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England pack on war footing

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Ben Dirs | 10:08 UK time, Thursday, 8 September 2011

When it comes to pre-tournament squad announcements, it is sometimes best not to spring to judgement and instead take a deep breath and summon the words of Billy Bragg, the Bard of Barking: "How can you lie there and think of England when you don't even know who's in the team?"

When Martin Johnson named his 30 for the tournament in New Zealand, much of the criticism - and it came thick and fierce - centred on an apparent lack of flair and guile in the three-quarters, with Shontayne Hape seemingly a shoo-in at inside-centre alongside the equally one-dimensional Mike Tindall. Meanwhile, Bath battering ram Matt Banahan was apparently one injury away from making the starting XV. As one wag put it, their combined turning circles would rival the Eddie Stobart fleet.

What a difference a couple of warm-up matches make. Livewire displays from the 20-year-old Manu Tuilagi, who scored tries against Wales and Ireland, and Delon Armitage, in from the cold after missing the Six Nations because of a ban, mean rapiers outnumber cudgels in the England back-line for their World Cup opener against Argentina on Saturday. In the case of Tuilagi, you could say he goes into battle with one in each hand.

England's Manu Tuilagi, Delon Armitage and Ben Foden

Three of England's back talents, Manu Tuilagi, Delon Armitage and Ben Foden prepare for Argentina. Photo: Getty

Indeed, with Jonny Wilkinson picked ahead of Toby Flood at fly-half - something no England opponents want to see, which makes it the correct decision - England now appear to have most angles covered behind the scrum: not exactly a back-line of all the talents, but solid-enough in defence and canny-enough to spot mistakes and land with a counter-punch.

That said, England boss Martin Johnson could be forgiven for looking somewhat baffled that most of the pre-match interest surrounded his decision to replace the injured Mark Cueto with Armitage. He did not actually say it, but you could imagine the thought bubble above his head: "Not sure why you're all that bothered, Delon will hardly touch the ball anyway."

Argentina's forwards are as tough as dry beef and every bit as difficult to chew on, which is why members of England's pack seemed so alive to the threat. "They're going to be full-on from the start but we're going to match them and we're going to beat them and that's all there is to it - we have to," said Courtney Lawes. "I don't mind a scuffle every now and again," added the Northampton lock, before falling back into line and extolling the importance of discipline.

"That will certainly be at the forefront of everyone's mind, what's going to be coming at them from the start," said number eight Nick Easter. "We've got to match that intensity." Added prop Dan Cole: "They bring a lot of passion and experience to the game which we've got to match, if not top. As you saw when they beat France four years ago, you come unstuck if you don't match them for passion."

For many in the Argentine pack, which is not much different from the one that led the Pumas to third-place at the 2007 World Cup, New Zealand represents one last hurrah and victory over England could mean avoiding the All Blacks in the quarter-finals. Which is why Mario Ledesma, Rodrigo Roncero and Co will come at their England counterparts like iron filings to a particularly powerful magnet.

"I suppose it makes it a bit easier for me if I know they're going to try and run over me instead of round me," said Lawes, smilingly realistic. Armitage, meanwhile, was talking about him and his mates "expressing" themselves out in the backs. Sorry, Delon, but prepare yourself for an aerial shelling: very much a case of "express this..."


Dunedin, New Zealand

The Otago Stadium dominates the skyline of scenic Dunedin. Photo: Getty


My cab driver from Dunedin airport might have sounded a bit like Lara Bingle from those Tourism Australia ads - "So where the bloody hell are ya?" - were it not for the fact he was a middle-aged Brummie and had a face that resembled an old-fashioned, tan leather rugby ball. Flaccid.

Dunedin is often described as "unhurried" - a city of 110,000 souls, my cabbie conceded it had not altered much in the 40 years he has been here - but you might have thought the Rugby World Cup would stick a rocket up its backside and put a spring in its step.

