England’s Midfield Make-Up

England have an abundance of options for their pivotal 10,12,13 combination in the middle of the park with Eddie Jones selecting two fly-halves and four centres.

Here we look at three potential combinations Jones could pick for England in their tougher games they will face at the World Cup.

Option One: 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 12 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers) 13 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)

This was England’s favoured combination during the most recent Six Nations with the captain pulling the strings.

This combination offers a lot of balance in the centres with the power from the Samoan born Tuilagi and the playmaking, attacking play of Henry Slade who has the ability to execute a deft chip or burn his man on the outside.

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Credit: Instagram (sladey10)

It worked incredibly well against Ireland and France as Henry Slade played the best rugby he ever has for England and alongside an in-form Owen Farrell and a fit again Manu Tuilagi this combination is a formidable unit.

Option Two: 10 George Ford (Leicester Tigers) 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 13 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)

This would reinstate the partnership that Eddie Jones won back-to-back Six Nations titles and a tour to Australia with. Starting both specialist fly-halves George Ford and Owen Farrell.

George Ford is excellent in attack he plays flat to the line and with him playing so flat he can expose any rush defences England may come up against something teams like Wales have mastered and use it to suffocate the opposition.

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Credit: Instagram (george_fordy)

Having Tuilagi at outside centre gives England the powerful carrier in the backs that can get England on the front foot and provide Ben Youngs with the quick ball that is so important in the modern game.

Option Three: 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 12 Piers Francis (Northampton Saints) 13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)

Piers Francis has impressed over the summer so far really showing that he is deserving of his place in England’s final 31 man squad ahead of former rugby league star Ben Te’o.

Francis also has played at stand off in the past and offers a kicking option tactically which they used to unleash havoc on Ireland and France in the Six Nations as England cruised to wins.

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Credit: Instagram (piersfrancis)

Jonathan Joseph has real pace and given space can punish defences with his outside arcing run that he has become known for. This combination is by far the most unknown quantity but this trio could be bedded in with England opening their Japan campaign against Tonga followed by a test against the fast improving USA.

Three Key Battles: New Zealand v South Africa

This is probably the most eagerly anticipated clash of the shortened 2019 Rugby Championship and should give us a clear indication about which of these will come out on top later this year when they meet in the pool stage of the World Cup.

Last year the Springboks won at the very same stadium (Westpac Stadium, Wellington). Could there be a repeat?

  1. Shannon Frizell v Pieter-Steph du Toit

Frizell comes into this contest with just four caps but he has had a strong season in Super Rugby for the Highlanders and he will be full of confidence against du Toit.

The South African is one of only two forwards retained following South Africa’s impressive win over Australia last weekend, he played a starring role with his deft kick through which led to Lood de Jager’s try.

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Credit: Instagram (@kingnoni676)

A titanic battle Frizell is definitely in form but du Toit is becoming undroppable for Rassie Erasmus.

2. Beauden Barrett v Willie le Roux

New Zealand’s superstar fly-half Beauden Barrett being deployed so the All Blacks can deploy three times Super Rugby winning ten Richie Mo’unga. Barrett certainly has the pace, control, tactical kicking and defence to play fullback it will be interesting to see how he is utilised in attack from the back.

The South African, le Roux. Dangerous attacker with electric feet, alongside two lethal finishers in Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi out on the wings, New Zealand will certainly have their hands full.

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Credit: Instagram (@wjjleroux)

Barrett at fullback could be a sign of things to come for New Zealand whilst le Roux is tried and tested and is among the best in the world in his position.

3. Sonny Bill Williams v Lukhanyo Am

The return of Sonny Bill Williams against one of South Africa’s newest stars Am. The six cap Springbok will provide stiff opposition for New Zealand’s poster boy. Am is a strong carrier and his pairing with de Allende is certainly there to provide physicality so New Zealanders will be hoping that Sonny Bill Williams is up for a testing battle following his injury.

We all know what Williams can do. He’s a freak.

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Credit: Instagram (@sonnybillwilliams)

Definitely one to watch to see if South Africa look to expose Williams lack of match practice and then if they do to watch how he responds, knowing him probably with one of his outrageous offloads or a thundering hit. He is the ultimate big game player.

It was hard to pick three all 15 of the one-on-one match ups could have been on here. New Zealand v South Africa is always a cracker, this is set to be no different.

Opinion: Bath Should Break the Bank to Land Pollard

Bath Rugby will be losing Wales veteran, Rhys Priestland at the end of the season, and with just two specialist fly-halves contracted for next season Bath have been linked with three high profile names to replace the outgoing ten.

South African Handre Pollard, 50 cap All Black Aaron Cruden and most recently Gareth Anscombe.

It’s been a while since Bath had a clear first choice fly-half with the shirt being shared between the departing Priestland and Freddie Burns as Bath have lingered in mid-table and failed to live up to any sort of hype.

