SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: I'm envious, this is the best England squad since we won World Cup

0
45


You can always quibble about one or two of England’s squad selections but overall, this is our most talented group of players since the class of 2003.

For the first time since England and I parted company, I must confess to being a little bit envious. If England get it right they won’t just be getting the Twickenham faithful on their feet going nuts but the whole rugby world will be on their feet, too.

That should be their aim over the coming weeks. Forget about World Cups — in fact, forget about the Six Nations title or at least park it at the back of your minds. Just concentrate on producing 80 minutes of incredible rugby against Scotland. Do it away from home — that is how you judge great teams.

Marcus Smith leads an exciting crop of players picked in Eddie Jones' England squad

Marcus Smith leads an exciting crop of players picked in Eddie Jones’ England squad 

This is the most talented group England have had since winning the 2003 World Cup

This is the most talented group England have had since winning the 2003 World Cup 

Don’t look any further ahead. That is the mindset they must take into their gathering down in Brighton next week.

This is one of the more important pre-tournament gatherings. This is all about the starting XV. Forget the bench or ‘finishers’ as Eddie Jones likes to call them, this is about a gameplan based on the talent in that starting team.

So first, well done Jones for recognising it’s the time for a new wave of players and backing those older stagers who are willing to buy into what is hopefully a new, high-tempo, more adventurous and positive approach. It must become England’s default setting. It is the sort of rugby which is making the Premiership brilliant to watch at the moment and anything else sells their talent short.

Ideally, the process should have started straight after the 2019 World Cup final but the relatively young age of the team that performed so poorly against South Africa created a bit of a smokescreen and confusion and England seemed to have the mentality that they would kick on together pretty much en masse for the 2023 tournament.

Jones knows he needs to uncover some gems he can rely on for the next World Cup

Jones knows he needs to uncover some gems he can rely on for the next World Cup  

Sometimes that can be the case but England’s failure in Tokyo was nothing to do with age profile, it was all to do with the wrong approach and mindset. That was what needed changing and this has to lie squarely on Jones’ shoulders.

The most significant stat I saw out there when this squad was announced is that 10 of the England matchday 23 that lost pretty tamely to Ireland in England’s last Six Nations game are gone — in many cases I suspect, permanently. That really is an admission of just how badly England got things wrong 12 months ago.

Selecting a starting XV from this squad will be a challenge but I wouldn’t get too stressed about it. It doesn’t matter who England pick if they play like they did last season, they will finish fifth again and Jones will be asked to consider his position once again.

What is needed is for every individual to play the new way that we see in so many great games in the Premiership. Do that and England have so many good players that whichever XV take the field they will be formidable, and successful.

There are the makings of a back division that could cause serious damage. To that end, I am delighted to see Ollie Hassell-Collins coming in, while I also want the excellent Max Malins to be given his head and a slimmed-down, fit-again Jack Nowell will be a boon to any England squad.

I am delighted to see Ollie Hassell-Collins coming in after his brilliant form for London Irish

I am delighted to see Ollie Hassell-Collins coming in after his brilliant form for London Irish

I was a bit disappointed not to see Adam Radwan included, he is a special talent

I was a bit disappointed not to see Adam Radwan included, he is a special talent 

Hassell-Collins is strong and fast but what has really struck me is that he is a born try-scorer. England will always have big, fast guys to pick from on the wing as well as smaller, trickier runners but not all have that nose for a try. Ben Cohen and Dan Luger had it, Jonny May at his best has it but he must show he still has that hunger.

I was a bit disappointed not to see Adam Radwan included. He is a special and different talent with the speed to make an impact at Test level and he would be in my starting XV.

Clearly, with Owen Farrell named as skipper in advance, he is the intended starter at 12 alongside Marcus Smith at 10 and Henry Slade at 13. That’s fine as far as it goes but, for me, Farrell remains a great 10 who can do a decent job at 12.

Is ‘doing a decent job’ sufficient any more, given the firepower England possess elsewhere and the threat other 12s pose for their countries?

We are about to find out. Farrell is a great competitor and lion-hearted player who has raised his game before. Nearly three months out with injury will have been a challenge. He could be rusty but there is no room for manoeuvre, no soft reintroduction.

England must hit the ground running against Scotland in Edinburgh which promises to be an incredible game, especially if the weather behaves itself.

Clearly, with Owen Farrell named as skipper in advance, he is the intended starter at 12

Clearly, with Owen Farrell named as skipper in advance, he is the intended starter at 12

If Farrell is not ready, Jones must not hesitate in letting Ellis Genge captain the team

If Farrell is not ready, Jones must not hesitate in letting Ellis Genge captain the team

If Farrell is not ready, Jones must not hesitate in letting Ellis Genge captain the team. He is doing it so well week in, week out at Leicester and then bring in either Mark Atkinson or perhaps even the fast-improving Luke Northmore — who strikes me as a player who has something of a golden touch — into the centre. Things happen when Northmore’s involved at Harlequins.

When you have Marcus Smith firing the shots at 10 and either a rejuvenated Ben Youngs or a youngster like Harry Randall or Raffi Quirke at nine, you don’t want speed and tempo compromised in midfield.

Elsewhere up front, the omission of Sam Underhill, arguably the man of the match in that World Cup win over New Zealand, is probably the talking point but you can’t really argue about England’s strength-in-depth up front. Tough calls are being made.

Brad Shields can probably count himself unlucky — he has been consistently outstanding in an injury-hit Wasps team and is playing much better than when Jones rather rushed him into the England squad.

Sam Underhill was left out of the squad, which is one of the major talking points

Sam Underhill was left out of the squad, which is one of the major talking points  

Selection can be a confusing business sometimes for the players involved, or rather suddenly not involved. All you can do is keep positive and keep playing well.

Alfie Barbeary looks the real deal to me and has clearly settled on back row rather than hooker. Bevan Rodd is a find — a good scrummager and brilliant around the park although the omission of Will Collier is another debating point. 

There hasn’t been a better tighthead in the Premiership this season and he will be worth bearing in mind if for any reason the England scrum starts creaking.

This is a great squad but the starting XV will say everything about England’s mindset going into the Six Nations, which has the making of being one of the best ever.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here