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Tyro Tuilagi could be England's World Cup wildcard

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Bryn Palmer | 18:50 UK time, Thursday, 4 August 2011

Pennyhill Park, Surrey

The announcement of England’s team for their opening World Cup warm-up match against Wales on Saturday was not short of interesting storylines.

The return of Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey to the back division after long absences. Jonny Wilkinson starting at 10 for the first time since Murrayfield 2010.

Matt Stevens back in an England shirt for the first time since his two-year ban for cocaine use.

Lewis Moody’s return as captain after missing the Six Nations with injury. James Haskell starting at number eight.

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Tuilagi, 20, who won the Rugby Players’ Association young player of the year award, says he has made his peace with England team-mate Chris Ashton

But Martin Johnson’s decision to hand the 20-year-old centre Manusamoa Tuilagi his Test debut at Twickenham caused such a stir around their Bagshot training base that all these notable occurrences were relegated to mere side-show status.

Tuilagi may have only started 20 games of senior rugby with Leicester, but such has been his impact in those matches and during the last six weeks training with England, that Johnson now has a potential World Cup wildcard on his hands.

To hear Wilkinson, who will win his 86th cap on Saturday as he prepares for his fourth successive World Cup, extolling the virtues of the young player on Thursday was to believe that England have a very special specimen on their hands indeed.

“I have played rugby with Sonny Bill Williams over at Toulon and here with Manu and Matt Banahan, and these guys coming through now are the forces in world rugby,” the World Cup’s record points scorer told BBC Sport.

“Their time is now. It makes you realise that you are just one of the organisers who can conduct everything, but these are the guys that are pushing the boundaries. It is going to be an exciting next five to 10 years for rugby with these guys at the forefront. There are some incredible players out there.”

If Tuilagi’s physical attributes (6ft 1in, 16st 7lb) are not a secret, those who fear a tendency to switch off in some of his defensive duties may be a potential liability will be further encouraged by Wilkinson’s appraisal of a player who has lived in England since he was 13.

“Manu is big, strong and powerful and has the speed and skills to go with it,” Wilkinson added. “Mentally he is incredibly switched on as well.

"He doesn’t lapse in concentration or go missing for a minute. He is there all the time, having an impact on the game with his unique personality.

"He is confident, he looks to be at ease with everything. If you were going to build a rugby player, you would build it like that.”

The game may have changed since Wilkinson was considered the prototype rugby player 10 years ago, but that is still some compliment.

If Tuilagi, who was born in the Samoan village of Fatausi-Fogapoa, lives up to half the hype swirling around in his direction, then England will have cause to thank three local Leicestershire MPs, Edward Garnier, Keith Vaz and Andrew Robathan, for their contribution.

Along with the Tigers, the RFU and a local media and Facebook campaign, the trio successfully fought to overturn a Home Office ruling that Tuilagi, who arrived in the UK on a six-month holiday visa in 2004, should be deported.

While four of his five older brothers have represented Samoa, and Manu recently underwent a 14-hour procedure to have a huge tattoo representing his Samoan heritage applied to his right arm, he has pledged his allegiance to England, and is now firmly in the frame to make his considerable presence felt at the forthcoming global jamboree.

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England boss Martin Johnson explains some of his selections to face Wales (UK users only)

With only six of the same starting line-up (Cueto, Banahan, Corbisiero, Hartley, Palmer, Haskell) that began the final game of the Six Nations against Ireland, there is clearly an experimental air – much as Johnson dislikes the concept – to Saturday’s proceedings.

Much interest will also focus on Flutey, back in an England shirt for the first time since March 2010. While Johnson continues to defend the contribution of Shontayne Hape – “you talk to opposition coaches and they know what he does; it may not be eye-catching but it helps you win Test matches” – there was no disguising his enthusiasm over Flutey’s return.

The combination of Flutey’s footwork and vision with Tuilagi’s explosive power and offloading ability in midfield is clearly an enticing prospect.

Johnson also mentioned Flutey’s ability to play at 10, which may spell bad news for Charlie Hodgson’s hopes of travelling as a third fly-half, although the manager was quick to add a rider. “You have to take your best players, not take players because they can cover slots.”

Elsewhere, a strong display by the versatile Armitage, who gets a first start since the end of the 2010 Six Nations, should secure his seat on the plane to New Zealand after spending most of the second half of the season serving two different suspensions.

Haskell, who started his Test career at number eight four years ago, but has subsequently been used at six, and most recently at seven, now has the opportunity to show he can provide a more dynamic alternative to the incumbent Nick Easter.

Simon Shaw, 38 by the time the World Cup kicks off, and the South Africa-born Mouritz Botha, who has “not looked out of place” according to Johnson, look to be in a straight shoot-out if a fourth specialist lock is taken, although that is far from certain.

With Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton and Andrew Sheridan all on the way back from injuries or surgery, Danny Care, Banahan and Alex Corbisiero also have the opportunity to not just cement spots in the squad, but stake claims for a starting berth.

Johnson is in a happy position when he says “we could put out another equally strong 15 who are not playing”.

While many of those will no doubt feature in Cardiff next week, Saturday is the first chance for England fans to see the fruits of the squad’s summer labours.

