Six injured and counting, Lancaster needs stability
22:30 GMT, 1 November 2012
It was all going so well. Too well, as
it turns out. This time last week, England head coach Stuart
Lancaster could look ahead to the QBE Internationals with hope, founded
on the fact that most of his leading players were available.
Not any longer. During a damaging
weekend, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes succumbed to knee injuries,
Jonathan Joseph experienced discomfort in his right ankle and Joe
Marler was left with a ‘tight’ hamstring.
To make matters worse, Chris Ashton picked up a citing and has been banned from the autumn opener against Fiji.
Long faces: Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley sit out training this week
Suddenly, the selection process has
become fraught with difficulty. Lancaster and his assistants surely
would have picked Hartley, Ashton and Lawes in their starting XV and
while Marler should recover in time, England are already without Ben
Foden, Tom Croft and Alex Corbisiero.
While injuries are inevitable, losing
six or seven likely starters is brutal. Lancaster will announce his
line-up to face Fiji next Thursday, so with the cards left at his
disposal, here’s how it might look . . .
Alex Goode at full back, with Ugo
Monye and Charlie Sharples out wide. In midfield, expect Brad Barritt
and Manu Tuilagi to join forces, with Toby Flood at 10 and Danny Care a
fraction ahead of Ben Youngs for the scrum-half place.
Getting the nod: Danny Care is expected to be named as England's scrum-half
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Up front, props Marler and Dan Cole
are set to pack down either side of a debutant hooker, Tom Youngs, while
Geoff Parling and Tom Palmer should continue as the lock combination.
As ever, back row is a competitive
area but if Tom Wood is considered fully fit, he and captain Chris
Robshaw are likely to be the flankers, with Thomas Waldrom in front of
Ben Morgan in the tussle for the No 8 shirt, although that could change.
Remarkably, Lancaster has only once
been able to name an unchanged team. Just four players have been
ever-present in his England sides this year and three of them — Hartley,
Ashton and Foden — won’t be on duty against Fiji. Dan Cole is the last
of the quartet standing.
Every time there has been an injury, Lancaster has referred to it as an ‘opportunity’, a chance to bring in new faces and explore fresh combinations.
But it has reached the stage where stability is required. England need to be settled and cohesive if they are to have any chance of conquering the southern-hemisphere elite.
Brits of all right
A wrong righted: Schalk Brits (centre) in action
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has taken a first step towards addressing a major injustice by selecting Saracens hooker Schalk Brits for the Springboks’ European tour. This column hopes that the 31-year-old finally has an opportunity to add to a paltry tally of three Test caps which does nothing to reflect his staggering ability. Brits has been the outstanding player in English rugby for the last three years.
He was the RPA Player of the Year in 2010 and a year later, when Saracens beat Leicester in the Aviva Premiership final to claim their maiden title, his performance was surely one of the greatest ever produced at Twickenham. He continues to excel for his club on a weekly basis and it is high time South Africa see just what they’ve been missing.
Selling tradition can come at a price
Money matters #1: So, the Scottish Rugby Union plan to sell the naming rights to Murrayfield. While the Irish set a precedent, their deal was linked to the rebuilding of the stadium still widely known as Lansdowne Road.
A warning to the SRU here: while this is a way to attract major investment, they must choose their ‘partner’ wisely. If a new name is too long-winded, or the company is unpopular, it won’t be adopted.
This plan represents the stripping away of another layer of tradition, but then tradition doesn’t pay the bills, as New Zealand realised before entering into a landmark shirt-sponsorship deal.
This week, as a sign of how the corporate takeover of the game can go too far, Wallaby fly-half Quade Cooper was fined for various public utterances which irked his employers, with one charge relating to his criticism of an ARU-licensed computer game. That is sinister. As for the stampede to brand everything in sight, how long until players are contractually obliged to sport temporary facial tattoos publicising sponsors’ names and logos
Sounds far-fetched, but give it time…
Costly: Quade Cooper (left) was fined 6,450 for criticising Rugby Challenge on Twitter
Money matters #2: It’s a good job that the RFU are set for a record autumn windfall of 17.5million from ticket-sales revenue, given how much it costs to hire the All Blacks these days.
As England’s game against New Zealand falls outside the official IRB Test ‘window’, the NZRU are free to negotiate an unprecedented deal for their national team’s appearance at Twickenham — 1.5m.
That represents a rise of almost 50 per cent on the going rate for such an occasion, while Australia are also thought to be into seven-figure territory for their appearance in Cardiff on the same day.
With fees of this nature, don’t be surprised if these tours encroach ever further into the club calendar.
The last word
New role: Chief executive Steve Diamond will take charge of Sale against London Irish
It’s been an eventful week at Sale, to put it mildly. There is still confusion, so let’s clarify the situation. First, there were reports on Monday that director of rugby Bryan Redpath had been sacked. The club denied this, only to confirm the next day that he had been offered a lesser role. It had been assumed that ex-All Blacks coach John Mitchell would take charge of the Premiership’s bottom-placed team, but instead chief executive Steve Diamond will do so. Redpath has accepted the new title of ‘head coach’, but in practice he will be responsible for the backs.
Mitchell will act as a consultant, for six months initially, but only after tying up loose ends in South Africa, which may not be a formality. Diamond is not calling himself ‘director of rugby’, but he is undoubtedly the boss again, in terms of the rugby operation.
The players and whole club need firm, positive leadership and it is up to him to provide it, or the consequences will be dire.