David Flatman: My England team to take on world in 2015
From the Front Row: The next red-rose coach will have some big choices to make when he names his first squad. To help the poor blighter out, there is a link to my ideal XV below
Sunday 04 December 2011
As the soap opera continues apace at HQ, rugby marches on. The Premiership is back at full flow and the Heineken Cup didn't even flinch when its time in the spotlight arrived. It is safe to assume that, given time, English rugby will get itself back on track too.
To lighten the mood, though, let's look to the future, a good place to find solace. When a new boss – temporary or permanent – arrives, he will be given a date to name his first England squad. I probably ought to call this an "elite player group", or something similarly new age, but for fear of wretching, I shan't. And never has a list of names been so significant in our national game.
This is a system in crisis, so the easiest way to approach this crucial first selection would be to avoid risk by copying and pasting the last squad on to a fresh press release. But this would be to miss a trick. As we have seen, World Cups are where it's at; yes, the Six Nations is huge and the autumn internationals provide welcome Test exposure for all involved, not to mention a welcome lump of income for the Rugby Football Union. But ask any player, official or supporter what he wants to win, and it's always the same answer: the World Cup.
So, with that in mind – and four years just isn't that long when you're starting almost from scratch – I really hope the next squad is young and bold. This certainly doesn't mean that anyone over 30 must be discarded. Far from it. In fact, I think that all the best squads have a decent, healthy mixture of youth and experience. The older, wiser player lends so much to a team environment. Firstly, he knows the game, having been there and done it time and again. The right ones also act as a reassuring and inspiring presence when the blood and teeth are flying. They become that pair of shoulders towards which the younger men look when self-doubt creeps in, and they are essential.
However, there is nothing like a few new faces to shake the old boys up a bit. Creating competition for places instantly tells you so much about the men in the room. Some relish the fight, others seem so confident that they hardly notice. And, inevitably, there are always some who hate it and want out, though at international level I'd be very surprised to find many of those.
The England front row now has a couple of holes in it. Quite big ones, too, seeing as they have been left by Andrew Sheridan and Steve Thompson. Sheridan, we assume, will be back, but for the meantime I would have the Harlequin Joe Marler in there alongside Alex Corbisiero at loosehead. Corbisiero has proved himself and while I'm not necessarily keen on the red Mohawk as a hairdo of choice for a prop (read: jealous), I like Marler's athleticism and power and think he looks a real prospect.
In the vacant hooker birth – now Thompson has announced his retirement – I would consider Rob Webber of Wasps. There are a few who could step up but Webber has just a little more grit and power than the others at the moment. He is an underrated player.
Simon Shaw will step out and make room for Dave Attwood in the second row. Attwood is my team-mate at Bath so I won't go too far in extolling his virtues, for fear of ridicule tomorrow morning. Suffice to say he's young, big, skilful and English. He is a ready-made proposition for the 2015 World Cup.
The midfield will be very interesting indeed. Toby Flood is still our best fly-half so Owen Farrell has to play 12. Outside him must sit Manu Tuilagi.Hopefully Mike Tindall will stay there or thereabouts for the next couple of seasons because what he can teach Tuilagi about the complexities of the role at international level is beyond the knowledge of any coach. He might give a monstrous brute specimen an all-round game. What a thought.
At full-back, I don't know how much longer Mike Brown of Harlequins can be ignored. Admittedly, he is vying for a spot with two of England's better players, Ben Foden and Delon Armitage, but his game has been close to flawless for a long time now. Maybe he, with some of his contemporaries, will soon get his shot.
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