But, as yet, the expected invasion of England and Argentina fans has yet to take place and Dunedin is as Dunedin always was - "generous to explorers who are after something a little less intense", or so says my pristine edition of the Lonely Planet.

That is not to say there is not a mild hum about the place. The very nice lady who runs the guesthouse where I am staying greeted me with the words "you Poms have got no chance", while our cabbie friend regaled me with the following story which wonderfully sums up the relationship New Zealanders have with their national sport.

"I picked this old woman up from the hospital a few months back and she told me her old man had just had his leg amputated," said our cabbie. "Obviously, I didn't really know what to say. But before I could muster a 'blimey, very sorry to hear that', she came back with: 'what do you think about the Highlanders' new strip? I think it's a disgrace...'"

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Wish I was there... lucky git. Have a good one everyone.

  • Comment number 2.

    Got to say biggest suprise to me in terms of personel change since 6ns is Palmer not making the side as he was arguably our best and most consistent forward over the previous 12 months.

    Decent side though and I dare say our 2nd rows will all get plenty of game time we have a pretty physical group against forward dominanted teams

  • Comment number 3.

    I think that the inclusion of Deacon is to add some beef to the pack and Lawes is there to be the 'enforcer', with Palmer to make an equally athletic cameo with 25-30 mins to go.

    Am looking forward to the 1st clash between the front rows. Ledesma vs Thompson will be the best battle to watch, to narled old hookers at the peak of their powers going head to head.

    Also the Sheridan and Cole vs Roncero and Figallo fight will be good.

    As a front row I can't wait!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    No real surprises in this selection, although I would not have picked Wigglesworth. He was very ordinary in the warm up matches. Ben Youngs may be less experienced but he has a lot of talent. He was excellent in the Six Nations and played a key role in our success there.

    Having said that I think this team will do fine. I'm glad Johnson has woken up and realised we needed a bit more flair. Playing bully-boy tactics is not going to win us the World Cup. Roll on Saturday!!

  • Comment number 5.

    Watched the Otago game in the new staduim and it looks amazing especially as it cost around £100million and completely covered as well. Too think that England doesn't have a signal covered staduim for rugby/football and we are playing in this gem does seem strange.

    Initially surprised by the Palmer exclusion however this is properly to do with the battles in the scrum rather than the lineout.

    More surprisingly is change Thompson/Hartley change, as I'd rather have Thompson coming on to make the important throws and important scrums rather than Hartley as personally I think this exceeds the energy which Hartley brings to the table with 30mins left.

  • Comment number 6.

    jon1200

    "Having said that I think this team will do fine. I'm glad Johnson has woken up and realised we needed a bit more flair. Playing bully-boy tactics is not going to win us the World Cup. Roll on Saturday!!"

    As much as I hate to say it but 'bully-boy tactics' is how you win the world cup. Its certainly how the last 2 have been won...England and South Africa battering through using the forwards and taking the points when they are on offer with the boot.

    I genuinely think we have a shot at this tournament and I like that Johnson is picking his team as per the opponent (well...it just so happens our 1st opponent is a physical team as well!) however, with only 2 stand-offs in the squad, he is putting a lot of faith in Wikinson being fit for 2 months!

    Come on England!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Viewfromverve - Yeh, the new stadium looks a beauty, the only problem being apparently it's like a greenhouse on a sunny day. To be honest, you'd have thought the architects would have thought of that. Also went past the old Carisbrook stadium - House of Pain? House of cards more like...

  • Comment number 8.

    Yeah don't disgagree that Deacon adds balance just based on where we've been the last 12 months wouldn't have expected it a few weeks ago and as I say Palmber will get plenty of game time to prove himself.

    Good to see Easter back given Moodys absence as brings a calm experienced head to the pack which will be needed against a pretty big unit in Argentina

  • Comment number 9.

