Between them, Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson have a massive call to make over Jonny’s England future.
Jonny missed the autumn Tests and, given his return to form and fitness and the RFU edict to only pick England-based players after the World Cup, there is a decision to be made. Jonny merits a place in the squad but is that enough for him? Will he be happy playing second fiddle to Toby Flood? It’s a conversation between player and coach, and maybe Jonny might take that decision out of Martin’s hands. You would want Jonny around as his quality is there for everyone to see. He’s playing very well for Toulon but the big question is: does he just want to be around? Every player has to decide when the time is right to go. I back the RFU’s decision to favour home-based players. I’m staunchly patriotic and England should have done it two or three years ago.
I believe the basis for a strong national team is having a strong domestic competition. The only way to get a strong domestic competition is by having your best players playing. If I was a sponsor and wanted to inject millions of pounds into English rugby, I’d want to know that the biggest names in England would be playing. In terms of looking after players physically, mentally and medically, it’s much easier to do that when they aren’t travelling to and from training.
You should also be playing with and against England team-mates, to give you a pecking order. It’s clear that if you want to play for your country you stay in your country. If you want to go and earn lots of money then by all means do that, but don’t expect to play for your country.
Of course, England are looking for strength in depth in a lot of positions as we head towards the World Cup, particularly in midfield. Yes, we have Mike Tindall and Shontayne Hape, but England must use the next few months to find a few more centres of genuine international class. It’s a very attritional position and it’s key.
Riki Flutey should come back into the squad and there are others who have to come into the mix – Anthony Allen, Dom Waldouck and Dan Hipkiss. The back row has performed well, but you need a group of five or six who are really going to push each other. Who are the other three behind Tom Croft, Nick Easter and Lewis Moody?
This World Cup may be 18 months too early in the development of this team. But can they make a semi or final as we did in 2007? Absolutely yes, and once you reach that stage anything can happen. In 2007 we were written off but ended up losing narrowly in the final.
The crucial Six Nations game is Wales away. If England want to be taken seriously as World Cup contenders, they have to win in Cardiff – as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand managed to do.
But it won’t be easy as Wales will play better against England than they did against any of those three countries. England won in Sydney so there’s no reason they can’t do the same in Cardiff. And if they do that, they can bottle it up and take it to New Zealand in September.