Monday, 11 January 2010

Martin Johnson's EPS Squad?

Martin Johnson is set to name his EPS squad on Wednesday so naturally everyone is starting to tout around who they think he should include.  The big question is whether Johnno is building his Six Nations squad with one eye on the World Cup next year, or if he's got his old man glasses perched on the end of his squished up nose and is shortsightedly only looking as far as the final game away against France on 20 March in this year's Six Nations tournament.

Decisions, decisions...

There are only eighteen games until England trot out for their opening game in the World Cup next year, so the onus is on Martin Johnson to build a World Cup winning squad now whilst blooding a few youngsters on the way.  The next round of Autumn Internationals is too late to start trying new combinations, and Johnson won't want to take a bunch of rookies to New Zealand next year.  Changes have to be made after England's dire performances in November, as it's not as if those selected did anything but underachieve in the Autumn Internationals.  The dismal results against Australia, New Zealand and the scrappy win against Argentina built an excellent case for an injection of up and coming young talent into the starting fifteen for England's opening Six Nations game against Wales, as surely the young guns can't do any worse than the old guard, can they?  Saying that, certain key veterans must remain, and by this I mean Simon Shaw who is arguably the best England lock at the moment at the ripe old age of 36.
Then there is the question about the captaincy.  Is Steve Borthwick the man to inspire and lead England to a World Cup win next year?  I have to agree with Stuart Barnes:  No.  So now has be the time to think about changing the captain then, surely?  Yes, but I doubt it will happen.  Who could step into the breach and take the reins from Borthwick?  Dylan Hartley?  Possibly, but maybe it's a little too soon for him.  Lewis Moody?  Not exactly Leicester's captain week in and week out.  Jonny Wilkinson?  Er, really?

Anyway, enough of all the talking.  Here's the players who I think Martin Johnson should include with a view to both the Six Nations and World Cup, including a few possibly more surprising selections...

Dan Cole - Leicester tighthead and a man in some serious form, not just in his man-of-the-match demolition of the Wasps' scrum in last Saturday's game.

Tim Payne - England's incumbent loosehead.  Has to be included with the current plight of the England front row.

Duncan Bell - Probably will be picked at tighthead, but I'd start with Cole against Wales if I was Martin Johnson.

Jon Golding - Newcastle loosehead, learning under the muscular wing of Carl Hayman.  Great ball carrier, tackler, great in the loose and excellent in the scrum. 

Dylan Hartley - A stronger carrier of the ball and decent line out work from the Saints hooker will secure him a place.

Steve Thompson - Included as what other options do England have at hooker?

Simon Shaw - Excellent at line out and in the loose, and showing deft hands in offload against Quins to line up try.  Has to be included despite being nearly ready to draw his pension.

Steve Borthwick (c) - Will be picked because he is the captain.  I can't see any other reason.

Louis Deacon - Will be picked because he's a dependable, if not dynamic lock, and Martin Johnson likes that.

Courtney Lawes - Has to get some real game time in this year's Six Nations, and not just coming on for ten minutes in a match that has already been won.  Lawes is most at home as a lock, but his versatility shows as he has played at flanker for Northampton this season.  He needs to play for England now so he's not undercooked come the World Cup.

Joe Worsley - He of the massive melon shaped head is fit again and will undoubtedly be in contention.

Lewis Moody - The shining star of the Autumn International debacle and one of the first names on the team sheet.

Hendre Fourie - Bit of a wildcard selection for the excellent Leeds Carnegie openside flanker who now qualifies by residency.

Jordan Crane - Solid, dependable, great carrier of the ball at the back of the scrum.

James Haskell - A more dynamic option at 8 than Crane

Tom Croft - Athletic, pacey, versatile back row forward who is now back from injury.  Will he be picked despite his recent injury lay off?

Steffon Armitage - Specialist openside flanker.

Danny Care - Definitely.

Paul Hodgson - Absolutely.

