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England XV, Heineken joy & Schools getting it right

It has been an exciting few days in the rugby world, with the first round of the Heineken Cup, the revised England squad announcement and some fantastic schools rugby.

England Squad

Looking at England first, Stuart Lancaster has called up four fresh faces to his squad for the QBE Autumn Internationals, including three in the centres.

Gloucester’s Henry Trinder and Saracens’ Joel Tomkins come in for the Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi, while Northampton Saints’ Luther Burrell is officially there as ‘injury cover’.

In the forwards there is just one change from the squad named this summer, Exter’s Tom Johnson replaces the injured Tom Croft.

The real question on everybody’s lips though is who should start when the internationals kick off?

It is an interesting question and after some strong performances in Argentina, plus some excellent performances from England’s Lions, there is a sense that there could be a bit of a shake up to the perceived order. Here’s my take on it:

15. Ben Foden (Northampton Saints)

Neither Alex Goode or Mike Brown has really done anything wrong for England at full back so to drop them seems harsh. However with Twelvetrees likely to start at 12 the need for a distributer like Goode at 15 is reduced, whilst Foden just offers a little bit more magic that Brown. A tough choice but Foden has the ability to change a game.

14. Chris Ashton (Saracens)

A lot of people would like to see the back of Ashton but his form this season has been undeniable. The same defensive frailties remain but view on Ashton is that you can overlook that to an extent as long as he is scoring tries, and he is scoring tries right now. It is a shame not to see David Strettle in the squad though, he has been great nick this season.

13. Joel Tomkins (Saracens)

I would love to pick Henry Trinder here, he is such an exciting player, however in the hostile environment of a Test match I think that Tomkins’ solidity and his excellent offloading ability makes for the most sensible and successful option here for the moment.

12. Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)

There will be calls in some quarters for Kyle Eastmond or Luther Burrell but Billy Twelvetrees is the standout inside centre that England has, including those that are sidelined. He has the creative ability to unlock defences but is also capable of taking the ball on himself whilst his defence is good and his kicking game is a real bonus. He has impressed with every chance in an England shirt and deserves an opportunity to make it his own this autumn.

11. Marland Yarde (London Irish)

I hope that England chose to play two genuine wingers this autumn rather then selecting a full back out of position again. It made sense for a while but with young wingers emerging they need international game time. A few months ago Christian Wade was nailed on for this spot but Yarde has really kicked on this season and his all round game may just shade it. Either way it will be an exciting selection.

10. Owen Farrell (Saracens)

Will the England management release him to play in the same way that he did for the Lions? He showed there that he can play a flat and exciting game and with Twelvetrees outside him it would be a joy to see him play that way. Toby Flood is in fine form but Farrell is ahead of him in the pecking order, Gloucester’s indifferent start has rather tempered Freddie Burns’ chances of nudging his way ahead.

9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Of the three scrum halves Youngs is possibly the least in form, however with the experience of the Lions under his belt his understand and confidence on the international stage should be at an all time high and it would be a waste not to try and utilise that. Lee Dickson is very unlucky though, the challenge of Kahn Fotuali’i at Saints seems to have really driven him on.

1. Alex Corbisiero (Northampton Saints)

Corbisiero is the best prop England have and the scrummaging interpretations this season seem only to have made him more effective. The only worry is injury, his knee requires fluid to be drained and it could keep him out for a little while. If he does not make it then it is tempting still to keep Mako Vunipola on the bench and to promote Joe Marler over his head. It is possibly unfair but the weakness in Mako’s scrummaging still needs to be resolved. He will always be at least on the bench though.

2. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Dylan Hartley is in great form but Youngs is just playing outstanding rugby. His lineouts have also improved and with his brilliant work rate and ability to make a genuine impact with every involvement that he has in the game mean that he surely has to start. With the Lions experience behind him he could become a key figure in this England team now.

3. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)

Cole has lost a little of his aura for some reason but remains a solid scrummager and an absolute demon in the loose. I struggle to think of a more effective tighthead in the world at the breakdown. David Wilson really impressed over the summer and has looked good for the much improved Bath pack this season, however it would take some very special play indeed to oust Cole.

4. Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)

Launchbury tailed off a little towards the end of last season but he has bounced back to his best this season and with his combination of rangy athleticism and forceful grunt work he is surely the man to start in the autumn. Dave Attwood is unfortunate, he was excellent in Argentina and has started the season well and he looks to be maturing into the player that we all thought he would one day become. Courtney Lawes is also a touch unfortunate, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of an outstanding set of England locks.

5. Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)

The fact that I mentioned all three of the other possible second row players in the previous paragraph shows just how secure Parling has made his place in the team – it is genuinely a case of Parling and one other. Indeed there is a strong case to make him captain given the slight uncertainty over Robshaw and Wood’s positions. He has been brilliant for England and was even better for the Lions, where his leadership really shone through; he is now key to this England team.

6. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)

Tom Croft’s injury whilst very unfortunate and sad may have a silver lining for Lancaster as Tom Wood is the obvious man to slot in there, easing some of the pressure on Chris Robshaw’s position, and therefore his captaincy credentials too. That would was given the captaincy this summer and could yet take it this autumn demonstrates his value to the side and his work rate is so huge that it is scarcely believable.

7. Chris Robshaw (Harlequins) Captain

With Wood sliding across the back row to six and Matt Kvesic playing in a Gloucester pack that has constantly been on the back foot the pressure on Robshaw has eased a little recently. He has also been playing pretty well for Harlequins and seems to be focusing hard on his work at the breakdown. It is easy to forget the demand for his inclusion in 2011 and there was good reason for that, he is a superb player. Keeps the captaincy too, he has proven to be a good leader and there is no real need to rock the boat there.

8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

A toss up between big Billy and Ben Morgan but Vunipola is playing better rugby at the moment. In part that is due to the differing fortunes of Saracens and Gloucester at the moment but the move to Saracens seems to have really benefited Vunipola who looks a little leaner than before and has also moved around the back row a bit, gaining vital experience. He must look after the ball though.

Replacements:

16. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), 17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens) 18. David Wilson (Bath) 19. Dave Attwood (Bath) 20. Matt Kvesic (Gloucester) 21. Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints) 22. Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers) 23. Kyle Eastmond/Mike Brown (Bath/Harlequins)

Heineken Cup

It was great to see the rugby finally underway in the Heineken after all of the bitter arguments about the future of the tournament. The champions, Toulon, looked brilliant against Glasgow – it was the moment that they brought on Freddie Michalak for Jonny Wilkinson that really did it for me, nobody can compete with that sort of depth.

Edinburgh’s victory against Munster was good to see, and Greig Laidlaw was brilliant, they could not really have timed it better either. With their European future looking decidedly dodgy, a victory against one of the Heineken’ most prestigious teams was a good way to acknowledge the value of keeping room for the Scottish and Italian sides.

On the flip side of that argument was Zebre’s defeat to Toulouse. Toulouse had the bonus point wrapped up in no time and it did rather highlight Zebre’s inability to compete.

All in all though it was an excellent showcase for the Heineken Cup, Ulster beating Leicester and Castres’ tussle with Saints were excellent Heineken Cup encounters, whilst few would have bet on the Scarlets producing such a special performance to beat Quins.

The one that nobody expected though was for Racing Metro to beat Clermont Auvergne. Racing have some superstars and have spent a lot of money but Clermont are the finished article. However they looked off the pace at the weekend and there will now be a few questions about how losing in the final last year has affected them.

Of course all of that could change this weekend, however one thing is for sure, the magic of this tournament lives on and there is sure to be more to come this weekend.

Schools getting it right

Already this week I have had the pleasure of watching Wellington play Bryanston at London Irish’s HQ in Sunbury and Cranleigh play Stowe at the HAC in central London.

These were two fantastic occasions designed with one thing in mind – to allow people to come and watch.

The game in Sunbury was an evening kick off on Tuesday, located just outside of London it gave plenty of parents and old boys the opportunity to leave work and have a pleasant and quick journey over to the game. A very sensible idea that created a brilliant occasion.

The game at the Honourable Artillery Company was an even better occasion. The HAC is located right in the heart of the City so parents and alumni were able to saunter over from work to watch the Cranleigh v Stowe fixture.

It worked brilliantly, there was a big crowd, and excellent atmosphere and a fine game of rugby, played out in a majestic setting.

If schools want parents and old boys to come and watch them play then these sorts of innovative ideas are to be encouraged. Many would love to come and watch their sons/old schools play but just cannot get there. By moving the occasional fixture to an easier locations and/or time on occasion not only can these people come to watch, but a huge swell of goodwill is created. People appreciate the effort that is made for them to be able to watch.

By Angus Savage

England Squad 2013 QBE Internationals:

Forwards:

David Attwood (Bath Rugby)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
Alex Corbisiero (Northampton Saints)
Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs)
Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)
Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Joe Marler (Harlequins)
Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby)
Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)
Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
David Wilson (Bath Rugby)
Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)
Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

Backs :

Chris Ashton (Saracens)
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Freddie Burns (Gloucester Rugby)
Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)
Danny Care (Harlequins)
Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)
Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)
Owen Farrell (Saracens)
Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers)
Ben Foden (Northampton Saints)
Alex Goode (Saracens)
Henry Trinder (Gloucester Rugby)
Joel Tomkins (Saracens)
Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby)
Christian Wade (London Wasps)
Marland Yarde (London Irish)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

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