By now I'm sure that you are well aware that the off season isn't my favourite part of the year, I won't say it again for fear of sounding like a broken record however what it has done is to give me time to ponder on a stab at the 31 man Rugby World Cup Squad.
It is fair to say that I have had issues, now just to be very transparent these issues aren't through lack of understanding or lack of viewing every minute of rugby this season, instead they stem from the fact that there are big decisions to make across the park. These decisions are combined with a number of possible situations that could unfold between now and Stuart announcement on August 31st, including players ruled out through injuries, improvements in form and indeed fitness.
Now, the general consensus is that a 31 man Rugby World Cup squad should be made up of five Props, three Hookers, four Locks, five Back Rowers, three Scrum Halves, two Fly Halves, four Centres and five Back Three players. The fact of the matter is that with that make up there are some very big names that will be left out, for example if you have Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Dave Attwood and Nick Easter as your locks then men like Geoff Parling and Ed Slater miss out.
When it comes to a Rugby World Cup squad the asset that is 'true versatility' is something that certainly will promote individuals higher up the pecking order than they appear on the surface. The prime example is Nick Easter, as was shown in his inclusion for England's RBS 6 Nations match against France, with his proven ability to play in the Second Row and at Number 8 during test matches. This true versatility speaks volumes and must be considered when assessing the 'blend' of a squad.
The situation in terms of increased fitness and form is an interesting one and relates to a few players, including Kieran Brookes in particular. After the recent England versus the Barbarians fixture Brookes was highlighted by Stuart as England's 'exceptional forward' in that match and he also shared his thoughts on Brookes' first class scrummaging skills and work rate around the park. Needless to say with a positive camp Kieran is one that could easily push himself into contention over the course of a training camp. There are others too, the third hooker spot is up for grabs with Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie, in the centres Elliot Daly, Henry Slade and Kyle Eastmond will have the contact time impart themselves on proceedings. Of course the man under the spotlight since October last year, Sam Burgess will be reviewed and if he impresses as much on the England coaching team and squad as he has done at Bath then I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the 31.
The fact is England's depth of talent is great, across the board, and that makes for some extremely tricky decisions either with or without injury and form changes between now and the start of the tournament. There are decisions to make that only time will allow for example the rise of Itoje to compete with Easter and maybe take his spot for there is only room for one versatile back rower/second rower. Personally I've had a stab at a 31 however I have a number of other scenarios and thoughts up my sleeve. When it comes down to it England's talent is strong and I, as I'm sure we all do, will provide my full support to any man that represents England during this opportunity of a lifetime.
Dan Cole, Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola, Kieran Brookes, David Wilson, Tom Youngs, Rob Webber, Jamie George, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Dave Attwood, Nick Easter, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola, Tom Wood, Sam Burgess, Ben Youngs, Richard Wigglesworth, Danny Care, George Ford, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Joseph, Brad Barritt, Luther Burrell, Henry Slade, Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Chris Ashton, Alex Goode
Points of Interest (!!)
Nick Easter is placed as a lock but ably covers Number 8, a fully fit and firing Alex Corbisiero would undoubtedly a spot in the squad however now at the time of penning he isn't quite there. Sam Burgess sits as a back rower for that is where his most productive work happens but will cover the centres if required and does give the possibility of a very versatile backs/forwards bench split. Owen Farrell is situated as a 10 however could easily establish himself in the 12 jersey with JJ at 13. Should Ben Foden be fit for the Warm Ups then he will push Alex Goode all the way for that back three spot however at this moment in time form and fitness favours Alex. Finally the experience of Chris Ashton including his strike rate and physicality pips him over other wing options as does the experience of Danny Care over the other scrum half options.