Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Baby goes...bathwater stays

England face the very real prospect of being turned over by Italy for the first time ever this weekend.

I've just seen the team announcement and, must confess, am absolutely staggered.

Admittedly Brian Ashton has had to deal with having several players ruled out with injury - Andrew Sheridan being the latest apparently - but that's no excuse for the utter horlicks he's made in selecting this team.

Iain Ballsup, unfortunately, isn't injured and so is given yet another chance to prove his competence as an international fullback, despite all evidence to the contrary. Likewise Jamie Noon is restored to the outside centre position ahead of the infinitely more talented and effective Mathew Tait. What must Tait be thinking? How can he have gone from being England's most potent runner (as well as their most effective defender) in the final of the Rugby World Cup to now being third choice outside centre (at best) behind such limited players as Tindall and Noon?

Meanwhile, Saint Jonny somewhat predictably keeps his place despite currently probably being, on form alone, no better than the 5th best English outside half. They say that form is temporary and class is permanent but I'm not sure that applies any longer to Wilkinson who really isn't performing anywhere near the same level as Cipriani and company at present.

Upfront I accept that Ashton was more or less faced with Hobson's choice, but Tim Payne's selection does nothing for the ball-carrying ability of the pack and the inclusion of Nick Easter, who is yet to play any rugby in 2008, smacks of desperation. The omission of Tom Croft (assuming that he's fit, which he might not be) also continues to be a puzzle.

As for the composition of the bench, will Ashton never learn? Apart from cover for the specialist positions of prop, hooker and scrumhalf, what's needed on an international bench are players who can (a) cover more than one position and (b) make an impact. In Cipriani and Tait (despite the fact that both should be starting), Ashton has it right. In Ben Kay he most definitely does not. Not only is Ben Kay only a lock forward, he is only a middle-jumping lock forward. If Saturday taught Ashton anything it was that he needed a Martin Corry-type on the bench, someone who could play lock or in the back row - someone like Tom Croft or Jordan Crane. The fact that lessons are not being learned is, perhaps, the most worrying aspect of this team selection.

Many commentators have said that a knee-jerk reaction to England's defeat by Wales at the weekend would have been a mistake but I beg to differ. A knee-jerk reaction is exactly what was required to shake English players and coaches alike out of this complacent mentality that, a couple of errors aside, we more or less won Saturday's match. We didn't. We executed poorly and then we fell apart. Ashton needed to be brave with this team selection and has patently failed to be so.

ENGLAND: I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), L Vainikolo (Gloucester); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), M Regan (Bristol), P Vickery (Wasps, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath), J Haskell (Wasps), M Lipman (Bath), N Easter(Harlequins).
Replacements: L Mears (Bath), M Stevens (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), D Cipriani (Wasps), M Tait (Newcastle).


Nursedude said...

Flanker, cleaver work on the England Jersey. After Wilkinson's performance against Wales, I would have liked to have seen Cipriani given a chance to start. I agree with your assessment. My upset special for this week is for Italy to get a first ever win against England. If England loses against Italy, all of the sudden Dallalgio looks less like a whiner and more like a visionary.

Total Flanker said...

Can't take credit for the England jersey - found it on a messageboard - but it's very appropriate!

Losing to Italy is a very real possibility I'm afraid.

Stuey said...

You can still get 6-1 on Italy....I am loathed to bet against my country but looking at it that's a decent price.