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England’s Six Nations squad prediction – Ford, Nowell, and Watson to make the leap?

Stuart Lancaster announces his England Elite Player Squad on Thursday, as well as the revised Saxons and U20s squads.

Despite all the chatter about it though, do not expect too many changes to the squad. He is limited to 6 anyway, but given the amount of key personnel who are currently injured Lancaster is likely to use his ‘freebie’ injury replacement cards, rather than actually changing the squad – thus enabling the likes of Manu Tuilagi and Tom Croft to still be available for selection for the tour of New Zealand this summer.

The one potential change to the squad that does appear to be generating some real momentum though is at fly half, where Toby Flood appears to be under severe pressure having effectively ruled himself out of the World Cup by opting to move to France in the summer.

George Ford is the man on the lips of most as a replacement for his former Tigers teammate and he certainly seems to be the man in the hot seat, though Stephen Myler is making a fairly strong case with his rock solid performances for Northampton Saints.

Let us be frank though, Toby Flood’s probable omission, self-inflicted to be fair, is a real problem for England. Not because whoever comes in cannot do a good job playing wise, or possibly an even better one, but because Flood is England’s most experienced player, and is one of only two 50 cap men in the squad, alongside Dylan Hartley.

England’s 10/12/13 axis has been chopped and changed and unsettled for a long time now, and not just through the Lancaster regime. With Manu Tuilagi still out and Brad Barritt not exactly long on game time, losing an experienced man in that area is a difficult scenario.

In recent times Flood might not have been a starter but he has been than man that England have turned to for the last 20 minutes just to use his calm and relatively experienced head to guide them home. He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but nobody can deny that he has faced more in game scenarios than anyone else in the backline.

The likes of Ford and Freddie Burns, for all their talents (and they are considerable) are not able to bring that vital commodity to the table.

It is for that reason though that Lancaster is likely to get rid of Flood now rather than wait until his next squad announcement at the start of next season. He needs Flood’s replacement to be able to fill that role, to be able to go into the 2015 World Cup with a decent amount of caps to their name, against decent opposition, and for them to have faced some tough challenges and helped the team through.

To that end every game counts. Eighteen months of International experience ahead of the World Cup is not much, but it is a whole lot more than just 12. Eight international matches more, to be precise.

The centres will be an interesting area too, Joel Tomkins rather disappointed in the Autumn and with Luther Burrell of Saints still continuing to impress, he seems likely to be included in some way instead.

The wing position looks as though it will provide some interesting options too, both Marland Yarde and Christian Wade are out, which ought to give Chris Ashton some breathing space, with Ben Foden also out though there are now some big gaps to be filled. Jonny May seems highly likely to be one of the replacements but who might join him seems a bit of a lottery. Both Charlie Sharples and Dave Strettle are in the Saxons but both have been tried and then cast aside in this England side.

Ugo Monye is another Saxons man who could step in; he has plenty of experience to his name but does not really seem to be on the Lancaster radar.

The ace in the pack though could be Exeter Chiefs Jack Nowell. He was named in the Saxons this summer and has been in superb form recently. It is only a matter of time surely before he plays for England so like any potential replacement for Flood – better early than to leave it too late.

Another who might get a look in is Jonathan Joseph. He was in the mix for a long time and his move to Bath has seen him return to form, indeed he has been playing better than Kyle Eastmond lately. What also works in his favour though is that he can also play on the wing, a handy tool given the shortage of wings.

What seems more likely though is that Nowell’s U20s World Cup winning teammate, Bath’s Anthony Watson, might get the call. Watson has been one of the most in form players in the league, can play full back and wing, making him handy cover in Ben Foden’s absence, and he was called in to train with the squad in the autumn.

The forwards seem far simpler. It seems unlikely that there will be any direct replacements, only injury cover for Croft, Corbisiero, and Parling.

Nick Wood from the Saxons will probably cover Corbisiero, while Parling’s Leicester teammate Graham Kitchener will probably cover him, though the likes of George Kruis might pose a question.

Croft’s injury cover is a little more open. Tom Johnson was the favoured man in the autumn and will probably be so again, though Lancaster is a known admirer of Callum Clark and could promote him, while James Haskell is not yet 100% out of the picture.

The real date to look for though is in a couple of week when Lancaster formally announces his injury replacements to the EPS, that will be his Six Nations squad, for now though, here is my predicted England squad for the Six Nations:

Predicted England Squad for the Six Nations:

Forwards: David Attwood (Bath Rugby), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs)*, Graham Kitchener (Leicester Tigers)*, Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby), Joe Launchbury (London Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), David Wilson (Bath Rugby), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers) Nick Wood (Gloucester)*.

Backs: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Mike Brown (Harlequins), Freddie Burns (Gloucester Rugby), Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)*, Danny Care (Harlequins), Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath)**, Alex Goode (Saracens), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby), Jonny May (Gloucester)*, Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)*, Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers), Anthony Watson (Bath)*.

*Injury replacements for: Alex Corbisiero, Tom Croft, Geoff Parling, Ben Foden, Manu Tuilagi, Christian Wade, and Marland Yarde.

** EPS replacement for: Toby Flood

Do you agree with my squad or would you have some different names in there? Let me know your thoughts on @FifteenRugbyXV

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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