England must develop a ball-poaching flanker says coach Graham Rowntree


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The Independent Online

England's forwards coach Graham Rowntree admits developing a genuine ball-poaching openside flanker is a key priority for the national team.

England's back-row options are bountiful for the RBS 6 Nations, with Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw, Tom Croft, Calum Clark and Phil Dowson capable of playing on either flank.

But none of them are specialist opensides in the mould of New Zealand's Richie McCaw, Australia's David Pocock or Wales captain Sam Warburton.

Rowntree said: "We haven't got a natural groundhog or ball-stealing seven so we're looking to develop one in the Saxons to bring into the senior squad."

The Saxons squad features Saracens' Andy Saull, Exeter's Tom Johnson and London Irish flanker Jamie Gibson, while Worcester's Matt Kvesic is in the Under-20s and banging on the door.

"We know what Saully can do, we have been looking at him for a long time. Saully fits the bill, so does Matt," Rowntree added.

Wood is awaiting the results of a scan on his foot before England know whether he will be to face Scotland in their Six Nations opener on February 4.

If fit, the Northampton flanker is favourite to start at openside, with Robshaw being tipped as a potential number eight option.

"You can't argue with how Tom Wood has played in the number seven shirt for Northampton this season," Rowntree said.

"He had a great Six Nations last year. We all know his frustrations at the World Cup. He's playing well at the moment.

"Chris Robshaw has probably been the form back row in the Premiership over the last few months.

"There's a couple of good sevens there and Dowson has played seven too. I'm sure Tom Croft could play seven too so we have enough good seven cover there."

In the front row, Rowntree branded Joe Marler a "unique talent" after awarding the Harlequins prop his first senior international call-up.

Marler, 21, has caught the eye for Quins in more ways than one but Rowntree is interested less in his multi-coloured mohican hairstyle and more in his ability.

"Now is the perfect time to get Joe Marler involved in international rugby," said the former England and Leicester prop.

"It was the same with Alex Corbisiero a year ago. Joe's got great talents but we've got to find consistency with him and that's the same with a lot of young players coming into the Test arena.

"We've got to find the consistency to marry up to Joe's unique talents. I am confident in Joe.

"He is an explosive prop forward because of his carrying game and his defensive game.

"Now we've got to develop the consistency at scrum time, which you have to have in the Test arena. That's my job. But having those talents available to us, I'm excited about."

Marler edged out Gloucester prop Nick Wood from the senior squad and he will compete with Corbisiero to be England's starting loose-head prop in the Six Nations.