Saturday, 18 June 2011

England Saxons: For the young, youngish, emerging, older and those seeking redemption


Back in August I wrote my first ever post on this blog questioning the selection policy of the recently announced England Saxons squad. I suggested that the selection did not match the rhetoric on the RFU website.

“The Saxons provide an exciting opportunity to gain first hand knowledge on the best young players coming through the ranks of English rugby”

The reality was somewhat different with the average age of the squad being 26, with ten of the squad over 28 and the oldest player being Duncan Bell at 35! I also reflected on the merit of including the likes Steve Borthwick, Louis Deacon, Lee Mears and Charlie Hodgson.

Today only four of the original squad of thirty two will be in the match day twenty two for the final with Canada - Matt Mullan, Jordan Crane, Paul Hodgson and Alex Goode. Undoubtedly Luke Narraway would have joined them if fit.

Obviously form, injuries and promotion to the senior squad with Tom Wood and Alec Corbisiero being the most notable examples, have impacted on the original squad, but it does beg the question what is the purpose of the Saxons and is there really any sense of naming a squad prior to the start of the season - especially one that was getting on in years. Also only Alex Goode and Graham Kitchener remain from the Churchill Cup winning team of last year.

It will be interesting to see how many of the original Saxons squad for this season are included in the 40+ England World Cup training squad. The likes of Chris Robshaw, Ugo Monye, Louis Deacon, Charlie Hodgson and Paul Simpson are likely to join Tom Wood and Alec Corbisiero.

So in comparison with the original squad, tomorrow's team does have a youthful feel with an average age of 24 and 22 in the backs if the 29 year old Paul Hodgson is removed. Mouritz Botha at 29 is the senior member of the pack which has an average age of 25, with Graham Kitchener and James Gaskell at 21.

In the last few days the RFU have removed the original squad from the Saxons page on their website and each member of the Churchil Cup squad is now profiled. The mission statement has also been removed and replaced with the following:

"The Saxons provide an exciting opportunity to gain first hand knowledge on the best young players coming through the ranks of English rugby."

Stuart Lancaster goes on to describe his role as a  "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity allowing me to work and coach at the top end of the international game, developing senior and young players alike to play for England."

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