“You can only keep training on the edge for so long,” Johnson noted. “Now is the time to play.”

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  • Comment number 1.

    MJ on Hape

    “you talk to opposition coaches and they know what he does; it may not be eye-catching but it helps you win Test matches”

    It didn't seem the sort of help they wanted at Bath this season as he coudn't get in the team and Geech has let him move on... he is a pedestrian, injury prone choice. The combination with Tindall is so lacking in an incisive edge that the big three will not lose any sleep worrying about playing England.

  • Comment number 2.

    “you talk to opposition coaches and they know what he does; it may not be eye-catching but it helps you win Test matches”

    I appreciate these comments about a forward but not one of the key play makers of the back line. It just doesn't cut it. You don't say that about world class 12s.

    No mention of Charlie Sharples getting himself onto the bench? This guy was good enough to get ahead of Strettle during his time in camp and brings a lot more to the table than Monye (can't believe he is back) in my book.

  • Comment number 3.

    People seem to forget Flutey was outstanding at 12 for us and had a stormer at 12 in the 3rd lions test. Very excited to see him line-up with Tuilagi. Glad to see Stevens back as well, he's a good option coming off the bench covering Sheridan and Cole.

  • Comment number 4.

    Glad they are mixing up the centres. Time for some one to show Hape and Tindall what can be done there.

    Brilliant to see Stevens back, and exciting at the thought of new a new wingers. Can Sharples finally push out dinosaur Cueto?

    On a minor point Dan Carter is leading world point scorer, not Wilko.

  • Comment number 5.

    @ Daverichallen

    It was for leading World Cup Points scorer....Jonny in first with 249 to Gavin Hastings in 2nd with 227.....

  • Comment number 6.

    Can't believe Anthony Allan has not made the extended squad at least. He makes Leicester tick (their best back last year) and would have been ideal for England at the World Cup. Oh well, maybe next time!

  • Comment number 7.

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

  • Comment number 8.

    Much as I'm excited to see Manu start, and for Flutey to be back (so long as he plays as he did for the lions, not how he came back after!) I'm still concerned that there is no place for Alex Goode, Andy Saull or Anthony Allan? Haskell did well(ish) at 7 in the 6Ns, but he still couldn't get an offer from a top club...Andy Saull was instrumental for Saracens, at 6 or 7, last season...Goode, this year, has been 30x the full back Armitage has (I appreciate he's had bans etc, but Goodes been brilliant), and Allan, as Jon mentions, has been great for Tigers this year...we'll see how Saturday goes. I'm glad sharples has a look in too, hopefully Monte can play as he did in 2009, but if not Sharples is definitely someone who can give us something!

    Oh! And Dave Attwood for the old man! ;)

  • Comment number 9.

    I see England has opted for a bunch of mercenaries. But will that prevent them from a fair old drubbing by the Welsh 15? I shall be there as a purely objective observer, but I have a feeling Johnson is still groping about trying to put together a decent enough team for the NZ World Cup.

  • Comment number 10.

    I don't see armitage getting that many games...foden is simply too good. tualagi (despite his outrageous behaviour against chris ashton) and flutey could hold the key to the 12/13 problem that has plagued england for so long. all other areas of the game are/have been sorted but during the 6 nations, the only weak area was creativity and attack from the back line, stemming from the centres. can't wait for the game this weekend!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    Re; No 1 and 2) Hookers_armpit Johnson also added about Hape: "His defence is very good and he takes you over the gain line". As you say, is that sufficient in a side with ambitions to win the World Cup? You'd think that would be the minimum requirement of a top-class centre. While you'd expect MJ to defend Hape, and he said he'd "be happy to go into a Test with both of them", I sense he's hoping Flutey shows the form he did in 2009. If so, it will be an interesting call whether he takes both of them or not. Could yet take Flutey, Hape, Tindall and Tuilagi, with only two fly-halves, and Banahan as the third winger. Remiss of me not to mention Sharples. With his versatility (can also play full-back), he could yet force his way into the back three options, though at this stage I'd say he's still an outside bet.

    Re; No 4= Daverichallen Thanks to No 5) ccrichie for already pointing out that I referred to Wilko (correctly) as the World Cup's leading points scorer. Carter, as you say, has overtaken - perhaps temporarily - Jonny as Test rugby's leading points scorer for time being.

    Re No9) matt-stone. Whatever your views on the make-up of the England team (two New Zealanders, one Samoan in Saturday's line-up, one South African on bench), I agree that England fans should not expect a similar sort of scoreline to previous World Cup warm-ups against Wales (43-9 win in Cardiff in 2003, 62-5 at Twickenham in 2007). This is a strong, more settled Welsh team, while England are blooding new combinations. A much closer affair you'd imagine.

  • Comment number 12.

    I can't believe so many people give Tindall such a hard time. I think his contribution to the England team is invaluable.

    Sure, he doesn't set the world on fire but he does what he does very well - he is strong, direct, reguarly gets over game line and even makes a few more breaks than he used to! I agree that his partnership with Hape doesn't work as they are two very similar players, but Tindall is the one who should be in the side.