    I was in Dunedin last year and saw the Highlanders against the Blues - even bought a match programme outside the door from Josh Kronfeld. It will be interesting to see how many actually turn up for the game in the light of the paltry crowd for that game.

  • Comment number 10.

    6.At 12:18 8th Sep 2011, TheEssexBat wrote:

    To be honest you can look back to 99 as well as that Aussie side had some great players in the backline (as did England 03 and SA 07) as well but the world cup win was based on a amazing defense.

    Not a suprise if you have the best pack and alround best team then in pressure games the way you will most consistently win is to sufocate the oppposition. England in 03 probably could have won playing the expansive game they played in 01 and 02 but they would have left to much room for error see the balls up Spencer made at the world cup agaainst Aus trying too much.

  • Comment number 11.

    Not a surprise about Deacon and not a surprise that Haskell is now apparently a 7.

    Some have argued that Moody has never been an out and out 7 - but this England management set up are stubborn, absolutely no devoid of creativity, and stuck in a world of rugby that most people no longer recognise.

    Lawes and Palmer were an amazing combination in the Autumn last year and Palmer went on to be one of the stand out players during the 6N. Deacon, who I don't think should be anywhere near this team, gets a nod probably due to his Leicester links. He is basically Borthwick without the captain's armband or lineout presence.

    As for the starting lineup. I knew our lack of out and out wingers would hit home at some point; however, I didn't realise our first selected 15 (which should represent the best England has to offer) has to resort to using a makeshift winger (4 tries in two seasons).

    I saw that Flutey, Robshaw, Brown, Sharples, Varndell, Dowson and others had stand out performances at the start of the premiership. Flutey in particular looked awesome.

    Strange times.

  • Comment number 12.

    I feel Deacon is very underrated. He was massive in the 6N, and ran a near flawless lineout. Palmer partnered him, and also was a standout. Lawes adds his considerable talent and dynamism, but may be best used off the bench for now. Deacon/Palmer is my preferred partnership, with Lawes coming on with 30 to go. For this game though, you can see why Deacon and Lawes' physicality has been preferred.

    Every Leicester fan knows it, that when Deacon starts for Leicester, everything just seems to run better. Without doing anything flashy, he just makes a team tick, by doing a shedload of the donkey work. Many players will tell you, he is the kind of player you love to play with, as he makes your job that bit easier.

  • Comment number 13.

  • Comment number 14.

    At 12:56 8th Sep 2011, Tinoflyer wrote:

    I saw that Flutey, Robshaw, Brown, Sharples, Varndell, Dowson and others had stand out performances at the start of the premiership. Flutey in particular looked awesome.

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

    I think many of us fall into the trap of seeing our club/regional players do well and assume that makes them international class. That problem will always apply to England because you just have so many players and the premiership is so hotly contested.

    Johnson knows the ins-and-outs of international rugby better than anyone, I'd trust him to pick those who can handle the added pace, pressure, intensity and competition of the world stage.

    As for EssexBat and RRR, you win cups by playing cup rugby, that means playing the percentages - any player or coach at junior or grassroots level knows that, surely it applies to the RWC too?

  • Comment number 15.

    Ben, great to see you are giving commentary on the World Cup again, really enjoyed yours and Ben Fordyce's blog in 2007 - was it really 4 years ago, seems like only yesterday I was heading to France via the Eurotunnel!

  • Comment number 16.

    How Deacon ever made the 30 is beyond me. Palmer has been brilliant alongside Lawes. I cannot understand why the second row is not Lawes/Palmer.

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi Ben,

    Informative and funny blog as always. I also like the fact that you generally respond to our comments, which I'm about to test......

    Before that though; I'm so glad that Jonny has been reinstated in the starting 15, he's been playing some fantastic rugby over the last couple of years.

    His defence, dictating of the play and of course goal kicking ability gives a real edge, in comparison to Flood. I think his attitude and experience really adds to the England team particularly in a 'backs against the wall' period of the game, which I don't believe Floody gives. For me Toby is a great player but I'm nervous watching him, unlike wilko.

