centre though is dubious.

    I wouldn't agree with those who say that he his just a battering ram. In truth that is the modern game and there are precious few centres who aren't just glorified mini-forwards these days...boshing and recycling.

    His defensive play may be exposed however against one of the few players who doesn't fit the modern mould. Brian O'Driscol is arguably one of the best centres to ever play the game. He is considerably more nimble than Banahan and may cause him all sorts of problems. Hopefully MJ will have a Plan B!

    As an aside, because it obviously doesn't have a bearing on his selection for England, it's worth pointing out that Matt Banahan is a great guy and a real role model for youngsters. When he plays at Bath he always comes down to the pitchside after the game to chat to fans, sign autographs and allow kids to have their photos taken with him, long after other players have gone. There aren't that many emerging "stars" who will do that, week in week out these days. I've got a lot of time for him!

  • Comment number 67.

    35 - Karlwbrown

    You are definitely looking at your side through green tinted glasses. Your back row is good and Ferris has been a massive miss for you. I guess we'll see who the better back row is on Saturday. But it's only Easter who is over 30 so it's hardly ageing, particularly once he goes Haskell will move to 8 (where he plays for Stad) and it will then be Croft, Wood, Haskell. The bigger concern for you lot should be the fact that you still have to rely on ROG/Stringer/BOD/D'arcy/half your pack who are all in the decline. There arent too many in the English side who will be playing in their last world cup.

    To pick up your point on the imports, my view is simple if they are good enough and they are eligible then what is the problem. I do think Hape is in the side more on reputation than ability and would like to see Tuilagi (yes - he's English, ask him!) Barritt Waldouck get a chance but then we can't complain too much when we are in a winning side.

    We only take the mick (excuse the pun) out of the Eire football team because they need to find english people who play in the championship in order to try and improve their team. Catt & Flutey certainly improved the team when they played so had no qualms about that. Corbisiero certainly looks like a good prospect and if he wants to play for us, feels English and belts out the national anthem then fine by me. Didn't hear you grumbling too much when the Easterby's were playing given they are really Yorkshiremen...

  • Comment number 68.

    Ignore the mistakes. Everybody makes them. Good blog Ben.

    England have progressed a lot in the past 12 months. I do think this is more to do with certin players coming in who will play what is in front of them. One of the biggest problems has been players waiting to be told what to do and living in fear of Martin Johnson. Foden strikes me as a real example of someone who has REAL confidence in his ability and will voice his opinions, which I think is needed. There are many positives for England.

    As for this weekend, it will be the big test of this team. Whether Ireland are the force of old or not, they are packed with experienced players. BOD, O'Connell, Wallace... The list goes on, but they will test England in every position and with the Munster connection, they will be canny at the breakdown. England need to sort that pronto. I think it is too close to call. Just hope Banahan can make an impact as he's up against and experienced Irish partnership.

    As for 2003, whilst it was a fantastic time, I think it has hindered England teams since. Every discussion seems to be related back to 2003 in some way. This was a team who benefitted from a forward thinking, maverick coach and some players who had an amateur era mentallity to team work blended with an ultra professional attitude to preparation. Just because a team does not identify closely with the 2003 side does not mean they will be unsuccessful in their quest for honours. The World Cup will come a little early for this side, but there is a bright future on the horizon and strength in depth is being developed in each position. The red rose is SLOWLY blooming.

  • Comment number 69.

    "particularly once he goes Haskell will move to 8 (where he plays for Stad)"

    Does he? Isn't Parisse ahead of him?

  • Comment number 70.

    Slightly off-point, but the 2003 final radio commentary (with Rob Andrew screaming as JW puts over the drop goal) was the absolute pinnacle of watching/listening to sport, even as I write this I have a lump in my throat from the memory...

    As for 2011 - as always it has to be one from five of the usual suspects but I would be disappointed if we didn't reach the semis

  • Comment number 71.

    twickenhamloyal wrote;

    'Handofjohnson - how many times now have i told you to stop trying to change the team and make suggestions who should play - are you coach NO so stop complaining'

    All this posts are about peoples views on selection- and i wouldn't say i mentioned anything at all controversial......

    perhaps you should reply to the 50 other posts stating tindall and hape are a little fortunate to retain their place and conjecture of who should play (or where) in the back row. get a grip

  • Comment number 72.

    Strettle in as replacement, Lawes not even in 22 hmmm.

  • Comment number 73.

    Good shout plug monkey, I am wrong there, he does play 6 or 7 for Stade. I think he will eventually play there for England though unless Wood moves there for Northampton or Ben Morgan chooses to play for England - he looks a good prospect too.

  • Comment number 74.