    Also, don't underestmate the value of having such an experienced head in the centre of the park when potentially 5 of England's first choice back line (Youngs, Flood, Flutey / Hape / Tuilagi, Ashton and Foden) haven't played in a World Cup.

  • Comment number 13.

    Exciting times, perhaps England will have a more incisive midfield in the near future. For all the solidity in defence of the Tindall / Hape partnership, it's evident that it doesn't ooze the attacking threat of Nonu / Smith, or SBW / Freun (and Freun can't even get in the ABs squad!). A midfield of two from Tuilagi, Flutey and Banahan would make the other sides think about our attacking options a bit more - even if stick to the plan of shipping it out to the wings in one or two passes, there's always the chance of one of the centres now creating something.

    Sharples ahead of JSD & Strettle - may be due to resilience? Neither Sinbad nor Strettle have the greatest injury record, and MJ might not expect either of them to come through the tournament unscathed, leading him to look at another option. I'm sure Sharples is there on his own merit, mind you. Just a thought.

  • Comment number 14.

    I don't understand Armitage over Foden, I've never really seen the hype about him.

    I'm also not big on Nick Easter and would rather Brand Haskell for the WC, but I imagine I'm alone with that one. Hopefully Tindall and Cueto get the boot too. Too many pensioners in the England side, especially when you contrast with the likes of NZ and Aus. We need centers that can attack. I don't believe you need any experience in your 12-15, what so ever. You need people who can attack and play well. Experience in your forwards and halfs is another issue, I'm all for that(I'm not overtly opposed to Moody for example). But experience in centers, wings and fullbacks? Give over! You want kids who can set the world on fire with their ability. Tindall is just a passenger with a funny shaped nose.

    What happened to Joe Marler, does anyone know, is he still in the extended squad? If so, is he injured or just being overlooked or had bad end-of-season form?

    I'm also glad Tuilagi gets a shot. Not to open up a can of worms but I feel he was punished for the simple fact he's physically superior to 99% of Rugby players. If someone like Ronan O'Gara(trying to think of physically weak players) threw 3 punches at a bloke, nobody would bat an eyelid, because he can't punch his way out of a bag ;) Manu was seemingly punished not for his actions, but for the fact he can throw a decent punch! If he threw 3 girly punches it'd been laughed off.

    Rather opinionated I know but that's how I feel. Hope we tear Wales apart.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think the team picked is very very physical. As such it will be interesting to see where the creativity comes from in attack given there is no Youngs, Flood, Foden or Ashton. This side seems a step back from the attacking brand that MJ has been favouring of late and may come unstuck if Wales are able to get their attacking running rugby together. Seems to me that the points will come from dull old tactics of smashing it up the middle and then relying on good old Johnnie's boot once more. Sound familiar to 2007 ...

  • Comment number 16.

    I think the BBC have messed up on their website. Im trying to find the English team thats playing Wales but they seem to have put up a Barbarians team instead.
    Anyone know what the English team is?

  • Comment number 17.

    thought you might enjoy a bit of a viral going round - from a jock of course ---

    15. Delon Armitage born in Trinidad to Trinidadian parents.
    14. Matt Banahan born in Jersey to Jerseyian (??) parents.
    13. Manu Tuilagi. English through and through. Think his mum and dad ran a chip shop in Grimsby.
    12. Ricky Flutey is an out and out Kiwi.
    11. Mark Cueto. At last, an Englishman. (Although he could have played for Spain through his grandfather.)
    10. Johnny Wilkinson. Qualifies for France under residency rules.
    9. Danny Care. Hard core Yorkshireman.
    8. James Haskell. Qualifies for France through residency.
    7. Lewis Moody. Proper English.
    6. Tom Croft. Proper English.
    5. Tom Palmer. Qualifies for France under residency rules.
    4. Simon Shaw. Born in Kenya. Educated in Spain.
    3. Matt Stevens. Born in South Africa. Played for Springboks U18s and U19s.
    2. Dylan Hartley. Out and out Kiwi from Rotorua.
    1. Alex Corbisiero. Born in the USA. He was, born in the USA.

    I reckon that makes 7 proper Englishmen out of 15. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive. (Quote attributed to Shakespeare but is actually from Sir Walter Scott who coincidentally wasn't English either.)

  • Comment number 18.

    ""His defence is very good and he takes you over the gain line". As you say, is that sufficient in a side with ambitions to win the World Cup?"


    It may not be sufficient to win a world cup, but that's irrelevent isn't it, because up until now and for the last few seasons a 12 who has good defence and can get over the gainline is the best that England have been able to produce. As you say, I'm sure Johnson is hoping that the Flutey of 2009 turns up on Saturday and provides him with a viable alternative to Hape who can offer a bit more in terms of creativity in the 12 channel. But in Johnson and Hape's defence, we ain't exactly been bursting at the seams with world class 12's of late, and I - for one - genuinely believe that Hape has been the best of a very bad or wholely unproven bunch of options.

  • Comment number 19.