    One final question though for Mr Dirs - Are you still in shape or has it all gone the way of fry ups, fish & chips and pints of lager?? I can't imagine you kept up the punishing regime of a few months ago, but are you somewhere in the middle?

  • Comment number 18.

    I know I should be very, very , very excited about RWC 2011 BUT I'm sorry to be a Rugby Judas I just can't get excited over this year's event - a fair bit of been there, done that is creeping into the competion (after all we've played 3 friendlies against teams we always play), we've not long ago had the 6N and the domestic season starts off right now (and I'm thinking about going back to see the Falcons for their Premiership swansong before relegation and franchising) and then there's the fact it's in NZ and whatever way you put it that's just not friendly timing except on a weekend and I'm skint LOL.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think the England pack will struggle againt the Argentina pack...but after 30 mins the fitter team will start to dominate...and with Argentina only having played 1 international in the last 11 months...England will run to an easy victory.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ben,
    Is there to be no re-run of the Dirs/Fordyce battle bus from France '07 ???? You are in the land of the camper-van, after all.....

    Have you guys fallen out or something...?

  • Comment number 21.

    Re: no 17) The Jaw - Feel it's my duty to point out that Ben is currently asleep in NZ, but give it 5 or 6 hours and no doubt he will answer some of your comments.

    To those of you wondering why Deacon has been selected ahead of Palmer, I'd just point out - as I have on my own blog recently - that Deacon was the one calling the line-outs in the Six Nations, and England only lost a handful during the whole tournament. It's harsh on Palmer as an individual, who has been outstanding for England over the last year, but suspect there will be different combinations during the tournament according to the opposition. It was Lawes and Palmer last summer and autumn, and Deacon and Palmer in the Six Nations when Lawes was injured. But this is the first time all 3 of them have been fit at the same time. Interesting selection, but with Shaw also waiting in the wings, certainly an area of strength for England.

  • Comment number 22.

    Nice to see a BBC sports journo giving a surreptitious plug for the BBC-owned Lonely Planet guidebook series. No ethical questions about possible misuse of licence payers' fees there then...

    Just hope you're going to give Rough Guides a similar plug in your next blog.

  • Comment number 23.

    For me there are just too many question marks in too many areas of the pitch for England to compete against the best. The lack of a specialist 7 means that they'll struggle at the breakdown. Much has been said about the midfield, but with the only dedicated 12 in Hape performing poorly, and so much apparently resting on the shoulders on young Tuilagi, who is yet to be tested against southern hemisphere opposition, there are still a few uncovered angles in my book. Also, given that we've only taken one in-form specialist winger, in Chris Ashton, to the tournament as well, there isn't much of a threat out wide as there really should be.

    England always seem to be able to "Front-up", as the expression goes, when up against it, but are never consistent enough. But if they're to win the tournament they'll probably have to beat Argentina, Scotland, France, Australia and NZ, I can't see this squad overcoming every since one of those teams without putting in a poor performance.

  • Comment number 24.

    I am not a fan of Haskell. For me he has poor hands and in past has been too much of a glory hound. Good in last 20 minutes but not willing to do the hard graft for the first 60 mins.

    He is clearly an improved player over last 12 months but is still not world class. He should be a number 8 but by way of a simple test, if he were Irish he would be 3rd choice (at best) as a number 8 which shows how much work he still has to do.

    For me the interesting issue is open side flanker. The traditional ground grubbing open side seems to have gone out of fashion with Martyn Williams being just about the last exponent in northern hemisphere. Now opensides are just blind sides (or vice versa). I hope the fashion changes back.

