The inclusion of Sam Burgess as one of four centres will garner the biggest headlines after the announcement of England’s Rugby World Cup squad, but it is omissions of the players that helped salvage a semblance of a respectable result in the recent clash with France that deserves more air time.
England were clear second best in numerous areas, with the set piece the chief area of struggle. The line out was a catastrophe, the scrum a disaster, the breakdown went badly and positive ball carriers were in short supply.
In the back row, James Haskell struggled to make an impact at the breakdown and was barely noticeable in general, while Joe Launchbury’s inefficiencies at the lineout didn’t help Tom Youngs’ image, despite the hooker putting in a match-high 16 tackles.
Just before the hour, this pair were both replaced by Nick Easter and Dave Attwood respectively, with England already 22-6 down.
Their introduction brought the start of the improvement in the 25-20 defeat, with Attwood looking hungry for work and providing better resistance at the breakdown. Easter also helped drive England forward.
Yet both have been ignored by Stuart Lancaster, which doesn’t bode well if England suffer similar issues at the World Cup.
There is a slight fear that England’s pack is a little lightweight especially given the recent news that number eight Billy Vunipola has lost a stone in the last two months in a bid to make his game more dynamic.
The omissions of Attwood and Easter from the possible options also don’t help in this regard.
Danny Cipriani is another to miss out on the World Cup, despite making the most notable impression in the French defeat.
In 17 minutes, the sale fly-half, playing at full-back, made eye-catching breaks, distributed intelligently and did well to score a try.
Owen Farrell and George Ford take the fly-half spots at his expense, despite the latter looking shaky behind the England pack against France, where his decision making was iffy when efficient rugby should have been the priority.
England remain 7/2 second favourites to win the World Cup, but their decisions in the front row arguably make this less likely than before Lancaster named his 31-man squad.
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