    It will be interesing on the next 3 weekends to see how each of the players react to having had a break and what form they are in.
    At the end of last season then both Flood and Youngs were looking tired and not performing at the level they had been previously, so there was an arguement that Wilkinson and Care were the form players. Likewise with Stevens probably being the standout prop by the end of the season (although the fact he only played half a season might account somewhat for this).
    In most positions then I feel there is real competition for places, which can only benefit England, however the one area of concern is in the centres. With Hape and Tindall then it puts alot of pressure on the halfbacks or the back 3 to inject the creativitiy and pace into the attack. Tindall and Hape are strong straight runners, which is fine if either the halfbacks make a break or they are used to ship the ball out quickly to Ashton / Foden / Cueto - the concern is better defences will nulify this by the backrow snaffling the halfbacks and opposition backs drifting across in defence squeezing the back 3's space as they aren't concerned by our centres pace / creativity.
    I tihnk there is a real opportunity for Flutey and/or Tuilagi to force their way into the squad and possibly team with some strong performances vs Wales and Ireland.
    Also, be interesting to see how the TriNation players cope with their schedule over the coming weeks. They have followed up a long Super 15 season, straight into Tri Nations then onto the World Cup whilst the majority of Nothern Hemisphere players have not played since May. I really think that tiredness and injuries will play a part come end of September / start of October at the business end of the tournament. Clearly they are favourites for 3 of the 4 semi final spots, but there could well be an opportunity for one of the Northern Hemisphere teams to take advantage of their long schedule, ie Ireland / Eng / France

  • Comment number 20.

    #17 - sherlock

    Thats the best post I have ever read :)

    and now picture all those foreign playes in a black jersey...what has happened to England.

  • Comment number 21.

    @Sherlock: Personally i don't see why people from a conglomeration of west of England counties don't want to play for their home country, but instead make up a mythical land of dragons which hasn't existed in anything but name since the 13th century. But we're all entitled to make up our own minds as to who we support!

  • Comment number 22.

    Sherlock - Actually Wilkinson, Palmer and Haskell do NOT qualify under residency rules. They've only been there for two years each. So pretty much REAL Englishmen (I assume we're playing by BNP rules).

  • Comment number 23.

    Just a note about Tuilagi. He came here at 13 and was coached, trained and developed by our coaches and came through our school and youth systems. I can't see why it is a problem for him to play for the country that developed him. Even if he wasn't any good at rugby he'd still be in England as his family brought him over for a better life and better education, not in some sort of RFU conspiracy.

    I think his case is very different to Flutey, Fourie, Botha, Hape etc. Who we didn't develop from youth level and probably wouldn't be playing for England if their country of birth had offered them the opportunity.

  • Comment number 24.

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

  • Comment number 25.

    of course Scotland never use any players that qualify for other countries....Wasnt their captain in 1990 an Englishman along with thier second row...

    Anyway back to important matters, Good side all in all and it will be good to see how the front row and centres get on, think Hodgson, Botha and Moyne are in the last chance saloon and unless they prove themselves (hard for Hodgson and Botha coming off the bench) on Saturday they will be back with their respective clubs come world cup time. I think Wales will really fancy this and its nice to see Gatland put out a good side and not cave in and start Henson who is in the squad to sell shirts.

  • Comment number 26.

    #24, that happened in 2004, it's even mentioned in Bryn's blog. He was 14 at the time.

    Get your facts right before you get righteous.

  • Comment number 27.

    under the photo it talks about him making his peace with England team mate Chris Ashton but no where in the article does it explain the comment so why make it?

  • Comment number 28.

    What about Tindall at 12 and Tuilagi at 13 - Tindall has a big boot and experience

  • Comment number 29.


    I think if you do your research you will find that it was last year he was nearly deported...because he was on the same holiday visa he got when he was 14.

    Get your facts right!


  • Comment number 30.

    james mathew......get a life mate

  • Comment number 31.

    Facts speak for themselves.

    Lets hope Tuilagi lives up to this huge expectation of being the next great English super star. It would be great if he was captain some day :) Im sure his brothers would get a good chuckle out of that.

  • Comment number 32.

    james mathew:

    Firstly, please learn to spell your name correctly. Secondly, why don't you pipe down with your bigoted tripe and go back to the BNP forum?! This article is about rugby.

  • Comment number 33.

    #17, not sure how much of your post is quoted from the viral you received and how much is your own words but can't help but notice your Nick Griffin-esque use of the term 'proper Englishmen'. A little depressing. Also slightly amusing if the original email came from a Jock. Any chance of us getting a reminder of the rules that qualify a person as a 'proper Englishman'? Weeps every time he spots a piccie of the Queen? Can trace his lineage back to Oswald Mosley? Reads the Daily Mail? And believes it?

  • Comment number 34.

    Thanks for reminding us all about the facts that you have so painstakingly researched in the cause of...well why ever it is you are doing it, now if you would let the adults discuss rugby I would be most grateful.

  • Comment number 35.

    I think England have a good team for Saturday. It will be nice to see some of the new combinations. Banahan on the wing will be interesting as thats most certainly a better suit for him then center.

    Wales I think will fall short...England by 15 points.

  • Comment number 36.

    @17 Sherlock - funniest post on here since the good old days of 606!

    Didn't realise the extent of foreigners that make up the England squad these days.

    Looking forward to Scotland v England on Oct 1st. Hopefully we'll both beat Argentina (as much as I admire them) to set up a winner takes all.