    However I think the English back row has the wrong balance. I would have gone for Wood, Croft and Haskell. Speed, huge line out presence and with Wood and Croft there would be real dynamism at break down (particular as Lawes is especially brutal and quick in this area). What we would have lost is the ability that Easter brings to drive hard and close to breakdown and scrum but Sheridan, Deacon, Thompson can all do that (obviously not off base of scrum) and Lawes and Haskell give you options once channel further out. Easter would be a good choice for a wild, wet and muddy game but anything else and you want more pace than he can bring.

  • Comment number 25.

    The games against Argentina and Scotland are the big ones. We can afford to put a reserve pack out in the other games in the group and we don't want our top players knackered before the quarter finals against NZ or France. The important thing is to keep all our backs on the pitch for as long as poss so we can get some fluency.

  • Comment number 26.

    Nice post Ben.

    It's been interesting to see Jonno having the right selection forced on him by circumstance - Cueto seems to have been losing speed alarmingly over the last couple of seasons, never better shown than when he failed to back himself in a sprint for the line after his interception in Dublin. Okay guile, good defence and security under the high ball are qualities you might trade off against raw speed, but I think we should have been further along in finding someone to take over from him than we are.

    Like many others I was angry and frustrated to see Flutey set his stall out at Twickenham last Saturday, reminding us what we're missing in NZ, and how devoid of creativity we remain in midfield. I'd never miss anyone ill, but if Hape were to pick up a serious injury, I think our squad strength would be improved immeasurably if Flutey were to replace him.

    And then there's Moody - apparently we're now copying the Davis Cup policy and having a non-playing captain. In RWC 2003 Hillda did a hammy and we all counted the days until his return. No disrespect to Lewis, but Hillda he ain't; much better surely to have bitten the bullet and taken another openside to NZ - one who'll be able to play every game.

    I think we'll win on bodycount on Saturday and on points, but it won't be pretty, and we could pick up some injuries to key players - let's pray one of them isn't JW.

  • Comment number 27.

    "Lawes and Palmer were an amazing combination in the Autumn last year and Palmer went on to be one of the stand out players during the 6N. Deacon, who I don't think should be anywhere near this team, gets a nod probably due to his Leicester links. He is basically Borthwick without the captain's armband or lineout presence."

    Can't agree with this comment on Deacon. He's become a real 'tractor' lock - more in the mould of Botha for SA, and every rugby team needs that sort of player to prosper. Palmer is a very good player also - in fact, this 22 is the best fielded by England since 2003.

    I'd like to see a bit more nous in the back row (2003 was exceptional here) but generally that is a great squad. The weakest area (centres) has, in the last couple of games, become a real strength, and that can only augur well for the team.
    I thought that Ashton was quiet against the Irish; let's hope he can recover his vavavoom, and that it has not been knocked out of him in recent months...

    Its all looking good at the moment.

  • Comment number 28.

    Deacon and the back row have been picked for the confrontation up front. Wood would have been a nice choice but, to use the boxing analogy, pound for pound this England team is better than the Argentine team. We need to guard against complacency (not a problem with Johnno in charge) and we need to control nerves to execute well under pressure.

    It will go one of two ways. If the pack can get some go forward, quick ball I could see this England back line cut loose and really express themselves. If we allow the Pumas to slow up the ball then prepare yourselves for eighty minutes of trench warfare (resulting in an English win that leaves everyone complaining again about our lack of creativity).

    And as for Grand Falcon Railroad- I reckon you'll be up for it come half nine on Saturday morning. COME ON ENGLAND!

  • Comment number 29.

    P.S. Can we please try this time to not turn this blog/forum into another Scotland vs. England "all your players are foreigners" wind up merchant slug fest. It got really boring the last time...

  • Comment number 30.

    Good to hear from you Mr Dirs — shame the Bloggernaut hasn't made it from 2007.

    I think you are a little kind on Tuilagi's handling skills... he is very fast, powerful, hungry for the ball and spots a chance but his passing his worse than Tinds.

    Still its pretty much the best backline possible from the 30. I'd like to see Simpson in the mix as his pace keeps flankers honest and buys time for those outside but he never got a run out and Wigglesworth certainly does hos job.

