Saturday's Test match against France certainly answered some of the questions that Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team had about individuals and units within their squad however some still remain. The most positive take out from England's opening Warm Up victory was that it displayed the depth of English talent; the side was far from a starting XV however they delivered and played some exciting rugby at that. Yes I've said it time and time again however it really is a huge asset and one that will push every single player to reach new heights and excel.
Out wide Anthony Watson and Jonny May shone and based on both of their performances few would be worried if they were chosen to start against Fiji on 18th September. Watson's first try showed the world that he can indeed 'step you in a phone-box' and his second was created by the hands of his other wing man. Jonny May's assured performance highlighted that often being dropped can be a blessing in disguise and both combined blistering pace with strong and powerful defensive work. Of course Jack Nowell is the other piece of the puzzle; all three are inked in to be part of the 31 man squad however like so many areas of the field the competition to start is fierce. It is exactly what Stuart Lancaster wants for all three know that they must play out of their skin every single time they take to the field and that should produce more phenomenal finishes and breaks like we witnessed on Saturday night.
In heart of England's front row the experience of Tom Youngs and Rob Webber pushes them both into 31 man squad however as we all know there is one other spot up for grabs. In the build up to Saturday's opening hit out Stuart has shared that it has been tight between Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie during camp and that this decision is likely to 'go down to the wire'. On Saturday it was the turn of the Exeter Chief to try and stake his claim on the shirt and impart himself on England's selectors. Three second half lineouts missing the mark will have disappointed Cowan-Dickie and although he was industrious else where you sense the door is still very much open for Jamie George. The Saracen is used to coming on and making an impact, it is a role that he played for many seasons at club level. George's knowledge of coming off the bench and impressing could be crucial if Tom Youngs is chosen to start in Paris. Opportunity knocks for Jamie George... the question is will he take it!?
It is a mark of the talent of Owen Farrell that he looked as if he was playing off the back of a solid and full Premiership season, instead of one that was marred by injury. In the middle Farrell pulled the strings with efficiency, linking well with those outside of him and as always he 'got stuck in' defensively. Lancaster has openly said that Farrell has to 'go over and above' Ford's performance levels to wrestle the jersey back and that in itself is a great challenge given the output of Bath's play maker. Both players never take a backwards step, they boss their back lines around and always deliver off the tee. The perception is that Farrell is the grittier of the two however as we've seen during the RBS 6 Nations and in the Aviva Premiership George Ford is never pushed around. Ford remains in the driving seat and his ability to make decisions a couple of steps closer to the line adds an extra element to England's attack along with his first class game management. All things considered England are extremely fortunate to have two such proficient tens, it is a luxury that few other countries can truly say that they have.
England's performance against France wasn't perfect however it was a victory and it illustrated that the strength in depth that we all saw on paper can translate into Test rugby. Take a moment to reel off the names that weren't included on Saturday night and you start to realise how fortunate we are. All of England's pencilled in starters are being pushed by those behind them and at this point every player knows that to keep their jersey they have to excel in it and that hasn't always been the case. It takes a complete squad effort to deliver at a World Cup and right now England's is in a good place.Suggest a correction