Pack of eight: All you need to know about England

Each day this week will give you the low down on Ireland’s Six Nations opponents. First up, the old enemy.

Image: David Davies/PA Wire/Press Association Images

JUST WHEN YOU thought everything was going so well for English Rugby.

Little over 11 months ago they had gone and won in Cardiff and Edinburgh.

They then put close on 60 points on the board against Italy at Twickenham and convincingly beat France at the same ground a fortnight later.

The Six Nations title was as good as theirs, but what happened next shook them to their very core.

Who’s the coach these days?

A very good question. That nice man, Martin Johnson, resigned in November after The Times published leaks from the RFU’s investigation into the squad’s World Cup hi-jinx (more on that later).

The union is still searching the globe for his successor and have set Paddy’s day (the last day of the tournament) as a deadline for their decision. So, in the meantime, Stuart Lancaster has been left to carry the can with the glittering job title of ‘interim coach’. We wish him well.

So a bad year for the chariot?

In the main, yes. Though they won the Six Nations they arrived in Dublin expecting to dot the i’s on a Grand Slam. Instead, they wilted in the face of a ferocious Ireland performance and were sent packing on the wrong end of a 24 -8 scoreline. That loss was somewhat avenged that with an August win in the Aviva, but once they reached New Zealand all hell broke loose.

A good World Cup, then?

No. England will remember 2011 for all the wrong reasons. You can take your pick from allegations of dwarf-throwing to ball tampering, or a memory lapse from their captain which should have made him high priority for a CAT scan. Johnson’s England reacted to the indiscipline far too late.

They won all their pool games: comfortably so, against Georgia and Romania; narrowly against Argentina and Scotland. After France stumbled into the quarter-finals and tore them to shreds, you’d have though a lesson in humility had been learned. Then up stepped Manu Tuilagi as their ferry neared the Auckland dock and – before you could say ‘Francesco Schettino’- the centre had jumped ship and was swimming towards the waiting police.

They must be good at something.

Absolutely, in Ireland we love nothing better than running them down, but their scrum remains a formidable weapon any team would be content with. In Dan Cole and Alex Corbisiero they have players who could hold onto the jerseys for some years to come. Between them, Dylan Hartley is a solid operator who sets the tone for the imposing eight man set piece.

Who is the star man?

They’re quite handy on the counter attack too and central to that is the fullback Ben Foden. The pride of Northampton, Foden is capable of running some incisive angles. When Chris Ashton is in the mood and supporting with his searing pace, it can make for a devastating impact as seen (around the one minute mark below) with Ashton’s brilliant try at Thomond Park earlier this season.

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Have any old warhorses retired? Many new faces in the squad?

Oh yes, it’s all change in the England camp as Lancaster called up nine uncapped players. No time to take you through all the ins and outs here, but the big and obvious losses are the retirements of record points scorer, Jonny Wilkinson, and last year’s captain, Lewis Moody. Chris Robshaw is the new skipper.

How’s the kicker?

Wilkinson’s absence should pave the way for Toby Flood to finally get a firm hold on the number 10 jersey. With 46 caps he is the most experienced party member left, yet he too is struggling to be fit in time for 4 February after a minor knick to his knee ligaments.

If it is to be Flood, then we have seen before he can be flaky under pressure. that goes doubly for Charlie Hodgson who (given his experience) could be handed the reigns this weekend. So we might just see the kicking tee being passed around the back-line until somebody finds a decent rhythm.

Any injury strife?

Yeah, there’s not much good news around Twickenham these days. There are short-term concerns over Flood, Tuilagi, Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes. Meanwhile, the Six Nations will have ended too soon for the recoveries of Andrew Sheridan, Louis Deacon and Richard Wigglesworth.

All in all, it looks odds on that there will be a new Champion in a month and a half. However, those English jerseys will be jam packed full of players intent on making a name for themselves. Surprise could be their biggest weapon so it’s probably for the best that Ireland don’t play them until the final weekend.

Training Day: Wolfhounds added to Ireland’s Six Nations camp

Six Nations golden moments: Wales’ frantic comeback v Scotland, 2010

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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