    Forwards - the only problem is the old chestnut of not having an out an out 7. I think Easter is a decent call for this kind of game - control, brains, deft hands and mean mauling. He will be exposed against quicker 8s later in the tournament though.

    Anyway, have a good time. I'd certainly like to be out there!

  • Comment number 31.

    Its a massive shame Juan Hernandez isnt playing in the tournament. Hes my favourite foreign player. Hes got that touch of genius. Argentina will miss him bigtime.

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm a bit disappointed with our starting 15.

    I would of had Hartley over Thompson, Stevens over Cole, Palmer over Deacon, Youngs over Wigglesworth, Wood at no.7 and Haskell at no.8. Easter on the bench.

    I think Hartley and Stevens will make a big impact when they come on though. Youngs isn't 100% fit if he isn't starting but we will not win the world cup with a joe average scrum half. Wigglesworth was ordinary in the warm ups and it was a joke that he got 3 box kicks charged down.

  • Comment number 33.

    Sorry guys, but where is the flair in this lot?

    This is going to be a forwards dominated, Jonny W kicking affair. England might score a try or two in the last 10 minutes when their lesser opponents are out on their feet. Sadly, I think the pumas are too old and without too many key players to make it too interesting.

  • Comment number 34.

    The problem with Deacon is that he is a plodder. Tractor like is very apt. The only reason he makes the squad has to be the Leicester connection. Play like Leicester - you may win the premiership, but not the Heneiken Cup. England should be playing like Northampton.

    It's also a shame not to see Dowson, Flutey and Simpson-Daniel not making the squad. I hope we don't resort to playing stuff it up your jumper rugby as we did in 2007.

  • Comment number 35.

    GingerMogwai (14) I admire your optimism - but I do not think that this coaching team understands modern rugby. The game has moved on massively in recent years. Our forwards play to an old type gameplan, our centres play a very basic game.

    This team fits this coaching set up. This coaching set up is happy with a simple game plan devoid of creativity, wear the opponents down and kick penalties.

    Problems such as forwards taking the ball still, not being able roll a maul, not be able to score from 5m out and not opening gaps with loads of possession is not a sign of being in touch with modern rugby.

    That said, the world cup can lend itself to this form of rugby.

    I don't think we have the right coaching team, and I don't think we have the right set of players.

    However, given the coaches I think this is the right set of players to deliver the rather negative rugby.

    As for players performing well for clubs, well Hape didn't for Bath, Tindall had a fairly subdued one also, Deacon has never been outstanding and Haskell never played at 7.

    I read today that Johnson said that Flood is in form - anything but.

    I still think we can make the final and with a bit of luck win it. But this is a fragile team - because it is a fragile gameplan, it is one dimensional - when it doesn't work - god help us.

  • Comment number 36.

    jon1200 - I guess Johnson has gone for Wigglesworth because Youngs is so short of competitive rugby and they didn't want to risk him in this one. He'll be chucked into the mix when things start opening up a bit.

    The Colonel - Yeh, I get the impression the locals were expecting a mass invasion of English, but I haven't seen any evidence of that yet. Saying that, give them time...

    GingerMogwai - I think you might have inadvertantly hit on why England consistently play such limited rugby - coaches at junior level playing "percentage" rugby? Coaches at junior level should just be telling kids to run about and chuck the ball around, "percentages" shouldn't come into it.

    jackcowper - I reckon Deacon/Lawes is a horse of courses pick, Johnson wants a couple of blokes in there who'll win the physical battle up front.

    TheJaw - In shape? Hmmm. Depends what you mean by that - I'ml 11 and a half stone, which I was at the end of the programme (I was down to 11 stone at one point, which was way too small) but I've let the fitness slip a bit...

    Nayim - Yeh, that's right, I think they should have Lonely Planets in every bedside cabinet, like what they used to have with the Gideon Bible.

