After the massive disappointment of the Rugby World Cup, it's time for England to look forward and start building for 2019, starting with the 2016 Six Nations
Whoever is in charge of England when the Christmas decorations come down has to pick an EPS squad for the Six Nations and all talk of the 2019 World Cup must be banned. England have not won the title since 2011 and it is about time they got one in the locker, whilst getting some youngsters into the team in the process. As we have mentioned before, the All Blacks manage to do it so why don’t England? So, donning our flak jackets, this is how they should line up at Murrayfield on 6 February. It won’t happen though.
Full-back: Mike Brown
No-brainer this one, Brown might be 30 and even if he is not around in 2019 you would not want to be the person that tells him his international career is finished. England’s most consistent back in the Stuart Lancaster era, Brown is far too good to leave out for the foreseeable future.
Wings: Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph
Anthony Watson is probably a Test full-back further down the track but for now he can stay on the wing from where he has dotted down eight times this calendar year. Jonathan Joseph is a conundrum. He has great feet and is sharp but doesn’t have the range of passing for a top-notch 13. On that basis we have to get him in somewhere, so wing is the best fit for the Bath man.
Centres: Henry Slade and Owen Farrell
Slade, along with George Ford, is the most gifted footballer of his generation and England must be a better side than we all thought if they can afford to leave him out. He has got the lot, whilst Owen Farrell has some of that ‘dog’ and can look after the Boyband members either side of him when the heat is on. His goal-kicking is vital and charges of nepotism over his selection during the World Cup are just blatantly unfair.
Fly-half: George Ford
George Ford has a rugby brain way beyond his 22 years and I’m certain he will be a 100-plus capper if he avoids injury. He knows how to open up defences, manages a game adroitly and could well be captain in the years to come. We can’t see anyone arguing with this pick. Absolutely nailed on.
Scrum-half: Ben Youngs
Ben Youngs is 26, Danny Care is 28, both have more than 50 caps and we can see them scrapping over the number 9 shirt for the next few years. Hopefully they can spur each other in the way Matt Dawson and Kyran Bracken did back in the glory days. Youngs just edges it as starter with Care adding pace and bite off the bench.
Props: Alex Waller and Kieran Brookes
Joe Marler and Dan Cole were off the boil during the World Cup but should come again so Northampton’s Alex Waller gets his debut ahead of club mate Alex Corbisiero. Northampton have got a few decent front-rowers – Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi will be in the shake-up before long – and Kieran Brookes, now at Franklin’s Gardens, has done his time as a bench bunny with England and deserves a start.
Hooker: Dylan Hartley
Dylan Hartley was probably the player England missed most at the World Cup. He scrums well, throws in well and that is a hooker’s bread and butter. Everything else is just frills. His absence meant England picked Geoff Parling to shore up the line-out but that meant they lost some weight in the scrum. Hartley is a leader – would England have thrown to the front with him on the pitch against Wales? His disciplinary charge sheet does not bother me either –three yellow cards in 66 Tests for England is hardly the record of an international career criminal. Different matter at domestic level though.
Second row: Joe Launchbury and Dave Attwood
If Joe Launchbury could get a bit more of Martin Johnson’s edge into his game he would be the complete package and Dave Attwood was desperately unlucky to miss the World Cup. The Bath second row, who is an old-school type lock, would add a bit of power to the scrum and help out the tight-head prop whilst Courtney Lawes has been quiet over the last few weeks and Geoff Parling likewise.
Back row: Maro Itoje, Chris Robshaw (capt), Nick Easter
Jack Clifford was unlucky not to get in here but I am not about to send Robshaw off to the knacker’s yard – he has been through the mill and deserves another crack. Clifford could end up as No. 8 for the 2019 World Cup and will be in the side soon but Easter does it for me, even it is only for five games next spring. The old war-horse missed out on about 40 caps thanks to the post-2011 cull and I reckon England are still regretting it. Maro Itoje, or Ford, will ultimately be captain and the Saracens man is a big old unit who puts himself about.
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Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi, Danny Care, Alex Goode
The whole idea of a bench is that it is full of people who can come on and change a game, or else why bother? Manu Tuilagi can start his rehabilitation as an impact sub and Billy Vunipola, Care and Alex Goode would all up the tempo of a game with 20 minutes to go. George could easily be the starting hooker in four years’ time and, hopefully, a spell on the bench will help turn Lawes into the world-beater we all predicted he would be five years ago.