Rugby Union

England squad has the right balance - if not the right players

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Stuart Lancaster announced his squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, to be held in England later this year. There was much debate and anticipation over the potential inclusion of players at overseas clubs like Steffon Armitage or Nick Abendanon as well as the returning Danny Cipriani.

But when the 31-man squad was announced it included none of these players. In fact other names people expected to see like Nick Easter or Matt Stevens weren't there either.

Lancaster seems to be doing what he did when he took on the role of head coach after England's disastrous exit to the last world cup: he's favouring youthful energy and strength of character over experience.

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I hope he made the right decision, for his sake, when this young team is tested on the world stage in their own backyard. Because if England don't make it out of the pool, which, being brutally honest, is a possibility, his competence as both coach and selector are in question.

The thing to remember is that Lancaster does know what he is doing. He rebuilt a broken team from the ground up and now he is building one with strong foundations. He has long-standing bulwarks of English rugby to fall back on while he tests out the newbies.

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Robshaw, the unsung hero of practically every game he plays; Mike Brown, probably the only man in England who can stand up (and jump up) against the likes of Leigh Halfpenny and Israel Dagg; Dan Cole, solid as a rock in all situations. There are others like James Haskell or Geoff Parling, but for me the aforementioned trio will be vital to England's success, providing experience lacking elseware.

But what England are missing in terms of caps, they are making up in skill, speed and strength. Clearly this is a highly mobile squad, built with the theme 'dynamism' in mind. Tom Youngs is a weak thrower but is one of the strongest runners in England. When the front row are picking lines normally only found by wingers and full backs you know you have a very attacking squad. 

If hard yards need to be made, the tough, gritty customers like Cole, Parling and Robshaw wil grind them out all day, but with players like Haskell, Webber and the titanic Vunipola brothers the hard-hitting runs will be made largely by forwards.

This allows England to play more evasive, skilful runners in the backs, with tiny-but-tough George Ford as play-maker. This is clearly shown by the inclusion of Jonny May, who falls short in terms of technical ability, particularly in defence, but is challenging back three's everywhere with his mazy running style and raw pace.

Any coach would be daft not to include the likes of Henry Slade and Anthony Watson after their clinical yet creative performances against France. Any team looking to run the ball wide should have a Jonathan Joseph and with scrum halves like Care and Ben Youngs oppositions will always be having to watch the breakdown area for a dart round the short side. And that of course leaves space out wide...

Obviously there are weaknesses to this England Squad. While they do have defensive rocks like Brad Barritt and the inestimable Sam Burgess, playing them both blunts England's attack, since the wingers will never see the ball, but leaving them out will give George North and Jamie Roberts cause to practice their try celebrations, since, good defenders though they may be, Ford and co will struggle to cope for 80 minutes against sheer power and aggression from the Welsh three quarters.

Ultimately England need to play the right style against the right opposition to win, which is where this squad will thrive. While Abendanon or Armitage are without question better players in their respective positions, their slotting into the team would have the potential to create friction.

And if England are going to be able to adapt to play the hard-hitting Wales, the talented and fast-moving Australia and the unpredictable Fiji, they need to completely gel as a squad and play every game for each other and not for themselves.

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Topics:
Rugby Union
England Rugby
IRB Rugby World Cup

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