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England’s front row, Celtic fly halves, & Scottish Garlic

After the hors d’oeuvres of the England v Australia game last week, the main course of Autumn Internationals begins in earnest on Saturday, here is my take on the rugby world this weekend.

England

The excitement around the naming of the England squad yesterday was somewhat dampened by the news that both Marland Yarde and Christian Wade were injured, meaning that the under fire Chris Ashton still starts, with Ben Foden as his wing partner.

However for me the big news was in the far more mundane area of the field, the front row, in particular Stuart Lancaster’s decision to select David Wilson ahead of Dan Cole, who is on the bench.

In the past I have been quite critical of Wilson, not as a player or person but as a symbol. Of his twenty-nine caps, twenty-three have come from the bench, making him one of the poster boys for the modern policy of emptying your bench regardless of the performance of those currently on the field.

I know that it is just me harking back to a bygone era and that in the modern game the entire 23 is seen as ‘the team’ not just the starting XV, nonetheless the trend for emptying the bench and people getting caps for just a few minutes play does grate somewhat.

Wilson certainly deserves his start though. He has been in fantastic form for his club and played brilliantly for England is Cole’s absence against the Barbarians and Argentina this summer. The new scrummaging laws seem to suit him down to a t and having impressed last week as a substitute he thoroughly deserves his chance.

It is also a canny piece of management from Stuart Lancaster. Dan Cole has firmly been England’s first choice tighthead for a few years now but he has not quite been at his imperious best recently. By dropping him to the bench Lancaster is just giving him a gentle reminder that his place is not guaranteed and that he must keep performing to the level that everyone knows he can.

Starting Dylan Hartley was probably an easy decision for Lancaster, the lineout wobbled last week and Hartley is in good form so deserved a start anyway, the arrival of Tom Youngs’ first child will have cemented that decision though given the inevitable sleep deprivation that Youngs must face.

All in all though it is pleasing to see Stuart Lancaster try to stick with the side that played Australia as much as possible. While it may not have been the perfect performance they did beat one of the top sides in the world and given that this group of players has not really played together since the Six Nations, they deserve another chance to gel again.

It will be interesting to see how they try to play the game though, it will be very easy to get dragged into playing a gritty forward orientated game against Argentina but England must look to use the fact that they have a distributer at 12 in Billy Twelvetrees. Although he took a fair bit of criticism for his performance against Australia but he was never really given any ball to work with in attack – that is something that England must look to rectify.

Wales must perform

This autumn is crucial for Wales in the build up to the 2015 World Cup. If they are to progress deep into that competition then they need to start demonstrating that they are able to do more than just beat the Northern Hemisphere sides, with aplomb it must be said, but that they can also routinely beat the big Southern Hemisphere sides.

South Africa will be a formidable opponent on Saturday, they, along with New Zealand, look far better than the chasing pack at the moment and have added some exciting back play to their unrivalled forward power.

The loss of Eli Walker is a shame for Wales, that is twice now that he has been in line to make his debut before succumbing to injury at the last minute.

Their back row trio will be key, as ever, but a lot also depends on Rhys Priestland at 10. He returns to the side after a long absence because of injury but it is important that he starts directing the side in the manner that he was in 2011 rather than in the manner he was before his injury. Wales need to have a settled option at fly half.

Having said that, it would be good to see James Hook get a proper run…

Sexton out but Jackson gets his chance

Speaking of fly halves, Jonny Sexton will miss out for Ireland this week after picking up a knock to the hip in action for Racing Metro at the weekend, meaning that Paddy Jackson will start at fly half.

The Ulsterman has been in fine form for his province this season though and should slot in very nicely but it does raise an interesting prospect about Sexton.

Joe Schmidt was rather unhappy that Sexton had to leave camp to go and play for Racing at the weekend anyway and was even less happy about the fact that Sexton had played thirteen games in twelve weeks this season, particularly given that those playing in Ireland have their game time so carefully management.

If Jackson really performs and starts to fulfil his excellent promise, could Schmidt decide to make him his number one? Sending out a message to the rest of the Irish players that they are best to stay in Ireland if they want to play for the national side. After all if Sexton is vulnerable then anyone is.

Of course it is highly unlikely, bordering on completely bonkers and impossible, and Sexton is not really particularly vulnerable, but it would be an interesting statement to make.

Scotland leave out a Lion

If interesting statements are what we are after though then how about Scott Johnson’s decision to stick Richie Gray on the bench against Japan.

It could be said that it is ‘only Japan’ but looking at the rest of the team sheet it looks decidedly like a 1st XV to me, making it quite a statement to leave one of Scotland’s few British and Irish Lions on the bench.

Of course all three of the other Home Nations have done the same thing, but with so few Lions in their ranks few would have expected Scotland to.

In fairness though, Tim Swinson and Al Kellock did a superb job in South Africa this summer and deserve a go, while Johnson has hinted that he will try to use the bulk of his squad this autumn so there are likely to be changes coming.

Garlic Spray

Sticking with Scotland, possibly the most bizarre story of the week has been that ground staff at Murrayfield have been spraying the pitch with garlic in a bid to eradicate a turf parasite.

If only they had a fixture scheduled against Transylvania, an easy home win secured…

School Rugby

This weekend is the first full fixture block on the school calendar since the half term break and includes some absolutely brilliant looking encounters.

Whitgift v RGS High Wycombe, Wellington v Hampton, and Dulwich v John Fisher will be outstanding games, while Millfield’s trip over to Wales to play Llandovery College will be another belter.

If you are looking to get a taste of school rugby though it is definitely worth heading along to Saracens’ Allianz Park on Saturday, where KCS Wimbledon are taking on Wimbledon College.

The game kicks off at 12.00 leaving plenty of time to be able to catch all of the Autumn Internationals.

As last week, I will be doing live Twitter updates from Twickenham on Saturday on @FifteenRugbyXV do tweet me during the game and after and hopefully we can get some good debates going about the game.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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