    HotButteredCrumpet - Alas, no, there will be no Bloggernaut this year. Tom? Tom? Why did you never call? We haven't fallen out, have we?

    Justin150 - Yeh, I kind of agree about Haskell, he doesn't strike me as a classic open-side, and I'm not sure about Easter at number eight. Together in the back row, they look a bit upright and lacking in sparkle. Interesting to hear Dallaglio saying Haskell could be the world's best number eight. Not sure about that, but better there than on the flank - although he probably would have been there had Moody not been injured.

    The Holy Hooker - Yeh, I have to agree about Cueto (although, to be fair, I think he was carrying a knock when he intercepted that ball against Ireland). He's never really had much gas and it is an indictment of English rugby that they haven't been able to find someone else.

  • Comment number 37.

    Ben Dirs

    I hear what you are saying. But other than for 40 minutes in the 2nd half against France I cannot remember Deacon have an above average game. Although his line out is good.

    Palmer has been outstanding. This selection just does not make any sense to me.

    If we do badly at this world cup, I'd like to see Jim Mallinder offered the England job.

  • Comment number 38.

    #22: Keep your hair on, he even had a dig at his Lonely Planet as 'pristine', ie he hardly uses it. Even if you work for Rough Guides surely you have more important things to worry about.

    Agree with most of the posters on the perplexing lack of an openside flank, will be interesting to see how the breakdowns go. Can't see England getting past France with this lineup if they meet in the knockout stages.

    Group D is going to be brutally physical - if Wales make it out of the clashes with SA, Fiji and Samoa without too many injuries they will have done well!

  • Comment number 39.

    "He's never really had much gas and it is an indictment of English rugby that they haven't been able to find someone else."


    There have been plenty down the years, Varndell, Sackey, Ojo, Strettle, KSD and Monye just to name a few. They all have gas and yet they still go back to Cueto. Maybe because they realise there is more to wing play than just being fast.

    Not an indictment at all.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think Englands lack of wings could be a problem, though in my opinion Armitage brings more to the Team than Cueto in attack.

    I was shocked by Palmer being on the bench, but if Deacon is the man running the lineouts I can see that call (as long as they give Palmer decent time on the pitch).

    Haskell as a 7? More of an 8 but has not become quite the player he could have become.

    Our tight 5 look good, and back row have promise. Just need to get our tactics right. So many times we have watched Care pass slow ball to forwards in the 22 when we should be stretching the defense out wide then hitting up the middle!

    Should be a good game, lets hope England put in a good win to get us off on the right foot!

  • Comment number 41.

    @39: Cueto has never seemed the quickest, but at times he just seems to gluide past defenders, like he rubbed himself up in butter! That said his try scoring record is a little worrying.

  • Comment number 42.

    Obviously the World Cup is New Zealand's to lose. Here's my take on how strong they are... https://samhopwood.blogspot.com/2011/09/all-black-world-cup.html

  • Comment number 43.

    The Cueto situation is an indictment of the senior teams selection policy - not the English game. There are loads of good, even excellent wingers (JSD), who just haven't been given a chance. Not even a sniff.

    Consistency of selection has been the mantra and its meant Cueto being selected game after game after game - irrespective of opposition or context. Nobody has had a look in and now he is injured.

    Still I'm very glad its Armitage who has the nod.

    PS Maybe best for me to leave the selection moaning behind now.

  • Comment number 44.

    England's efforts must be focused on their squad depth rather than individual brilliance which is the case with some of the southern hemisphere sides. We have a decent balance of youth and experience and with Tuilagi and Lawes in the side we have something a little different to combine with the solidarity of Wilkinson and Tindall.

    For more please read: https://wp.me/p1b961-89

  • Comment number 45.

    @43: Hookers_armpit After the WC, irrespective of the result do you think it would be an interesting idea to flood the England set up with new players who are up and coming (some out of the U20 squad) so by next world cup we have youth and experience in every player!

