England expects: one word – Jonny Wilkinson

England expects: one word – Jonny Wilkinson
Assume the position

Assume the position

Update: Martin Johnson has named a 32 man squad for the upcoming November tests starting with the Wallabies on 7th.

The squad includes replacements for at least 12 test players unavailable due to injury including four top line front rowers. There are three new uncapped forwards selected in the squad, namely young tyro lock Courtney Lawes from Northampton; another 2nd rower in Richard Blaze from Leicester and veteran Bath prop David Barnes.   

In a blast from the past other veterans of note recalled are Mike Tindall of Gloucester, 35 year old Bath prop Duncan Bell and now unretired heavyweight hooker Steve Thompson from Brive.

There’s a certain ‘Dad’s Army’ look about this squad but the last time anyone called an England team that they won the Rugby World Cup. An RWC-winning group they’re not, but at least there’s an injection (albeit forced to some extent) of some young talent ready to be developed.  

It’s good to see relatively new and exciting talent like Jordan Crane, Steffon Armitage, Ben Foden, Paul Hodgson, Matt Banahan and Shane Geraghty retained.   

The squad is:

M Banahan (Bath), D Care (Harlequins), M Cueto (Sale Sharks), B Foden (Northampton), S Geraghty (Northampton), A Goode (Brive), D Hipkiss (Leicester), P Hodgson (London Irish), U Monye (Harlequins), D Strettle (Harlequins), M Tait (Sale Sharks), M Tindall (Gloucester) R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), J Wilkinson (Toulon).

S Armitage (London Irish), D Barnes (Bath), D Bell (Bath), R Blaze (Leicester), S Borthwick (Saracens, captain), G Chuter (Leicester), J Crane (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), D Hartley (Northampton), J Haskell (Stade Français), B Kay (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), L Moody (Leicester), T Payne (London Wasps), S Thompson (Brive), D Wilson (Bath), J Worsley (London Wasps).

Tests: v Australia 7th November, v Argentina 14th, v New Zealand 21st.

Original Post

The Poms are currently going through a horror stretch with injuries but I wouldn’t write them off just yet. Why? Because Jonny Wilkinson will be back in a week or two directing the traffic.

The newly branded ‘Le Toulonnais’ will be returning to international action against the Wallabies at the top of his game. He’s been playing the house down for Toulon in the French Top 14.

Sonny Bill who? The transfer to le rugby en français has been a breath of fresh air for Wilko and has revived his ailing career like Strictly Come Dancing did for Bruce Forsyth (“nice to see you, to see you– nice…..didn’t they do well”).

Since he was last at his peak…..my god has it been that long? Six years have past since he was trading blows with Flats in the RWC03 Final. The old bastard is 30 now and reportedly had sixteen injuries since those salad days.

You and I would have retired after all this ‘grief’ but not Wilko. He’s cut from a different cloth. Never mind the quality, feel the width. This intense, focused, steely, brilliant and anal Englishman is one tough geezer.  He ain’t no ‘iron’, he’s a Winston.

In his absence, England have rotated the crucial fly-half position through a variety of journeyman, poodle fakers and callow youths who were about as successful as Eric the Eel in a 50m pool. They were the equivalent of Stephen ‘Andrew’ Donald, Quade Cooper, Derick Hougaard et al. Think Andy Goode, Toby Flood, Olly Barkley, Charlie Hodgson, Paul Grayson, Mike Catt, Danny Cipriani ho hum. Johnny’s back!

England face Australia, Argentina and New Zealand in the space of 14 days next month beginning with the Wallabies in a couple of weeks. Martin Johnson is due to name a 32 man Elite Playing Squad (EPS) for the November tests this Monday. And there is ‘trouble at mill’ with a good proportion of his charges indisposed with injury.

In addition, there must be some sort of collective amnesia going around; perhaps its a bit infectious like swine flu, because the Poms are again talking our scrum and forward capabilities down.

Despite their current injury predicament and an ill-disciplined and poor performance against the Wallabies last year, they’re fairly sanguine about their chances of defeating us and I suppose to some extent the Wallabies form in the Tri-Nations has contributed to this notion.

