By Owain Jones
WITH STUART Lancaster is poised to announce the England squad to face Australia in a matter of hours and the most hotly contested area of selection is the backrow. We chewed the fat with England’s very own silent assassin, Richard Hill, to analyse England’s likely combinations…
Ben Morgan: “Ben is a key player for England. He was missed towards the end of the Six Nations but travelled to Argentina in the summer and impressed. By his standards, he’s had a quiet start to the season but when England have performed well in the last 12 months, it’s invariably been with him in the side. He has this real ability to run back at defences, like try he set up for Ben Foden in the Stade de France. He’s a big man and can challenge the gainline physically, but he’s intelligent and looks for the offload, allowing others to run support lines off him.”
Billy Vunipola: “Billy has continued where he left off with Wasps last season. With his power, he’s been instrumental in getting Saracens on the front foot and giving them quick ball. Simply, he allows other players in the team an easier ride. Billy is a flair player and plays on the edge, but the risk is there will be mistakes, the positives have to outweigh the negatives. The key is in the team. There has to be a tacit understanding that if the player is looking to create something, there is a risk something could go wrong. Billy needs to make sure that he gets it right more often than not and that comes with understanding, feel and gametime. He’s had it at Premiership level, but international rugby is another step up again.”
Hilly’s pick: I’d pick Ben Morgan, but with the X-Factor of Billy Vunipola to come off the bench as an impact sub
Matt Kvesic: “Matt is arguably one of many Gloucester players to have suffered from Gloucester’s indifferent start to the season. Many aliken him to Backy (Neil Back) but he’s a lot bigger than him, at 6ft 2in and over 16st. I saw him play against Saracens, but didn’t see the best of him. In Argentina, however, he had a performance that was akin to the type of style Stuart Lancaster wants from his seven. Quick over the deck, he’s a player who goes out not only to get a volume of tackles, but a quality of tackles.”
Chris Robshaw: “Now we know he’s been selected as captain, we know Chris will start the Series. When you look back at the Wales match in the Six Nations, Chris had to deal with the disappointment of not making the Lions tour. He will also have had mixed feelings around Stuart suggesting he rests over the summer but he’s come back and got on with the job. The management were loyal to Chris, and I’m sure he will repay the faith they’ve shown in him. After some consistently excellent performances under Lancaster, they’ll hope he can provide his usual energy, workrate, competition at the breakdown and of course leadership qualities.”
Hilly’s pick: The man in possession, Chris Robshaw
Tom Johnson: I’ve been really impressed by Tom Johnson in the past few weeks, particularly in that performance against the Cardiff Blues. He’s brings high-energy, hard-graft and is comfortable with the ball in the wide channels to offload. Johnson had perhaps dropped away a bit, but that performance and Exeter’s good form has put him deservedly back in England contention.
Tom Wood: Tom is one of those characters who gets on with his job quietly. He loves his rugby and positively thrives on it. He brings decent physicality and a handy lineout option. He also fits in with England’s back row having the right workrate. That’s critical to the type of game they want to play. Their dynamism around defence has been key to putting the on the front foot.
Hilly’s pick: Tom Wood gets the nod
Waiting in the wings
Tom Croft would come into the reckoning if he was fit but England’s overall strength in depth in the back row is encouraging. There are other fringe players showing up well who may get a chance in the future like Dave Ewers, Will Fraser and Sam Dickinson. Dickinson, in particular, has put in some very strong performances at Northampton so far.
Richard Hill was speaking on behalf of QBE, the business insurance specialist, ahead of the QBE Internationals www.QBErugby.com