    Anyone watched James Gaskell at Sale recently ? Just thinking of long term alternatives to Easter. Always thought he would make an international when I saw him a 18 months ago before his injury. I know he plays flanker / second row but he's big enough to play 8 and seemed to have a decent rugby brain on him (don't know if that qualifies or disqualifies him from consideration at No 8 !)

  • Comment number 75.

    Juan Pablo #68 - I disagree. 2003 has never remotely hampered England. Achieving the ultimate in the game is, and will, always be, a moment of huge pride and glory to all of English rugby. It proved that England teams can beat the best; it catalysed interest in the game; and it made sure the RWC isn't viewed as a 3-team event every 4 years.

    What hampered England was the quality of some players and coaches used AFTER 2003. The dross churned out 2004-2007 was not the fault of the World Cup. Living up to history is not a valid excuse for playing poor rugby.

    Much of the current team's most exciting talent is aged 22-25 - impressionable teenagers when we won in 2003, now intent on matching that achievement (another plus of the WC win). 2011 is a little early, but I don't doubt that in 2015 England will be very, very close to World Cup number 2...

  • Comment number 76.

    Hate to be pedantic but under the photos it refers to Wales beating England in the 6 nations. Pretty sure in 1999 it was the 5 nations!

  • Comment number 77.

    #61 plugmonkey
    not driving at the point that the centre partnership I suggested should be tried out now, more a what if moment that Johnson could've played with in a few early tests against lesser nations early on perhaps, but consistent selection is definitely more preferable than off the cuff match ups for important games, I quite agree.
    Just thinking, any players that anyone reckons were unlucky not to make the squad based on performances this season? I'd reckon Tuilagi, Varndell (defensive worries aside, plugmonkey), Myler (as a squad player), Dowson, SimpsonDaniel. Also watch out for a possible return for a certain Mr. Cipriani. He's been doing pretty well for the Rebels of late.

  • Comment number 78.

    Another name to throw into the back row mix. Assuming he can shed a few pounds, what about Steffon Armitage?

    He needs more game time but he's one of the best I've seen at turning the ball over in contact and is learning to add a bit of dog to his game. Also has gas over a short distance and better ball distribution than his brother.

  • Comment number 79.

    I agree completely with this blog. This team has a very long way to go to stand comparison with 2003.

    I don't agree though that hardly any of this team would have got into that one, even leaving aside the fact that this is a much more professional outfit for obvious reasons. I'm never quite sure how well you can compare players from two such different eras.

    I know that they are legends because of what they acheived but the way I remember it was that Thompson was always a bit suspect as a thrower, I'd have said the same about Hartley before this year but not now. Woodman was a very good player but great? the same for Cohen, Lewsey, Kay and possibly even Dawson.

    Would Back have been so outstanding without Hill alongside him. My recollection of 2003 was that when Hill was missing even Dallaglio seemed considerably less than his usual self.

    As for the current team I think Croft is as good as anyone, Youngs has the potential to be at least as good as Dawson though I agree he's not there yet. Foden clearly isn't as good as Robinson but my recollection is the Robinson was always a better winger than fullback so maybe I'd go with Foden.

    Wilkinson's still here but Flood keeps him out of the team. I agree that we don't often see the creativity we saw from Wilko pre 2003 but that may be because of the way England use him. Tindall is still as strong as ever though a good bit slower, his passing was always inconsistant though.

  • Comment number 80.

    Forgot to mention I'd have Sheriden if fit and maybe Laws from the current team.

  • Comment number 81.

    Regarding comparisons with the 2003 side, it is difficult as I actually think that team was 18 months past it's best, however we are unlikely to see the like of a couple of the special players in that side again. The rugby skills of Richard Hill are unsurpassed by any other player I've seen (McCaw and Kronfeld included). It's no real surprise that the SH sides literally knocked him out of 2 lions tours. While Greenwood provided that certain something different, How many uncapped players get selected for the lions? not a large number. Finally Robinson- quite literally the guy set a standard that no-one else will match. Lethal one on one.

    This side has got some potential to be sure- doing the things all good English sides do well. It needs three or four to step up and be considered the best in the world in their position- At the moment we have no Parisse, Harinordiquoy, McCaw, Matfield or O Driscoll in this side.

    An England on the up and and Ireland on the way down- it's all about how far England have risen and how far Ireland have fallen. I think it's going to be home advantage that calls it because if the game were at Twickenham, I'd be favouring England

  • Comment number 82.

    CHW - I can understand the reference to Nathan Grey's elbow in 2001 but are you suggesting that the All Blacks deliberately injured Hill's knee in 2005? Sounds like a bit of victim mentality there.

    Hill was the best #6 of the last 10 years but still wasn't in the class of Michael Jones. I'm not sure that comparing him to 2 out and out #7s is appropriate as he had a very different skill set.

