Oval Talk

Bold decisions, but what about the front five?

Oval Talk

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England coach Stuart Lancaster at his unveiling

Stuart Lancaster made some bold decisions when he selected his players for the England Elite squad.

The interim England coach has put an emphasis on developing a squad which will be ready to compete for the 2015 World Cup.

Lancaster believes good results will come if you get your performance and squad culture right. It is a sound theory, but the old cliché 'it's a results business' might come back to bite Lancaster just like it did Andy Robinson when he was England coach and Steven Hansen during his time in charge of Wales.

England are currently fifth in the IRB rankings and must move up to fourth by the end of the year in order to be a top seed for the 2015 World Cup.

Lancaster is aware of this, but has nevertheless opted for youth and potential over experience for the Six Nations. He wants to get the right captain, the right leaders and the right players in order to create a team hungry for success; nobody can argue with that logic, but the international stage is not a place for experiments and rehearsals and nor should it be.

There is a massive expectation for England to retain the Six Nations, but realistically they will go into their first game away to Scotland as underdogs. Robinson's Scotland are far more settled and in England's last three visits they have lost twice and drawn one.

Lancaster's starting XV does look good from the full-back right up to the blindside, but the front five is a real concern and with an underperforming scrum the whole team will suffer.

There are some positives. Players such as back rower Phil Dowson, full-back Mike Brown, scrum-half Lee Dickson and centre Brad Barritt have been some of the most consistent performers in the Premiership, so it's good to see them finally get a chance.

Then of course there is Ben Morgan, the powerful No.8 who could well turn out to be the find of the year.

These players and others like Joe Simpson will add real competition to the squad. Lancaster also looks set to use the Saracens trio of Charlie Hodgson, Owen Farrell and Barritt at the heart of his midfield, while the likes of the playmaker Henry Trinder and the attacking threats of Chris Ashton, Ben Foden and Charlie Sharples also give cause for optimism.

It's just that the wealth of options England have in these positions accentuate the lack of options in the front five; there is a great deal of mediocrity, and players out of form such as Matt Stevens and Dylan Hartley.

Yet England's only genuine world class prop Andrew Sheridan, who should be back in action in early February, is not included.

Another problem for England is they do not have a ball-winning No.7 and, despite acknowledging that he needed one, Lancaster has chosen four utility players in the back row.

Lancaster has been bold by bringing in 15 new faces - but the front five and openside issues pose the question: should he have done more?

The interim coach is also going to learn very quickly that winning at international level is paramount - and if that does not happen regularly enough, he will be nothing more than the interim.

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