By Max Forsyth
WITH NEXT Wednesday’s announcement of England squad announcement looming, Rugby World looks ahead to five head-to-head clashes in this weekend’s Aviva Premiership
Tom Johnson v Tom Wood (Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints, Saturday 3pm)
Sandy Park will play host to a joust of epic proportions between two blindsides who have had mixed fortunes with England in the last 12 months. Tom Johnson, so impressive around the field on the tour to South Africa, paid the price for his side’s frustrating 20-14 defeat against Australia when he was dropped ahead of the Springboks’ return leg at Twickenham in November.
Johnson’s place was taken by Tom Wood, who starts on the bench on Saturday, and he will want to prove his lineout skills and unrelenting workrate are worthy of retaining the England shirt that saw him pick up the Man of the Match award against New Zealand.
Christian Wade v Tom Biggs (London Wasps v Bath, Sunday, 3pm)
Form suggests that full-back Mike Brown will wear the left-wing shirt when Scotland visit England’s HQ on February 2 but it is clear the Harlequin prefers the extra space given to him playing at 15. Unfortunately wing is one position England are not blessed with strength in depth and Brown will undoubtedly do a job.
Christian Wade, the jet-heeled flyer has been making waves in the Premiership and Europe and his 15 tries in 28 Premiership appearances – he’s second in the Premiership scoring charts – is proof of a formidable strike rate. You’d wager Wade can’t be too far from an England call-up.
Tom Biggs meanwhile is a great finisher, scoring a memorable hat-trick against Wasps at Twickenham in 2011, and his form earned the Bath man a call up to the England training squad before the New Zealand test.
Billy Twelvetrees v Jonathan Joseph (Gloucester v London Irish, Saturday 3pm)
Billy Twelvetrees may just have lost his personal duel with Anthony Allen to back up Saracen Brad Barritt last weekend, but he will have another chance to stake his claim for a place in the midfield when he pits his creative skills against Jonathan Joseph.
Twelvetrees’ bold move to Kingsholm at the start of the season has allowed the England Saxon to establish himself as a first-team regular and his varied kicking skills offer Lancaster options.
Joseph will be looking to stop the Gloucester man from taking his spot in the pecking order however and the centre’s quick feet and strong fends must come to the fore if he is to deny Twelvetrees bragging rights.
Owen Farrell v Danny Cipriani (Saracens v Sale Sharks, Sunday 3pm)
Perhaps this is not the stage for Danny Cipriani to stake a claim for selection in the Six Nations, though his clash with Owen Farrell is a high-profile opportunity to prove his detractors wrong.
Much maligned in the press for his defensive limitations by ex-coach, John Mitchell, the former Wasps fly-half will not want to come up short against Saracens.
Cipriani’s attacking prowess has never been in doubt, whereas Farrell, who has been told he will get more game time at 10, needs to start showing the game management skills that have been masterfully displayed by the man occupying his shirt, Charlie Hodgson.
Matt Kvesic v Tom Croft (Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers, 8pm tonight)
Tom Croft’s return on Friday night will mark the end of a miserable eight months for the England flanker following a neck injury picked up against Harlequins in April.
Croft will hope to maintain his excellent lineout reputation that made him an England incumbent. With over a stone added in weight, he packs down on the opposite side of the scrum to the highly rated openside, Matt Kvesic, who is tipped to be an England regular by the World Cup in 2015.
Though neither player is likely to feature heavily this Six Nations, the game at Sixways this evening showcases two men who could be wearing the Red Rose together in years to come.