It is around this time of year when everyone starts thinking about the XV which will take the field wearing the red rose for the first game of the Six Nations tournament. The Christmas pudding is being worked off in the gym and the heads are somewhat clearer than they were for the majority of December. On top of that the games came thick and fast over the Christmas period so there has been plenty of rugby for the spectator to analyse.
This year, more than ever, for England is an exciting time and I think that there could be a few surprises when the EPS squad is named on January 11th. Lancaster takes no prisoners and has run a tight ship with the successful Saxons side over the last few years. The traditional warm weather camp in Portugal has been cancelled and the training will take place in Leeds this year. A fact that may surprise many is that Leeds is surprisingly warm for its geographic position but I wager that the players would prefer the Algarve. Coupled with that is the fact that we are at the beginning of a World Cup four year cycle. Scotland announced a number of new faces in their squad and I’m sure that there will be a nod to youth when England announce their own.
I thought that in this article I would discuss the captaincy and take a brief look at possible back line selections in terms of runners and riders.
In terms of the captaincy there are three main candidates: Chris Robshaw of Harlequins, Tom Wood of Northampton and Dylan Hartley of Northampton. The player most secure in terms of his position and also in terms of experience is Hartley. I think that Hartley’s proximity to a number of off field incidents, although he has been cleared of any wrong doing, will undoubtedly count against him in the eyes of Lancaster. Tom Wood is the current favourite in the betting and would be an almost certain starter given current form. He is not the captain of his club side though and has limited captaincy experience. Robshaw has proven himself to be a very good captain of some big players at Harlequins although the drop off in the team’s form could not have come at a worse time for him. I think the make up of the back row could have a fairly large bearing on the captaincy selection. Hopefully Lancaster will pick the best player in their position as opposed to putting square pegs in round holes as has been the case in a generally unbalanced England back row for some time now. For this reason and this reason alone I think that it is likely that we will see Tom Wood wearing the arm band against Scotland.
In terms of the back line I think that is certain that there shall be a huge number of changes. Out will go Wilkinson, Hape, Tindall and Cueto; Flood and Tuilagi are possibly out with injury but will both be selected in the EPS and Wigglesworth is out long term. Simpson was a late addition and he could be up against it as Berry has been preferred often this season. Care has taken leave of his senses and as such a leave of absence. Dickson will come in at scrum half and Farrell, Barritt and Sharples will be included. I have a sneaking suspicion that Simpson-Daniel will come in as Lancaster has often selected him for the Saxons and I would have him over Banahan. Alex Goode will likely be in and Dave Strettle should return. Mike Brown has forced his way in to contention and virtually demanded selection.
In short it is an exciting time for England and I fancy them to travel nicely with a new slate and a new attitude. I have a sneaking feeling for Lancaster to be confirmed as a permanent appointment come the end of the Six Nations also.
Comments gratefully received.