However, the Pom’s injury situation is profound. The whole first choice front row of Lee Mears, Phil Vickery and Andrew Sheridan has been wiped out for months with serious injuries. Vicks in particular has a recurrence of a neck injury which may eventually force his retirement.

Sheridan and Mears have respectively serious shoulder and knee injuries which look like keeping them out of the Six Nations as well. Oh well, Sheridan was so out-scrummaged by journeyman Le Fuse last year it actually diminished his reputation as supposedly being one tough hombre.

Quality options such as Tom Rees (Wasps flanker), Delon Armitage (London Irish fullback), Simon Shaw (Wasps lock) and Rickey Flutey (Brive inside centre) have been sidelined.

Other potential selections like Worcester and Saxons prop Matt Mullan, Danny Cipriani (Wasps Fly-half), Jordan Turner-Hall (Harlequins centre), Harry Ellis (Leicester scrum-half), Dan Cole (Leicester prop) and Alex Corbisiero (London Irish prop) have also been out of action.

Who does that leave to take on the Wallabies? Well, there’s a bit of depth in English rugby with Pommy players featuring not only in the the Guinness Premiership, but in the Magner’s League and the French Top 14. In fact, unlike our situation, rugby in England it is in rude health – for example game attendances in the Guinness Premiership are up by 13% so far this season.

The ‘new’ front row is likely to be Tim Payne (Wasps, who was a British Lions replacement), Dylan Hartley (Northampton, an ex-pat Kiwi) and the old stager Julian White (Leicester, who actually played some real rugby in NZ for Hawkes Bay in the NPC  in 1996 and for the Crusaders in 1997) .

However, the mail is that veteran Bath prop Duncan Bell is set to pull off a remarkable comeback. The 35-year-old Bell earned two England caps against Scotland and Italy in the 2005 Six Nations.

Bell played second string to Matt Stevens at Bath, until the latter’s demise over drug related issues. Bath’s other tighthead prop, David Wilson, is also part of the current EPS.

There are quality selections available in core positions. For instance Steve Borthwick (the Captain) at lock, Tom Croft at flanker (a British Lions standout), Nick Easter at No 8, Danny Care at halfback, Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half, Ugo Monye on the wing (or at fullback) and maybe Brive’s Jamie Noon in the centres.

Hartley’s backup at hooker might be interesting. Steve Thompson, the humongous Brive hooker is still a contender, as is former Brisbane State High, Queensland Schoolboy’s and London Irish hooker David Paice. He’s an England Saxons (England A player) who’s already had two tests against the All Blacks last year. However, its more than likely that George Chuter the Leicester hooker will get the gig.

The replacement for British Lion Simon Shaw will be another conundrum. Ben Kay and Danny Grewcock, although ageing warriors still have points on the board and are playing solid rugby. However, apart from the fact that Kay is still in the EPS, there’s an opportunity for London Irish’s Nick Kennedy to grasp the mantle and become an agent for change.

In the backs, Shane Geraghty (formerly London Irish and now Northampton Saints) has been playing superb rugby at fly-half, although he’s apparently a candidate at ‘2nd five eighth’ as Wilko now has the No 10 position sown up. A combination of Geraghty and Dan Hipkiss (Leicester), rather than Noon in the centres may potentially be likely. Gloucester’s Mike Tindall, when he’s not boofing Princess Zara, has also been mentioned in dispatches as a centre option. I think he might be just a wee bit past it now.

Fullback will be an issue. With first choice Delon Armitage out there’s a number of options. A few that come to mind are Ugo Monye (Harlequins) , Mathew Tait (Sale Sharks), Nick Abendanon (Bath), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks),  Mark van Gisbergen (Wasps) and Ben Foden (Northampton). All have played fullback at some stage or other and are, or have been involved in international or Saxons selection.

It sounds like the selectors are leaning towards Monye, a skilled attacker and solid defender, although there are susceptibilities under the high ball. He featured for the British Lions in South Africa as an attacking weapon. The coming men are Foden and Abendanon.

I think that despite a significant injury list, England will present as a formidable challenge to a Wallabies touring side that has yet to fully develop i.e. have been disappointing  against quality opposition. With Wilko directing proceedings in his current form I wouldn’t be taking anything for granted.

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