Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Decision time for Martin Johnson

With three matches played and potentially four more for England at the Rugby World Cup, a half term report would probably contain phrases such as “Improving nicely”, “A good sense of development” and more than likely “Good tempo and intensity but shame about the penalties”.

The latter will have been a major “work on” for the England squad this week. The desire to fight lost causes at the breakdown has been a major flaw and is an area that needs to be rectified quickly if they are to progress much further in the competition.

The expectation is that we will see Martin Johnson’s first choice team in action against Scotland at the weekend.  With the back three and centre partnership fairly certain, the big decision in the backline revolves around who will start at fly half. Jonny Wilkinson is probably in the ascendency but will need to play flatter if the England backline are to fulfil their considerable potential. Ben Youngs has been in good form and the whole tempo of the team has been lifted since his return.

In the back row, the form of James Haskell and Tom Croft has made Johnson’s life easy in terms of selection and they will undoubtedly join Lewis Moody with Tom Woods a more than able and versatile replacement on the bench.

The second row is likely to be one of toughest areas of selection for the England coaching squad. Courtney Lawes is available again and prior to his suspension was probably seen as a definite starter. With his work rate, line out threat and destructive tackling, he has become a natural choice for Johnson. He is likely to be joined by Tom Palmer who after a slow start in the warm up games has started to play with great athleticism and carried the ball very well. 

The 38 year old, Simon Shaw has also pushed very hard for selection with two very accomplished performances against Georgia and Romania that have dispelled any lingering doubts about his ability to continue to perform at the highest level. Johnson is also in the fortunate position of knowing that Louis Deacon will also do a more than adequate job in the second row and provides a real challenge to the other three second rows.

The incredible comeback story of Steve Thompson continues as he is likely to start as first choice hooker on Saturday with every indication suggesting that he will be joined in the front row by Dan Cole and the other comeback kid, Matt Stevens on the loose head.

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