Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Coaches show their hands

Three starting XVs for the weekend's Six Nations have been named so far today - those of England, Wales and Ireland - and all contain shocks in one way or another.

The big surprise in the England selection is the decision to call Gloucester number 8 Luke Narraway into the starting XV. Narraway's been in good form for Gloucester, but he was so far off most pundits' radar that it's taken everyone by surprise. It could turn out to be a masterstroke, but the omission of Tom Croft from the 22 is a big disappointment.

Of almost equal surprise is the selection of Ian Ballsup at fullback, despite the fact that he's long been a teacher's pet as far as Brian Ashton is concerned. I'm not sure what Ballsup's done to to merit inclusion, nor do I know what Mathew Tait has done (aside from one poor game for Newcastle at the weekend) to warrant further shoddy treatment in being excluded from the 22.

All in all it's a selection that fails to inspire, although the potential impact from the bench looks promising:

ENGLAND: I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), M Tindall (Gloucester), T Flood (Newcastle), D Strettle (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), M Regan (Bristol), P Vickery (Wasps, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath), J Haskell (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester).
Replacements: L Mears (Bath), M Stevens (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), T Rees (Wasps), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), D Cipriani (Wasps), L Vainikolo (Gloucester).
Meanwhile, Warren Gatland has surprised many by going for a starting XV containing 13 Ospreys, which really shouldn't be a shock given that they are the only Welsh region playing decent rugby this season. Unfortunately, however, he has been unable to select the 3 Ospreys who have led the team's asault on Europe this season - New Zealanders Marty Holah, Justin Marshall and Filo Tiatia - for the rather inconvenient reason that they are all Kiwis.

All in all it's a decent enough looking team - but the front row could be eaten alive by the English and the omission of Shanklin may come back to haunt Gatland:

WALES: L Byrne (Ospreys); S Williams (Ospreys), S Parker (Ospreys), G Henson (Ospreys), M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets); J Hook (Ospreys), M Phillips (Ospreys); D Jones (Ospreys), H Bennett (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: M Rees (Llanelli Scarlets), G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), I Evans (Ospreys), A Popham (Llanelli Scarlets), G Cooper (Gloucester), S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues).
Finally, Eddie O'Sullivan has caused major shockwaves only insofar as he has somehow managed to entirely redefine the word "conservative" by sticking more or less with the players humbled by France and Argentina at the World Cup. Those hoping for a new dawn and starts for the likes of Jamie Heaslip or Leo Cullen or Rob Kearney will be sadly disappointed.

I can't help feeling that, at home against Italy, Eddie's missed the boat on this one:
IRELAND: G Dempsey (Leinster); A Trimble (Ulster), O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester); R O'Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Wasps); M Horan (Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), S Easterby (Llanelli), D Wallace (Munster), D Leamy (Munster).
Replacements: B Jackman (Leinster), T Buckley (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster), P Stringer (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster), R Kearney (Leinster).

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