  • Comment number 37.

    Place of birth does not necessarily mean you are a foreigner. How many of those guys born outside the UK (Jersey is in the UK), have English parents?

    My brother was born in NZ (to English parents) and lived there for 10 years. Try and tell him he's a Kiwi, it won't be a pleasant reply.

    Colin Charvis was born in England. Does that mean he was a foreigner playing for Wales?

  • Comment number 38.

    As a Tigers fan (AND I'm only a girl) it pains me to say this but what has Jon Clarke of Northampton done to upset the powers that be? In my humble opinion he is more creative than any of the backs mentioned so far & if I'm not wrong he's actually English!!

  • Comment number 39.

    Glad to see MJ is having the confidence to give youngsters like Tuilagi and Sharples a chance to show what they can do. Have to say I'm a lot more excited and confident of England's chances going into this World Cup than the last.

    On the subject of 'foreigners' playing for England, can't believe this is still rumbling on. At the end of the day you play to the rules, which is what happened when Matt Stevens made his debut several years ago with no such fuss, same for Mike Catt, and funnily enough what happened when a certain Martin Johnson played for the junior All Blacks while living there before turning out for England as a senior.

    If anyone still wants to question the ability of people born elsewhere to commit to a different country, can I suggest they take a trip to the Normandy beaches and take a good look around the war cemetaries. There seem to be rather a lot of people buried there from the likes of Australia, New Zeeland, South Africa, and many other countries in the Commonwealth who felt they could lay down their lives for a cause they didn't have to get involved in. I kn ow it's not quite the same thing, but if people can do that, I think they can do the same on a rubgy field.

  • Comment number 40.

    First line only mine - rest from a very patriotic jock - who of course lives and works in England - (better still - in Rugby !)
    He also suggested new anthem - "Can I suggest "The world in Union" would be right on so many levels.
    Music by Gustav Holst who was at least born in England!"
    The things we have to put up with ! All in good fun chaps........

  • Comment number 41.

    It's a shame James Mathew doesn't have contact with the team selectors. Or maybe he thinks the supporters select the team. One things for sure, if players at your disposal are good enough to play and eligible, no coach in his right mind wouldn't select them. Regardless of where they're from.

    Hate the game, not the player (or supporters in this case)

    Best of luck to Wales on Saturday. On paper I think Wales'll shade it. The Twickenham factor may change things but who knows.

    Northern Hemi International rugby is back. Giggadee goo!

  • Comment number 42.

    Here here Pad meister - good shout

  • Comment number 43.

    Looking at the teamsheet for saturday, I think this is a very experimental side from MJ. I'm hoping the Flutey/Tuilagi combo works well as this could make the midfiled positions more fluid. I dont rate the Tindall/Hape combo, although I think Tindall has still got something left to offer. All in all, this game will be exciting (I hope) without relying on Johnies boot all the time. I hope Stevens gets chance to show that he deserves to be back in the squad as I've always liked him.


    This is going to be a close game, England want to make up for the abysmal performance against Ireland in the 6N, and Wales need to start with a bang so will be seriously up for the fight.

    England less than 7.

  • Comment number 44.

    Personally I think this is a very interesting England team with potentially some great new partnerships. The ones I particularly like are obviously the Centre/ half-back ones and also the front row.
    Alot has been made of the Tuilagi/Flutey combination but it's really a threesome. I think it's a brilliant idea to play Jonny at 10 again. Whilst he may not offer such a running threat as Flood, Jonny is an orchestrator. He will find the gaps to put Tuilagi and Flutey into, and given ball to run onto the threat those two offer is potentially devastating to rival defences. Manu is a typical Samoan, he's big, he's powerful and he's quick and loves the more physical side of the game, he will not mind how many times Jonny gives him the ball he will smash it through everytime and 9 times out of 10 get across the gainline. Riki Flutey is different to Hape (who played 12 last year) in that he is not only a runner, but a passer and creator. He has great footwork, a good side-step and he can not only take the defence on but get it wide for his speed men on the outside. What I would also love to see too is Delon Armitage covering across and allowing big Matt Banahan the license to come in off his wing as he does for Bath. Man the guy was truly awesome in the back part of last year, running straight up the middle, sometimes taking three men out and still having the strength to find his man with one of his deft back-of-the-hand flip-up passes... the potential of someone like Manu Tuilagi running onto one of those, at pace, against a defence on it's back foot is truly mouthwatering. I hope he is given the license to try it.
    Next I am really looking forward to seeing Matt Stevens back on the pitch for England. I have to admit a small amount of bias here as I have known him since his early days at Bath and know, not only what a terrific rugby player he is but, what a wonderful all round bloke he is. He's just great to have around a squad, he's always smiling, he's great fun to be around and his appetite for hard graft is huge. He was a silly boy and he knows it... but if anything that has made him even better now than he was a few years ago. He has honed his body, he has learnt martial arts which has not only improved his fitness but also his balance and co-ordination... and the enforced break has made him hungry. I think last time it was a case of him having everything to soon, when he first came into the England team he was a young man and obviously he had the power and the skills to be a great prop but not necessarily the maturity to do it. Now he has been away for two years, re-evaluated his life and come back a better man, because now he has everything to prove again and is so hungry to do it, the main difference is that this time he has added a more mature head to his already god given gifts. He will always be the chilled out, fun loving bloke we have all come to know and respect...that's just Matt...but now when he steps across the whitewash he is more than determined to make amends and show everyone that he can be the great prop he was always destined to be.
    Personally I can't wait for Saturday...bring on the Taffies !!

