Tonight in Cork a group of players wearing white with red roses on their chests will run out and take on the might of Ireland, they are our England Saxons and what a group they are too. 'It is the strongest Saxons' squad that I have been involved with' those were the words of Stuart Lancaster on announcement day and I have to say that I am in complete agreement with our Head Coach. Our 2015 England Saxons Squad contains a superb blend of old timers and talented 'newbies' and the only truly upsetting thing is the fact that this year the side will only play one game of rugby together.
So, with a squad filled with so much talent which are the names that catch my eye? Well in all honesty I could write essays about every single individual in turn and highlight why they excite me, however in the essence of keeping things short and sweet I'll just pick a few. Up front England have a plethora of riches across both the Saxons and the Training Squad, a starting front row of Matt Mullan, Rob Webber and Henry Thomas is impressive in itself and then just take a look at the bench....! Behind them are five men that are all at the top of their games playing with confidence, highlighting two; James Gaskell is developing into one of the Premiership's most proficient line out specialists and in the back row Exeter's Thomas Waldrom has been flying this season.
Out the back England are launching a beautiful looking back line onto the Irish. Henry Slade, will pull the strings from 10, he is a man that makes professional rugby look effortless and his distribution is first class, superb given those outside of him. Naturally all eyes will be on Sam Burgess after he has been fast tracked into the side but let's not forget the proven capabilities of Elliot Daly, Marland Yarde and Chris Ashton. Both wingers have points to prove that they should be back in the Training Squad and that should deliver some bracing breaks and powerful runs in both of the outside channels. Finally I'm over the moon that Chris Pennell remains in the squad and starts at full back, Chris' loyalty to the Worcester Warriors is a credit to him and I'm ecstatic that it hasn't hindered his International progression.
As to the makeup of the Wolfhounds' side it is also contains a lovely blend of youth and experience. Ireland's centre pairing of George D'Arcy and Keith Earls immediately catches your eye along with their imposing back row of Dominic Ryan, Sean O'Brien and the uncapped but exciting Jack Conan. Under Joe Schdmit the Irish National side has been progressing at lightning speed and I expect the Wolfhounds to run out on home turf with vigour, eager to push themselves into his plans for the forthcoming year..
Back to the England Saxons you expect that with the personnel in the starting XV and on the bench, this side will look to play expansive and positive attacking rugby off the basis of a dominant set piece. England's Training Squad has already been ravaged with injuries and given the physical nature of the RBS 6 Nations it is vital that the 23 men running out in Cork tonight are ready for a call up from Stuart Lancaster at any moment.
In summary tonight's test match should be a cracker and personally I cannot think of a better way to start the weekend than with a set of International Friday Night Lights.
Coverage starts at 7.30pm on Sky Sports 2 - KO 7.45pm
England Rugby; 15 Chris Pennell 14 Chris Ashton 13 Elliot Daly 12 Sam Burgess 11 Marland Yarde 10 Henry Slade 9 Lee Dickson (Captain) 1 Matt Mullan 2 Rob Webber 3 Henry Thomas 4 Matt Garvey 5 James Gaskell 6 Dave Ewers 7 Matt Kvesic 8 Thomas Waldrom Replacements; 16 Luke Cowan Dickie 17 Alex Waller 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley 19 Maro Itoje 20 Carl Fearns 21 Joe Simpson 22 Ollie Devoto 23 Christian Wade
Irish Wolfhounds; 15 Felix Jones (Captain) 14 Fergus McFadden 13 Keith Earls 12 Gordon D'Arcy 11 Luke Fitzgerald 10 Ian Madigan 9 Kieran Marmion 1 Jack McGrath 2 Richardt Strauss 3 Mike Ross 4 Iain Henderson 5 Mike McCarthy 6 Dominic Ryan 7 Sean O'Brien 8 Jack Conan Replacements: 16 Rob Herring 17 Michael Bent 18 Nathan White 19 Robbie Diack 20 Eoin McKeon 21 Isaac Boss 22 Noel Reid 23 Craig Gilroy