This weekend sees the kick off to the RBS Six Nations tournament 2012 edition. The Six Nations tournament immediately post a World Cup has often been an exciting one with teams this days often looking to develop talent with the next World Cup in mind. This is certainly the case with the England team and the team which takes the field will be much changed from that which capitulated in some fashion in Auckland in October against the French. Certainly out are Tuilagi, Flood, Cueto, Wilkinson, Easter, Moody, Deacon and Thompson from the starting line up that day and Haskell, Shaw, Wigglesworth and Banahan from the bench although Banahan was added to the wider training squad yesterday. That is a huge turnover of players so the question is who we will see take the field come Saturday at 5pm in Edinburgh wearing the red rose.
The front row is likely to see only one change from that fateful day with Hartley coming in to replace Thompson in the middle of the triumvirate so Cole and Stevens will retain their places although Corbisiero could start. The second row has suffered from injuries, retirements and moves overseas. I think that Lawes is a certain starter if he is fit and Botha should be the man to start alongside him although his form has not been as good as last year he has been coming back to form. Palmer is the other option and it may well be that Palmer starts due to his greater experience alongside an if fit Lawes in place of Botha. The back row will see Robshaw a certain starter and captain, Croft and I think likely Dowson. Lancaster has professed his desire for an out and out number 7 but the squad is light at openside and the ball playing ability of Dowson should secure him a start.
In the back line Ben Youngs picks himself although I would prefer to see Dickson start as Youngs has got a bit too big for his boots in my opinion and he is not the player we saw burst on to the scene. The back three will see Ashton and Foden continue and either Dave Strettle or Charlie Sharples on the other wing. I think Dave Strettle deserves his chance as he didn’t do a lot wrong to lose his place initially. The midfield is shorn of the three players who started in Auckland by injury and by Jonny Wilkinson’s retirement. There are a few options available to Lancaster but Hodgson will start at fly half for certain as the only recognised fly half playing week in week out in that position. The centre pairing seems likely to be Barritt and Farrell. Farrell is almost certainly going to start, as much for his goal kicking and footballing ability as anything else. That leaves the inside centre berth vacant and it is a straight shoot out between Jordan Turner-Hall and Brad Barritt. With the wholesale changes any advantage which can be gained by selecting club groups is a bonus and this is likely to be enough to see Barritt start. Barritt has played a number of times for Lancaster for the Saxons and Lancaster likes the way he plays.
So my starting line up is: