After months and months of speculation, opinions and heated discussions the time has come for England to finalise their 31 man Rugby World Cup squad and to submit it to World Rugby. It seems only yesterday that we were commenting on the wider 50 man training squad and in the blink of an eye England have completed weeks of hard work at Pennyhill Park, trained in Denver and played in two warm up games.
The deadline for submission to World Rugby is 31 August and we expect that Stuart Lancaster will make his announcement towards the latter end of this week. Some countries, the likes of Samoa, Australia and Fiji announced their squads a little while ago whilst France did their big reveal on Sunday and Wales will wait until the Bank Holiday Monday itself. The fact is that there aren't any prizes for being first or last, it is each to their own and with the selection decisions that England's management are facing I'm happy to see them using this last training week productively and wisely.
As we all know selection is a hugely subjective matter, one man's starter is another man's bench warmer and this week there will be plenty of passionate debates on social media and in clubs and homes across the country. For some Danny Cipriani remains an 'enigma' that isn't quite sturdy enough for a World Cup whilst for others he is England's answer to turning any game and is a shoo-in. The presence of Sam Burgess divides the most with camps hugely split on his continued presence in the squad let alone being an integral part of the 31. Some continue to bring up the 'what if we had selected Steffon and Nick' debate and for me this is irrelevant, it was buried a long time ago and is totally null and void so close to the tournament. Of course there are areas of clarity with the wingers and scrum halves already selected, Chris Robshaw's Captaincy and others like George Ford and Jonathan Joseph sure of their spots.
The fact that the Parisian crunch didn't go to plan means that emotions are running even higher than they would have been if England had delivered the performance that expected and as such secured a victory. We all have our opinions but at that end of the day they are just that and Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team will be the ones to decide.
England have performed in two greatly contrasting warm up games and as outsiders that is all we have seen. Both matches provided ample food for thought however combined they didn't deliver clear cut answers and selecting solely on the basis of them would be a minefield. Thankfully, behind closed doors there have been hours of unit sessions, fitness sessions, rugby sessions and 15 on 15 matches all of which will fuel selection decisions. My point is this: the final 31 will not please everyone however at this point in time blasting 'incorrect' selection decisions is counter-productive and branding those that make the decision as 'knowing nothing' in my view is disrespectful.
Whatever blend or mix of England's 31 man squad it will be a strong one and one that we can trust. The conundrums and selection headaches that the management will endure this week and have endured over the past two months are positive for it shows that our elite game is in a much stronger place than it was heading into the last World Cup.