By Alan Dymock
IT’S NOT long until the Aviva Premiership season starts and we’ve only just stopped nursing our British and Irish Lions hangovers. However, with the start of the domestic season come renewed questions for the England national side.
In autumn England face Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. They are stern challenges against Rugby Championship opposition, of course, and a different proposition than experiences in recent memory would suggest, with New Zealand set to enjoy Championship crushing form, Australia being a different beast to the one that broke England last season and Argentina much stronger than the side that faced England in the summer tour.
Come autumn England will want to build for Rugby World Cup 2015 as well.
So the first few games of the Premiership become significant for Stuart Lancaster. Now is the time to try combinations and push players who he reckons will be his starters for the World Cup. It looks like Marland Yarde could be tested with Tom Varndell to see who plays with the likes of Christian Wade, with the options as exciting as they are risky for spectators’ hearts, but the real headache for Lancaster as he looks into the first few rounds of action in the league will be his back-row.
Captain Chris Robshaw has penned a new deal with Harlequins, anchoring him in England’s capital until 2016, and the side have steadily progressed under his and Lancaster’s watch. Yet there are more and more calls coming in for Matt Kvesic to become England’s openside, as an out-and-out seven.
In the August issue of Rugby World, columnist Martin Corry asked if Robshaw was right to captain England, with Kvesic looking like the real deal at seven and Tom Wood and Tom Croft there at six. Certainly Lancaster must be aware of this aspect – Corry was an intelligent player and knows his back-row play, but this is something impossible for any England fan to ignore – but he must still compare form and value to the team over the coming weeks, before he plumps for his starters in his head.
Tom Wood is the man who would be captain, if you ask some fans. However, in order to make any changes that alter the composition of the team, Kvesic has to be burning down grounds and dominating every openside opposite him.
What cannot be ignored is the potential for a back-row partnership at Gloucester between Kvesic and the stand-out No8 for England, Ben Morgan. If they share a telepathic link and team up to boss the Premiership, it will be hard to ignore Kvesic. Then the idea of moving Robshaw to six comes in and he has to worry about finding room for Wood and Croft. If Kvesic does OK, without making himself impossible to ignore, he is a safe bench option.
What are Lancasters plans for 2015?
Whatever it is, he will have a headache all the way there.