  • Comment number 45.

    Pomms v Taffs

    Pomms to win by 15+

  • Comment number 46.

    Not sure what Brad Barritt,Anthony Allen,Alex Goode and Mike Brown have to do to be considered.

    Not sure why Rikki Flutey is praised to the heavens. He hasn't played an international match for over a year. Has spent the last two years plying his trade for two teams in appalling form - Brive and Wasps. He has done little of note in that time and spent a large amount of time injured.

    He walks straight back into the England side with no questions asked.

    Delon Armitage is similar. Like Flutey he was good in 2009. It's 2011 now. He has gone from hero to zero. His two bans will have hardly make people warm to him. In terms of form he has done little of note recently to be considered one of the top FBs in the country.

    Will Simon Shaw even last 80 minutes? He has been a loyal servant of English rugby but surely he should retire now. He'll be 38 in September. He like some of his other Wasps team mates undeservedly in the England squad he has done little to earn his spot.

  • Comment number 47.

    Bryn, would be interesting to hear your thoughts on whether England should be persevering with all of these adopted 'Englishmen'? In my books it just isn't right when they are getting places over people like Anthony Allen, Alex Goode etc. I know its a game and everyone wants to win but surely this just will lead to a future XV where everyone qualifies on residency and not birthplace.

  • Comment number 48.

    and to compare it to the Normandy invasions is ludicrous! Its not a case of people committing to their adopted country - its a case of people keeping out young English talent that should be getting a chance. Would people really like to win a world cup in 4 years time with no people born in a particular country? for me it would feel hollow....its not all about winning.

  • Comment number 49.

    In response to Sherlock's tongue-in-cheek list. These are the facts:

    Alex C - Born in NY to English Mum. Move to UK aged 5.
    Hartley - Born NZ to English Mum - moved to UK age 14
    Stevens - Born SA to English Father - moved to UK age 20
    Shaw - Born Kenya to English Parents - moved to UK age 16.
    Palmer English.
    Croft English
    Haskell English
    Moody English
    Care English
    Wilkinson English
    Flutey - Kiwi - Been playing & living in England since 2005 (age 25).
    Tuilagi - Samoan - here with family since age 13
    Banahan - Jerseyman - learned rugby in England.
    Cueto - English
    Armitage - Trinidadian - English stepfather - moved here age 17.

    So really, Flutey is the only real "foreigner", and he qualifies under the residency rules.

  • Comment number 50.

    #49 Highside

    LOL...Who are you trying to convince :)

    You should be proud of your England Barbarians International Club

  • Comment number 51.

    I can't speak for everybody but I'm proud of this England team and the fact they represent modern day life. There's not many people who spend all their life in one country and never have the chance to live elsewhere these days. As long as they feel British enough to pull on the Jersey and it's within the rules than its fine by me.

    Think this game will be reasonably close but we're playing at home so will say England by 10.

  • Comment number 52.

    Should be English rather than British enough!

  • Comment number 53.

    beshocked, glad someone's talking about rugby amonst this boring nationality debate!

    I agree with you that all 4 players mentioned can feel disappointed not to be involved, and that both Flutey and Armitage are obviously been given chances not on form but on past pedigree.

  • Comment number 54.

    I don't think James Mathews is aware of the existence of migration - Or boats, aeroplanes and cars for that matter!

    The only mercenaries are Flutey, Hape and Armitage. And only 1 of those will be in the WC squad proper.

  • Comment number 55.

    In the case of Armitage, I feel that it has been largely his own doing, and that Goode has done more than enough over a couple of seasons to displace him in the pecking order. The only thing in favour of Armitage from Johnson's perspective is his versatility across the outside back positions, but it is a punt that he will be able to hit form quickly.

    As for Flutey, I'm a bit more sympathetic. Partly because I've never been convinced that Allen or Barrit are anything more than premiership quality, and partly because Flutey's run of bad form has been heavily influenced by injury, playing out of position, and playing in generally underperforming teamS. If Flutey is fully fit, I think he has enough pedigree to be worth the punt that he can regain form.

  • Comment number 56.

    No I agree with you...apart from Hartley, tuilagi, Fourie, Flutey, Simpson, Shontayne Hape, Corbisiero , Doran-Jones, Abendanon and the armitage brothers....the rest are English men.

  • Comment number 57.

    As to nationality debate... There's no reason you cant play for non-birth countries as long as you live and work in that country for long enough to be truely representative. Otherwise it makes a mockery of national teams

  • Comment number 58.

    I think every one is getting carried away with this team, I think a lot of these players will be the also rans, and not the starting XV, MJ has to test these players. I imagine the team picked for Ireland on the 27th will be more representative of the starting XV. This is a team set up to weed out the last 10 to lose there seats on the flight.

  • Comment number 59.