    Why does the 2011 England rugby union team have to be compared to any other England rugby team? Why hark back to the past? Just because Dallaglio loves talking about how good he was doesn't mean it's remotely relevant to the bunch of guys playing tomorrow.

  • Comment number 83.

    #77. rainbowflashyboots

    I agree with some of your assessment of unlucky players however, I take huge exception to:

    "Also watch out for a possible return for a certain Mr. Cipriani. He's been doing pretty well for the Rebels of late."

    The Rebels are woeful. They got minced last night 53-3, and rest assured, when the injured Hilgendorf returns - Cipriani WILL be dropped. Here is why - quote from Rugby365:

    "As a result the Rebels had very little ball, and for the umpteenth time this season, when they did have quality possession, Cipriani opted to kick it away in promising situations.

    The Englishman's decision-making has proved to be repeatedly poor throughout the season, and his grubber when in Reds territory sparked a counter-attack from their own 22-metre area."


    "The typifying moment of the match came during the Reds' fifth try, Genia making easy yards around the ruck and from the ensuing phase Cipriani refused to make a tackle on centre Michael Harris. That showed the commitment Cipriani has offered, and that's seeping through the rest of the squad"

    Rest assured, Cipriani is not standing out in a poor team - he is dragging an entire team down to his low levels.

    Cold reading is a technique used by Psychics (bear with me). Basically they throw a lot of tripe at someone, and eventually they will stumble on a truth. At this point the victim psychologically ignores all the misses and focusses on the hit. Ask the victim afterwards, and they will claim that the Psychic got everything right - in reality its more like 20% which is gleaned from cunning techniques at vulnerable victims.

    Its the same with peoples insistence on Cipriani being good - For whatever reason, they do not compute all the horrible parts of his play and focus on the one good thing - like his recent 'amazing' try for the Rebels. Those sensible and knowledgeable are not taken in by this - impressive as the try was, sensible folk cannot rule out the massive amount of tripe he has consistently offered up.

    Cipriani has to improve rapidly and an awful lot before he can be considered good enough to even go near the Saxons!

  • Comment number 84.

    Over confident Engalnd being ripped to shreds by a very up for it Ireland. The writing was on the wall last weekend that this England side are over hyped, but Scotland were just not good enough to capitolize on it.
    This could very well be another fales dawn for the Guffies.

  • Comment number 85.

    I do not understand the English mentality! They show fantastic services but at crucial moments, they show 30% less than they can. Whether rugby, football or whatever. Instead of enjoying his great abilities and to reach the top covered with joy, they anxiously into himself and throw away the success without hardship. such as how a 1500-meter runner who has 200 yards from the finish line 20 meters ahead and instead of Joy to run to the finish and to enjoy the victory, he looked anxiously around, he says must "catched" continue and will always be slower, it can be cramped and centimeter pass before the finish. Sorry but that is stupid! Although I know that the English have something left for tragic stories but that must not be true.

  • Comment number 86.

    Arrogant Ashton anon for the second week in a row. Wonderful to see.

  • Comment number 87.

    Ashton aint so good against the better teams. he was rubbish last week and was worse today..

    and BANA...who??? donkey...Ireland ran at him my granny moves sideways better.
    people will say oh england played badly,, its allabout how well you are allowed to play ..

  • Comment number 88.

    Ashton and the England back three have been talked up since their Australian tour last summer. Yes he - Ashton can score - but he was nothing special against Scotland and totally outclassed in the Dublin today. He also seems to be easily wound up when things not going his way... as is Hartley.
    Banahan is not the solution for England's centre problems longterm he is one dimensional and tents to lead with his forearm and it only a matter of time before he gets caught for foul play.
    The past two weekends have shown us that there is not much between any of these Six Nations sides... nothing to trouble the SH in September/October in NZ that's for sure.

  • Comment number 89.

    #83 tinoflyer
    Fair enough assesment of Cipriani. I haven't seen huge amounts of him of late but for his try against the Sharks and the game against the Brumbies where he did play well, especially his kicking, but if he has been performing poorly on the whole, as it seems he has from what you say, then I'd agree with you. I never rated him previously when there was the clamour for him to be in the side when he played at Wasps. His decision-making has always been poor and has a propensity for poor kicking from hand, charge downs in autumn internationals a couple years back being a case in point. I did however think that he may have been starting over in Australia with some success from what I'd seen, however this appears not to be the case obviously!
    As a Scot, I've remained fairly impartial thus far but I did laugh a little seeing England fall short on Saturday. Good team but need to sort out a couple of positions, most notably bring some invention into their centre partnership and definitely get rid of Easter! The world cup just isn't within their reach this time around I don't think.


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