Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Johnno gets it right (mostly)

Martin Johnson endeared himself to the vast majority of England rugby supporters this morning when he left Iain Ballsup out of the England squad to tour New Zealand next month. For good measure he also decided to exclude the other form-blind Ashton-pick, Lesley Vainikolo, another move which will go down well with most England fans.

OK, so there are a few players in the squad who can consider themselves lucky to be there - Ben Kay, Luke Narraway and Toby Flood for instance - and I'd have liked to have seen just a tad more boldness shown by the inclusion of Shane Geraghty and Ben Foden - but all in all the squad looks well balanced with plenty of experience backed up by young first-timers such as Dylan Hartley, David Paice, Nick Kennedy, Danny Care and Topsy Ojo. When you consider that the likes of Vickery, Moody, Ellis, Wilkinson, Lewsey and Simpson-Daniel have been left out to deal with various injuries, it shows that there is a fair bit of depth in the English game.

Steve Borthwick, vastly underrated by the British press (and in particular by a certain Stephen Jones) is a great choice as skipper and, assuming that key players don't fall by the wayside as the Premiership reaches its conclusion during the next couple of weeks, this squad could mount a decent challenge in New Zealand.

However, given that even the best England team in living memory only managed a 2 point win in Wellington in 2003, expectations need to be set accordingly - a drawn series would therefore represent a major achievement and 2 narrow defeats (as long as the team performs) might even be acceptable.

England squad:

Forwards: A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), T Payne (Wasps), M Stevens (Bath), J Hobson (Bristol), L Mears (Bath), D Hartley (Northampton), D Paice (London Irish), S Borthwick (Bath, capt), B Kay (Leicester), N Kennedy (London Irish), T Palmer (Wasps), T Croft (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), J Worsley (Wasps), M Lipman (Bath), T Rees (Wasps), N Easter (Harlequins), L Narraway (Gloucester).
Backs: M Brown (Harlequins), P Sackey (Wasps), D Strettle (Harlequins), T Ojo (London Irish), M Tait (Newcastle), M Tindall (Gloucester), J Noon (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), O Barkley (Bath), D Cipriani (Wasps), C Hodgson (Sale Sharks), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), P Richards (London Irish), D Care (Harlequins).

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