    Jersey is not in the UK although Banahan's dad is from Preston, I believe, and is very northern!

    In any case, Channel Islanders can play for any of the home nations, which explains Budge Poutney's Scottish caps as a result of a Jersey grandparent despite the fact that he was English and may have never even been to Jersey...

  • Comment number 60.

    At the risk of upsetting some 'killjoys' how about a USA dream team drawn from the world ??
    I'll start with Corbisiero (NY) at prop, O'Gara at 10 (San Diego), Kaino at 8 (American Samoan)
    Apologies in advance to Rupert of Surrey.

  • Comment number 61.

    On the subject of nationality, take a look at how many Samoans, Tongans, Fijians, Cook Islanders, etc have played for NZ and to a lesser extent Australia. I have no idea how many currently.

    As for centre - selecting Tuilagi is a no-brainer. He was by far the outstanding centre in the Aviva Prem last season - no contest. Flutey would make a nice partner if he's in form, and I'm sure that's why MJ is taking a look at them together this weekend. Foden is obviously ahead of Armitage at FB, and again, this weekend is a chance to have a look at form. Banahan and Ashton for wings. As long as Flood doesn't actually drop the ball at FH, that's a very threatening back line. Could any FH mess that up? Myler maybe?

  • Comment number 62.

    Most of these guys have good reasons to be representing England. A few mercenaries, but a much shorter list if you really look at it. We can get a bit cynical, much like calling the national batting line up South Africa B.

    #61. jontyrees - the whole 'NZ poaches the islanders' is a northern hemisphere misnomer. There are more Tongans and Samoans in NZ than there are in Tonga and Samoa. Many are actually Maori, alot were born in NZ (the likes of Keven Mealamu, Jerry Collins, Jonah Lomu), and many more came as infants (Joe Rocokoko, Rodney So'oialo) or school kids (Mils Muliana). There are many times more NZ born and developed players playing for Tonga, Samoa, Fiji etc than the reverse

  • Comment number 63.

    An English friend of mine (I was born and bred in Wales, and am proud to be Welsh) made the valid argument that if you're paying taxes in a country, putting money into their economy etc, you have as much right to call that country your home as any Thomas, Richard or Harold.

    That being said, and believe me, I don't like saying this, England have a strong set of players for this tournament. I didn't see the value of Martin Johnson as manager, but he's done well. England should really be reaching the semis, which isn't a bad return.

    However, I would also like to point out that the English posters have no business taking the proverbial out of the Welsh. It's not a 'made up land of dragons' or whatever spiel that guy said (sorry, can't be bothered scrolling up!), so please show a little bit of respect. Best of luck for Saturday, but I hope Wales win. :)

  • Comment number 64.

    Re eligibility to play for England, or any country! It is just getting silly now! Listen to the interviews of "internationals", ...they sure are, international! Playing for country is an nice idea, but now seems to be in the past. Bring back amateur status, where clubs were represented by local talent and nations by nationals!!!! I know, living in the past.

  • Comment number 65.

    Another player who has been neglected is Jordan Turner Hall who has added an attacking edge to the quoins team all season and Mike Brown who has spotless defence and is great on the counter
    Just. My thoughts

  • Comment number 66.

    I can't see any result other than a relatively comfortable English win. The Welsh pack will be under pressure from the outset, Johnny will keep the scoreboard ticking over with intermittent penalties and the English backs will get themselves two or three tries over the course of the game. I'm backing England to cover the 10 point cap and suggest you all do the same.

  • Comment number 67.

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

  • Comment number 68.

    #20 james mathew wrote:

    "and now picture all those foreign playes in a black jersey...what has happened to England."

    I have to call you on that load of old tripe. New Zealand have been stripping the Pacific Islands of their best talent for at least 2 decades!

    I've lived abroad for a few years, though I was born and raised in England. Am I "English" enough for you? By the standard you apply to these rugby players, it appears not. Though probably not Canadian, Spanish or German enough either, so for the crime of ever leaving my own shores, I should be banished from international rugby. In reality that dilemma won't arise owing to lack of fitness, speed or ability.

  • Comment number 69.

    Lets take a look at the line ups for the next Aus v NZ game:

    Muliaina - American Samoa
    Sivivatu - Fiji (actually played for pacific isles)
    Kaino - American Samoa
    Ben Franks - Australia

    Ioane - NZ
    Cooper - NZ
    Genia - Papua New Guinea
    Pocock - Zimbabwe
    Moore - Saudi Arabia
    Cowan - NZ
    Vickerman - South Africa

    As far as I'm concerned where you were born and how long you spent there is irrelevant. It's what nationality you choose and feel pride for. I'd like to see any of you tell Hartley, Shaw, Banahan etc they're not English. Also, how DARE anyone question Simon Shaw's nationality? Shame on you.

  • Comment number 70.

    i hope sharples gets a run on then banahan moves to 12 center combi with manu should be explosive!!

  • Comment number 71.

    Even though Tuilagi is an exciting prospect; the centre selections are a real worry.

    Tindall — vastly experienced, quality 13 but lacking handling finesse, creative spark and injury prone.

    Hape — some mixed test experiences, unflashy and solid in defence (allegedly - I remember his first test in Aus) but recovering from surgery for long term knee problems and had a mediocre domestic season.

