By Charlie Morgan
Saturday’s Kingsholm clash between England Saxons and the catchily-named O2 Ireland Wolfhounds – selected directly from Joe Schmidt’s wider Six Nations training group – is not just a Six Nations warm-up, but a fairly mouth-watering prospect in itself. Three of Ireland’s provinces are purring in the Heineken Cup and Connacht have brought fantastic tenacity (a Saracens spanking aside). Opposite them are the hosts, whose match-day 23 is packed with hungry youngsters.
Then there are individual sub-plots – the most compelling of which surrounds a certain Freddie Burns, named as vice-captain. Can the mercurial 23 year-old build on an assured performance for Gloucester in Perpignan and impress enough on his home ground to force Stuart Lancaster’s hand in terms of England’s fly-half selection? Time will tell. In any case, here are four other Saxons to keep an eye on.
Calum Clark (Northampton Saints)
The front is a logical place to start and Saxons skipper Clark will be leading from the trenches. Unsung but effervescent in Saints’ muscular season so far, he could be considered the form flanker in England over the past few months – certainly his ability to spoil opposition attacks through line-speed and breakdown spoiling is second to none. The dreadful discipline issues that dogged his early career seem to have gone and, still aged just 24, he has plenty to offer the national set-up. Clark’s back-row colleagues on Saturday are livewire Luke Wallace and destructive Dave Ewers – on paper, it is a perfectly complementary balance.
Elliot Daly (London Wasps)
Although getting the ball to them in phase play proved tricky last autumn, England are currently blessed with a plethora of fine full-backs. Undoubtedly part of this category, Daly is absurdly gifted across the board – deceptive pace, a burly frame, intelligent running lines, decent hands and a howitzer left boot – and can also operate at centre. He excelled in two run-outs for the Barbarians against England and the Lions last summer and could produce something special alongside Anthony Watson and Charlie Sharples in a scorching back three on Saturday. Even if the 2015 World Cup might come too soon for the 21-year-old, he’ll be a shoo-in by 2019.
Scott Wilson (Newcastle Falcons)
England Under-20 scrum Svengali Ian Peel – an extremely shrewd judge of tight-five prowess – has very high hopes for Melrose-born Wilson, who was the cornerstone of last summer’s Junior World Championship win. Blossoming steadily at Newcastle Falcons, the tighthead has furthered his education this season with nine replacement appearances in the Aviva Premiership as well as three starts in the Amlin Challenge Cup. Capable of destruction at the set-piece, Wilson has joined the traffic jam of props behind Dan Cole and David Wilson in Lancaster’s pecking order and could send his star higher from the bench on Saturday.
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
Slade must be satisfied with a place among the replacements, but the precocious Chief is talented enough to be a central figure in Test matches for the next decade. Composed and comfortable in possession, he has the intelligence to unlock midfields and looked sharp in training on Tuesday at Loughborough University. Despite a slightly willowy physique, the 20 year-old can also look after himself in defence – all the credentials of a classy inside centre are there. Rob Baxter deployed Slade at 12 and the excellent Sam Hill at 13 in Cardiff last weekend. That might have been a glimpse into the future.