And so, it was on a cold, wet and windy day in August that Stuart Lancaster made his bed. With the many overnight stories already leaked, one could argue that he was not even in it long enough to dirty up the sheets. The media murmured, but the formalities still remained.
Who was in? Who was getting ready to sit on the sofa and watch ITV attempt to not balls up another tournament? At least Cipriani won’t have to watch Glenn Hoddle give analysis whilst sitting on a Brazilian beach in short shorts…
So, here it is. Those in brackets are some of the players not in the 39 that was trimmed down and the comments that follow are my opinion. If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Who’s in: Jamie George, Rob Webber, Tom Youngs
Who’s not: Luke Cowan-Dickie, (Dylan Hartley)
Right or wrong: I’ve written about Dylan already HERE, so you know my answer. Quite honestly, I can also see many teams picking just two hookers (some already have) so one of these could be seen as a wasted spot, anyway. If you’re going with three, then pick your best three for the tournament, not just who can play v Fiji. I could rant forever here… If one of the three goes down versus Ireland, it will be interesting seeing who is next off the bus!
Who’s in: Kieran Brookes, Dan Cole, Joe Marler Mako Vunipola, David Wilson
Who’s not: Alex Corbisiero
Right or wrong: With concerns over Corbs’ match fitness, this was just about the only route for Lancaster to take. If they play to their strengths and ability, this won’t be where England struggle.
Who’s in: George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling
Who’s not: Dave Atwood
Right or wrong: Three of these pretty much picked themselves. The final spot was a coin flip between Kruis and Atwood. Barring injury neither would’ve got much game time in the big matches so I have to admit not being overly bothered who was #4 choice here!
Who’s in: James Haskell, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola, Tom Wood
Who’s not: Calum Clark, Nick Easter (Tom Croft, Steffon Armitage)
Right or wrong: Between this crew and the centres is where this team will make or break. As a Wasps fan I love Haskell, but his form at international level has never quite mirrored his club performances. Morgan isn’t fit. Our best flanker isn’t even considered because he dares play in France. Billy has been covering his hands in butter recently. And he might be a pretty solid leader, but how many of the other World Cup contenders would have Robshaw even in their squad, let alone leading the troops? The Sixes and Sevens at this World Cup are astounding. But not here. I hope they prove me wrong.
Who’s in: Danny Care, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Youngs
Who’s not: (Joe Simpson)
Right or wrong: outside of Simpson, there’s not much competition for these places and if Care and Youngs can play to their ability, split the game time, we should be comfortable here to open up the backs just enough.
Who’s in: Owen Farrell, George Ford
Who’s not: Danny Cipriani
Right or wrong: It’s a tough one on Danny, who has gone from a promising career, to an idiot, and all the way back again. His main problem is that as a 10, he’s not as consistent as the two selected, and as a full-back, he’s not as consistent as the two selected. But he can do things neither of those four can, from either position. Do I understand why he’s not there? Absolutely. Would I have picked him? Absolutely. It would’ve been a risk and Lancaster has taken risks in the centres – maybe he’d hit his risk quota!
Who’s in: Brad Barritt, Sam Burgess, Jonathan Joseph, Henry Slade
Who’s not: Billy Twelvetrees, Luther Burrell (Kyle Eastmond, Manu Tuilagi)
Right or wrong: A combined total of 36 caps. A guy who is considered a flanker by his club coach and has only been playing the game 6 months. This is Lancaster’s roll of the dice right here. If I put the two groups of four above and said pick one group, which would you go for? Burrell isn’t playing well, Twelvetrees has made himself too much of a jack of all trades and Manu is another idiot (see Hartley, Dylan). If I want to give myself the best chance to win a WC, I’ll take the second group, please. I’m glad Slade made the cut – he’s an exciting young prospect with game time under his belt at the right position. Whilst the back row is a risk area as it lacks world class talent, this is a different kind of risk – one based on picking the unknown!
Who’s in: Mike Brown, Alex Goode, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson
Who’s out: (Nick Abendanon, David Strettle, Chris Ashton, Christian Wade)
Right or wrong: In an area where we have many players of a similar quality, and ruling out the Cipriani argument, there was never much doubt here. I’m a massive fan of Mike Brown, Goode is pushing him hard and May, Nowell and Watson have all shown glimpses of pace and guile in the white of England. Would any of the “outs” improve this squad? Not really.
So there you have it. That’s my opinion on this squad. It’s a fairly negative viewpoint in some cases but only in so far as there are risks taken where I just wouldn’t have taken them, and other areas where Lancaster has taken the easy route.
To show how difficult a job this is, look at this team put together by @RugbyPigs :
Ultimately, Lancaster has taken his gamble, picked his troops and we march on to Twickenham. Once these guys cross the white line on September 18th, we’ll all be cheering on the Red Rose and those who wear it.
See you on October 31st, England!