    Flutey — has been in awful form for two seasons and is also injury prone.

    Tuilagi — could be exciting but is a rookie with no caps and bound to be exposed against the best.

    Banahan — the sheer folly of playing him at centre was exposed against Ireland where the midfield was comprehensively embarrassed against a pair of proper centres.

    I know its time to get behind the team but this does not look good!

  • Comment number 72.

    what utter rubbish, yes he scored a try but was very average and made no impression, whie George North had 2 tries and made yards every time he got the ball. Typical bloody hype again - just like Leslie Vanilkolo.

  • Comment number 73.

    A truely frustrating performance by England and one that, on further reflection seems, genuinely worrying.

    England seem to have regressed to where they were 18 months ago; which is especially worrying given how easily New Zealand dispatched Australia earlier today. England appeared over-coached, devoid of ideas whenever the opposition refused to rollover and crumble.

    For Wilkinson to be awarded MOTM is a sad indictment of where England are at. Whilst his kicking out of hand has improved considerably over recent years (since he sorted his hamstrings out), his inability to get his backline moving, to put his centres into space, is embarrassing. England are playing rugby by numbers and it doesn't work, and hasn't for years.

    New Zealand's Graham Henry is a big advocate of the 'pod system', i.e. attacking specific areas of the field in a pre-determined order, and whilst I have never been an advocate of this coaching philosophy it works for the ABs because, individually, they can read a game more instinctively, and reactive incisively when the game breaks down and opportunities present themselves.

    I can only assume that England are coached in a similar fashion, but stripped of their 'free-spirits', i.e. Youngs, Flood, Ashton and Foden, they are incapable of playing what is in front of them. Indeed, worryingly, my instinct tells me that England's better performances against Australia last summer and in last Autumn's internationals might be more to do with those named playing as they see fit, and contrary to the coaches script, rather than Martin Johnson and his cohorts finally imposing their coaching patterns on England's game.

    Is it a coincidence that the form of Youngs and Flood evaporated the more time they spent under the England coaching regime during this year's Six Nations? I think not.

    To see so many forwards repeatedly standing flat to take the ball at first receiver over-and-over again during the second period of the first half, whilst England's backs stood flat in a secondary line behind them had me pulling my hair out. Why is Wilkinson not screaming at them to get out of the way and have Manu and Flutey standing deep to take on the ball at pace. It can only be because it is how the coaches want them to play. But to think that Carter would have played the same pattern is dellusional and shows just how far Jonny's game has fallen.

    Whilst I appreciate England probably had several weeks of intense training in their legs whilch precluded them from imposing their superior physical abilities on Wales, as the

  • Comment number 74.

    The way I see it is if you were born in England to English parent(s) then it doesn't matter where you moved to, you are English. If you were born elsewhere but still have english parent(s) then you are English if you choose to be. If you were born elsewhere to non English parents and moved to England when you were young and lived most of your life here, then thats ok too. But, if you are say Australian/Japanese etc, and played pro rugby for 5 years(or whatever it is) in England that should not qualify you as English.
    These so called residency rules should not be allowed and should be banned.
    The all blacks I'll give the benefit of the doubt too as nearly all of their players were born there inspite of their ancestors. But some of the australian team are questionable and the Japanese team are just a joke.

  • Comment number 75.

    ...they normally would, it is also misguided to believe that this game plan would offer anything more than damage limitation against the Blacks, or the more attackingly gifted Aussies, or, indeed, the more natually physical Boks.

    To even test these sides England must show more flair and play off the cuff. Infact, I would go so far as to say, that the All Blacks of earlier today would have put 60 on Wales and won by 40 or more.

    What makes it even more frustrating is that I genuinely believe the Blacks have not progressed, in fact I was starting to think that they may have peaked in between RWCs yet again. The result in this morning's Bledisloe Cup seemed to have as much to do with Australia's fragility as New Zealand's efficiency.

    The Kiwi pack can be attacked but even if England managed to shade possession they would have to take every chance presented in order to beat them. This England team is incapable of doing that. Which is a shame, given England will probably only have to beat an Australian team in the RWC semis to face them. And given how Australia are totally dependent on an increasingly susceptible Quade Cooper, the chance was there.

    On the plus side from today's failings, and to #72, Manu is a must start in the RWC and must be given another half in Cardiff next week, and must start in Dublin against the Irish. I am absolutely convinced he will become a hugely significant player at international level. By comparing him to Vanikolo you are just embarrasing yourself. He does so many things so well, and for a 20 year old that is freakish.

    I also believe Bannahan must start instead of Cueto come the RWC. I also thought Stevens and Armitage did their cases a power of good today.

  • Comment number 76.

    All we have to add now is a couple of New Zealanders, a frenchman, three S. Africans and two Aussies and we will have the complete England mercenary team.

  • Comment number 77.

    #76 Grow up. Every single team in the world does it. It's hardly our fault that more people want to live in our country than any other rugby playing nation. But sure, the money helps!

  • Comment number 78.

    Hookers Armpit I absolutely agree with you. England's two best inside centres have been left at home - Anthony Allen and Brad Barritt.


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