With two rounds of the Five Nations played, some things are starting to take shape - more worryingly a lot of others are not. Indeed, the list of cast-iron certainties for the squad is very short indeed - Ieuan Evans, Jeremy Guscott, Scott Gibbs, Gregor Townsend, Robert Howley, Jason Leonard, Keith Wood. They are joined by a group of probables, in which category I would place Jim Staples, Neil Jenkins, Simon Geoghegan, Alan Bateman, Will Carling, Graham Rowntree, Jeremy Davidson, Rob Wainwright and Lawrence Dallaglio; which leaves 19 of the 36 places still to fill and a huge problem over goal-kicking and captaincy.
Starting at the back, another full-back is needed and the choice is between the two Englishmen Nick Beal and Tim Stimpson. At the moment Stimpson just edges it but another mediocre performance might allow the Northampton player to slip past him. On the wing the cupboard is very bare indeed - without Evans or Geoghegan it is empty. Nevertheless the best of the rest are probably Kenny Logan and Jon Sleightholme. In the centre the picture is much brighter, and there is also the possibility of playing Townsend there should he be unable to balance his game up at fly-half.
Speaking of the No 10 spot, the choice is not vast, and to prove it the thought of recalling a certain Mr R Andrew was given serious consideration. However Jenkins is already selected as utility back so the third place goes to David Humphries - but I reserve the right to change my mind on this one at least three times. There are two slots still to fill at scrum- half with Bryan Redpath and Kyran Bracken being my favoured candidates, although there are a host of other strong contenders.
I've already chosen the first- choice front five and as back-up the unit of Nick Popplewell, Mark Regan, Paul Wallace, Simon Shaw and Martin Bayfield looks solid enough. Although I'm not sure Popplewell is anywhere near the top of his form there is no young pretender on the horizon. And any of the second-row trio of Paddy Johns, Gareth Llewellyn and Garath Archer could well oust one of my current choices. Phil Greening looks the best bet as the third hooker. In the back row there is a dearth of genuine open-sides so Richard Hill looks a front runner to join Wainwright. This would allow Eric Miller, Ben Clarke and Scott Quinnell (so long as he improves his defensive performance) to provide the rest of the firepower in this key area.
Which leaves three wild cards - one front five, one back row and the threequarter. I plump for Beal, Darren Garforth and Tony Diprose, but plead guilty to all accusations of Saracens bias.
Two huge areas remain unresolved. First, who on earth is the goalkicker in the Test side? If Townsend plays outside-half then the full-back must kick goals - in which case Jenkins gets in and you kiss goodbye to much in the way of long-distance strikes from the back. But if you play a runner at the back then Jenkins or Humphries or A N Other must play at fly-half - and Townsend has the unenviable task of ousting one of the specialist centres. To my mind this is the biggest conundrum the selectors have to try to resolve.
On the captaincy, Fran Cotton, the tour's real manager, has quite rightly made it clear that the appointee must be an automatic Test selection. The choice from short-list of definites is not wide. In deciding on Ieuan Evans I accept that wing is not an ideal position for a captain, but he is still the best wing in Britain, vastly experienced and genuinely respected by all. An alternative is Jason Leonard - a hard man for a hard tour. But whoever gets the job will have an enormous task - there are too many weak areas for comfort.
Finally, to make things even more interesting - what should the Test side be? The one certainty is that the above team will never take the field; unavailability, injury, non-selection and the vagaries of form will see to that.Reuse content