Monday, 9 June 2008

Lucky dip

I've received an email asking me which 22 players I'd name in the England squad to take on the All Blacks at the weekend. My honest answer is that, really, I haven't a clue!

Although there's plenty of opinion flying about in the press that England have a half decent chance of sharing this test series and there is plenty of doom and gloom in New Zealand attaching itself to Graham Henry and his team, my gut feeling, deep down, is that we're going to take a bit of a pasting again down under.

I know Ireland ran the All Blacks relatively close in Wellington on Saturday but the conditions were just atrocious and I got the impression that, for New Zealand, it was a great exercise in blowing away a few cobwebs.

The problem that England face (other than their very strong opponents) is that, once again, they have had to embark on an arduous trip down under at the end of a very long, hard domestic season which for many players started with preparation for the World Cup nearly 12 months ago. Not only that, but once again they'll need to play the Kiwis (who are fired up with the desire to achieve redemption following their World Cup disaster) with a team decimated by injury and unavailability.

Excuses? Maybe, but it' s all very well for Southern Hemisphere commentators to demand that we send over our best team when, firstly, we haven't a clue what that best team is and, secondly, when half the players we think might be in that best team are either crocked, knackered or require surgery.

By and large, therefore, until the combined genius of the fixture planners at the IRB comes up with a properly structured international season (I'm not holding my breath) then these end of season tours will continue to be nothing more than a waste of time and effort - although this year, unfortunately, the consequence of defeat will almost certainly affect our seeding for the 2011 World Cup.

The last time we sent a team down to New Zealand was in 2004 when, again after a long and hard World Cup season, we were stuffed in both Tests and there's nothing to suggest why this won't happen again this time around.

However, if pushed, I'd probably go for the following 22 for the First Test:

15. Mathew Tait - Sunday Times journo Stephen Jones doesn't rate him - that's good enough for me.
14. David Strettle - ditto.
13. Mike Tindall - against my better judgement perhaps - but it could be backs-to-the-wall stuff out there which Tindall tends to enjoy.
12. Olly Barkely - best 12 in England all season.
11. Tom Varndell - has the gas to worry the Kiwis if he can find the confidence to use it.
10. Toby Flood - sorry, I just can't bring myself to pick Charlie Hodgson, partly for reasons of his own safety.
9. Danny Care - go on, why not?
1. Andrew Sheridan - might enjoy himself in the absence of Hayman.
2. Lee Mears - I have my reservations but he's been in great form for Bath
3. Matt Stevens - a chance to lay down a marker for next season
4. Steve Borthwick (c) - another not rated by Stephen Jones who obviously knows more about second row play than Martin Johnson.
5. Tom Palmer - another player in great form.
6. Michael Lipman - I'd give him a go at 6 in tandem with Rees at 7 to double-team McCaw.
7. Tom Rees - see above - a chance to really come of age.
8. James Haskell - with Nick Easter out injured Haskell can anchor a truly dynamic back row and a pack dominated by Bath and Wasps.

16. Tim Payne - to play last 15-20.
17. Dylan Hartley - ditto.
18. Tom Croft - to cover 2nd row and back row.
19. Joe Worsley - experienced cover late in game Ă  la World Cup.
20. Peter Richards - covers scrum half and the centres if necessary.
21. Mike Brown - in case Tait turns out to be a rubbish fullback.
22. Dominic Waldouck - could add craft to midfield.

...and with the squad being named tomorrow morning I guess we'll find out soon enough whether Rob Andrew reads this blog!


Bigfoot said...
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Bigfoot said...

Why the reservations on Lee Mears? Doesn't he deserve a run as the starting hooker after seeing off challenges and working under Regan, Humphries & Thompson?

Total Flanker said...

I'm just not 100% convinced that Mears is physical enough - to me he's looked a bit underpowered in internationals so far. That said, he's been brilliant for Barrf this season so I'm hoping we'll see that form translate on to the international stage - preferably sooner rather than later.

By the way, who is Humphries?

Bigfoot said...

Humphries was the Welch hooker and served at Bath for a few years after Regan left for Leeds (I think?). He captained Wales a few times too.

I agree on the physical side to Lee though I believe his throwing and, more importantly, his mobility serves him well above any other choices. hartley is afterall huge (as hookers go) but can't throw for shit...hence why he was dropped several times over the season (and last) when he wasn't suspended.

Just think after serving his times as #2 Lee deserves...and warrants...a run!

Bigfoot said...

Plus......having an Englishman playing in an England team is far more appropriate than picking a South African or New Zealander!!!

Total Flanker said...

Ah, THAT Humphries! You're right of course, Mears does deserve his shot - I just hope my reservations about his physicality prove unfounded.