Ben Youngs - Hopefully. Performance after great performance from the excellent Leicester scrum half who seems to excel at every facet in his role of scrum-half.

Mark Cueto - Versatile winger, can switch to full back.

Mathew Tait - Is there any room at the inn for the versatile Tait?  He's not really been given much of a chance lately in an England shirt, and I'm wondering if he is going to be left out in the cold again.

Toby Flood - A bit of a question mark over his kicking but it seems to be improving, and he adds flair to the backline.  Can play at ten or twelve.

Jonny Wilkinson - He might not be Super Jonny any more, but if he can capture some of the form he's displayed at Toulon this season then he should start at ten.

Nick Easter - Big man in the boiler room.

Chris Ashton - The Northampton wing is currently enjoying some scintillating form, he is the top try scorer in the Guinness Premiership and is playing himself into a place.

Ugo Monye - Lions winger, pacey, will definitely be included.

Dan Hipkiss - Solid but not exceptional but will be included to add some grunt to outside centre.

Riki Flutey - Straight back into the starting XV in the Six Nations.

Shane Geraghty - Inventive, slightly off the boil in the AIs (but wasn't everyone?).  Geraghty needs more game time like Courtney Lawes.

Ben Foden - The Northampton full back is still making too many errors so he probably won't be in the starting line up, but he is one for the squad.

Delon Armitage - Seemingly back to his best for London Irish after being sidelined with a dodgy shoulder, and a definite starter at full back after the calamities we had to endure in the AIs

Danny Cipriani - Starting to show a few glimmers of the form from a couple of seasons ago. His goal kicking isn't good enough to play in his preferred position of fly half, but he could be selected to play at full back. Probably one for the Saxons.

And here are a couple that should be left out in the cold:

Andy Goode - One word: No. He shouldn't be included.

Matt Banahan - I don't think he's fit enough or fast enough to successfully play international rugby.

So those are my thoughts, and I've probably left out somebody crucial so please let me know what you think. 

Who will Martin Johnson pick?  We will see on Wednesday...

1 comment:

  1. So I wasn't a million miles away from Johnno's EPS...

    England elite player squad:

    Forwards (17): T Payne (Wasps), A Sheridan (Sale), J White (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath), D Hartley (Northampton), L Mears (Bath), S Thompson (Brive); S Borthwick (Saracens), L Deacon (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), S Shaw (Wasps); J Crane (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), S Armitage (London Irish), N Easter (Harlequins), J Haskell (Stade Francais), L Moody (Leicester).

    Backs (15): D Armitage (London Irish), B Foden (Northampton); C Ashton (Northampton - *injury replacement), M Banahan (Bath), M Cueto (Sale), U Monye (Harlequins); R Flutey (Brive), S Hape (Bath), D Hipkiss (Leicester), M Tait (Sale); T Flood (Leicester), J Wilkinson (Toulon); D Care (Harlequins), H Ellis (Leicester), P Hodgson (London Irish).

    * Chris Ashton (Northampton) added to squad from Saxons as injury replacement for Phil Vickery (Wasps)

    England Saxons squad:

    Forwards: D Bell (Bath), D Cole (Leicester), A Corbisiero (London Irish), M Mullan (Worcester), N Wood (Gloucester); G Chuter (Leicester), D Paice (London Irish), R Webber (Wasps); D Attwood (Gloucester), B Kay (Leicester), N Kennedy (London Irish); P Dowson (Northampton), T Rees (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins), A Saull (Saracens), G Skivington (Wasps), D Ward-Smith (Wasps), B Woods (Leicester).

    Backs: O Morgan (Gloucester), C Ashton (Northampton), P Sackey (Wasps), D Strettle (Harlequins), B Barritt (Saracens), S Geraghty (Northampton), D Waldouck (Wasps); D Cipriani (Wasps), C Hodgson (Sale), S Myler, (Northampton); J Simpson (Wasps), R Wigglesworth (Sale), M Young (Newcastle), * B Youngs (Leicester) - injury replacement for J Simpson (Wasps).