  • Comment number 46.

    Since openside play has been raised more than once, i thought I'd post this link, which covers it quite nicely:

    https://www.rugbyspectator.com/2011/07/dying-art-openside/

  • Comment number 47.

    jackcowper-so Deacon is picked in the starting line up because he plays for Tigers? What a load of rubbish. If that was the case Flood would be starting and Chuter would be in the team.

    The fact is Deacon is an excellent lineout opertor and has a good work rate. Dont forget he was part of the 2nd row combination that won the 6N and played a big part in the win in Dublin

    Play more like Northampton? why

  • Comment number 48.

    Saying don't play like Leicester as they haven't won the HEC recently. So play like Northampton and win... nothing... *facepalm*

  • Comment number 49.

    Tallshort

    Northampton did very well until they lost there International players. They also made it to the final of the HEC. Remember Deacon was also part of a side that got absolutely trashed in Dublin in during the 6N with a very anonymous performance. Your point about Flood and Chuter is accepted.

    DT, what did Leicester manage to win last year then?

    Be interesting to see how Northampton do this year with a much stronger squad. By the time they played the HEC final they had run out of steam.

  • Comment number 50.

    And so was Palmer who I actually rate but Deacon deserves his place and he has got it on merit not by being a Leicester old boy.

    Didnt Leicester beat Northampton in the play offs......

  • Comment number 51.

    Why England should play like Northampton...

    Because they are the closest in playing styles to the SH teams if you watch New Zealand, Austrailia the way they are dynamic and play a much more skill based game and Northampton can grind games out too as they showed in France last year in the HEC. Northampton have so much more variety to their game and are a lot more entertaining.

    If you were to ask Leinster or Munster who they would like to play ie Norhampton or Leicester they will say Leicester every time because they are a lot more predictable.

  • Comment number 52.

    Think thats your personal opinion not one shared by Leinster or Munster.

    "and are a lot more entertaining."

    That doesnt win world cups.....

  • Comment number 53.

    Tallshort

    This blog would be very boring if we all agreed.

    Let's hope England do well tomorrow and in the tournament. Cheers. :O)

  • Comment number 54.

    Very true!

    Cheers

  • Comment number 55.

    Just thought, what a great question this would be for say Paul O'Connell:

    Who do you like playing against the least - Lawes, Palmer or Deacon?

  • Comment number 56.

    The main issue with the RWC is there are very few one sided games, the lower ranked teams up their game due to considerable more time spent together than in none RWC years and the passion they have for the game. It is also the best market place in rugby to be spotted with players from across the world on display to the world, a couple of good performances even in a losing team will have the scouts drawing up contracts.

    As shown today with Tonga pulled back NZ who in a non RWC game would be expecting to put 80 past them.

    This is why you need players who are use to the dogfight that RWC matches become where a mistake could cost you a place in the tournament.

    I would like to see a backrow of Croft, Wood and Easter as I thought that Wood was one of our best players in the 6nations, however can understand him playing Haskell instead as Wood didn't play much in the warm-up matches.

  • Comment number 57.

    I can't understand why there isn't more discussion about the hookers. After all, it's universally acknowledged that they are the most important players on the pitch. Scrums and lineouts can't function without them, they have primary responsibility for tidying up the inevitable scrum-half fumbles in the loose, they bust open the short side in attack or close it down in defence and they're usually the person who has to act as translator between the backs and the rest of the forwards. It may be coincidence that often they have the quickest wit, highest levels of fitness and best looks in the team but it may not be. So, less please about the other 14 who, let's be honest just make up the numbers (line out jumpers are little more than ballast for the hooker to aim at, for example) and more about hookers.

    Bring back Uli Schmidt and lets have more of Schalk Brits, that's what I say. (I'm not certain, but I kinda think they based their style of play on me).

 

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