Having looked previously at the different management styles of 2011 and 2015 World Cup campaigns, I thought it worthwhile to look at the players within the different squads to see whether Stuart Lancaster is in a better, worse or at an even footing compared with his predecessor.
Rather than going through each squad, player for player, I thought it worth instead considering which of the 2011 vintage would be pushing for a place within the current group.
There are of course a few who overlap in both squads: Cole, Wilson, Lawes, Haskell, Wigglesworth, Ben Youngs and then a couple that would, barring injury have presented more of a challenge to the existing 31.
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Of these, I’d say Ben Foden and Tom Croft are the biggest casualties, not recovering in time to prove their worth in the domestic season. Corbisiero albeit with some game time was similarly not able to regain his form quick enough on return from injury.
We then have the ‘bad boy’ pairing of Hartley and Tuilagi who for on and off-field reasons respectively are not part of this squad. There are of course arguments for both to have been able to take some part in the squad, but I’ll leave that to the many column inches that have already been dedicated to the pair.
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In terms of those past players that haven’t made it through to the next tournament, I’d say there are a few that would certainly contend with the current crop.
In the pack - Sheridan at Loose Head was one with the capacity to turn a match through his sheer power and force of will. Perhaps in 2011 he wasn’t quite the wrecking ball of 2007 but was still someone that Australia would hate to face.
Likewise Simon Shaw at Lock who added a hard but athletic edge to any pack he was a part of. Then perhaps the Captain Fantastic of his day, Lewis Moody would also have pushed his case, though like Robshaw today, he probably fits the 6 and a half billing, rather than an out and out 7.
We then start to look at some other potential riches in the backs – who could name a single coach that would shun the chance for a certain Jonny Wilkinson to be a part of the match-day squad, even if not on the field from the start? On commentary for the latest warm-up match, Sir Clive Woodward pointed to Wilkinson’s ability to keep chipping away at the opposition, building a score, frustrating opposition as being a key factor to the team’s success.
Finally, a safe pair of hands and the elusive running of Mark Cueto would perhaps challenge the existing pool of wingers, though again, perhaps by 2011 his raw pace was on the wane.
So to put an end to the flight of fancy, it does point to the fact that there are a very limited number of players that you’d gladly change into your current squad, let alone starting XV. It seems that once again, England are in a strong position and should feel comfortable at their lot when things get going in a week's time.
The elephant in the room, however, remains the so-called exiled players – the likes of Steffon Armitage, Nick Abendanon et al, some of whom are in the form of their lives. Perhaps the next time they cash in their Euro cheques they will wonder what could have been. Hopefully, Lancaster will have no such doubts!
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