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By Stemoc – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49998625

If Bath are serious about competing for the title Handre Pollard is their only option. The 24 year old international would be unavailable for the start of each season as he fulfilled commitments in South Africa but the quality he would provide for he rest of the season would offset this.

Pollard has kicked well in the past, a vital part of any fly-halves game, kicks can win games. Pollard would provide a safe pair of hands in that department.

Can you imagine the havoc Girvan Dempsey could cause if Blackadder handed him a resource like the Bulls star? Pollard is very good in attack, a master, he has pace and his passing game and playmaking ability make him dangerous, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel thrive outside him for South Africa. If he can replicate that with Bath’s selection of senior centres it could really set their game alight.

Pollard also is a strong defender, he doesn’t miss many tackles and he’s a physical tackler. Defence has been a focus for Premiership teams over the past years with the majority clubs seeing how well basing success on defence has worked for the ever improving Saracens.

The final thing that sets Pollard apart from Cruden and Anscombe is his age. Pollard is 24, three years younger than Ansombe and six years younger than Cruden.

The Springbok playmaker has his best years ahead of him.

South Africa are determined to keep him at home but with Bath’s large cash reserves, if they really want him they should be able to get him.

Our opinion, Bath should do whatever it takes to make him theirs next season.

Crusaders v Hurricanes: Three Key Battles

This weekend presents us with one of the most enticing Super Rugby clashes as the champions, Crusaders take on the exciting Hurricanes.

Crusaders are favourites playing at home and with the Hurricanes missing star All Black, Beauden Barrett who only returned to training on Monday.

  1. Jordan Taufua v Reed Prinsep

Two very talented players match up in this crunch tie. Jordan Taufua is set to be New Zealand’s next import to England with Leicester Tigers snapping up the flanker.

Taufua’s most high profile appearance to date was when the Barbarians played South Africa at Wembley in 2016, the game ending in a 31-31 draw.

For Reed Prinsep this will be somewhat a homecoming considering he played his NPC rugby for Canterbury. Prinsep is less experienced than Taufua at Super Rugby level but certainly has the pace and physicality to match the rampaging Crusader.

2. Richie Mo’unga v Fletcher Smith

The Crusaders fly-half was the in-form player at the end of last season as he guided his team to a second successive title under Scott Robertson. Mo’unga’s kicking skills and game management earned him his first All Black call-up.

For Fletcher Smith this will be a tough one, the 23 year old has just one Super Rugby appearance to his name and Beuaden Barrett’s boots are big ones to fill for the youngster.

It will be interesting to see if the young ten can hold his own against one of the best players in the league in this high pressure, high stakes game.

3. Matt Todd v Dane Coles

Not a positional battle but the two captains will be going head to head. Matt Todd is one of the less celebrated Crusaders players who has been pivotal for his franchises success. He is a traditional open side, strong at the breakdown and a master on the floor. Todd leads by example and he’ll need to inspire his team to beat a very competent Hurricanes outfit.

This is some test of Coles leadership, the hooker is brilliant. Just exceptional at his best, he runs well, tackles physically and leads exceptionally.

It will be interesting to see which captain plays to the referee early on as that could effect how the game is played.

This will be a close one and definitely one of the biggest games this season. Two franchises that are sure to have play-off ambitions for the end of the season.

Six Nations Preview: Wales

Wales’ classic style under Warren Gatland has been based on power with big ball carriers crashing into the line and using brute force to win games which for a time was successful in the northern hemisphere.

There’s been a shift in style recently with a new fly-half pulling the strings Wales have very much become a far more diverse and threatening opponent as shown by a clean sweep in the autumn.

Fixtures

vs. France (Stade de France), Fri 1st February, 20:00

vs. Italy (Stadio Olimpico), Sat 9th February, 16:45

vs. England (Principality Stadium), Sat 23rd February, 16:45

vs. Scotland (BT Murrayfield), Sat 9th March, 14:15

vs. Ireland (Principality Stadium), Sat 16th March, 14:45

Despite having only two fixtures at home Wales arguably have the best chance of completing a Grand Slam. The favourites Ireland and World Rugby’s 4th ranked team England both face a trip to the cauldron of Cardiff.

If Wales can win their first game away to France they will be confident of toppling Italy and Scotland away and they will always back themselves at home.

Wales have not lost a game since round there of last years Six Nations. Their autumn was very impressive as they swept aside Scotland, Tonga and Australia as well as claiming an impressive 20-11 win over South Africa.

This followed their win over South Africa in Washington DC just five months before which they followed up with two comprehensive wins over Argentina.

Wales have injuries aplenty especially in their back row. Taulupe Faletau is a notable absentee and despite being named in the squad Ross Moriarty is unlikely to play against France, as well as Adam Beard a doubt for the first game.

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By Salman Javed – Flickr: Wales vs Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17129655

Add into that injuries to Aaron Shingler, Ellis Jenkins and James Davies and Wales look very light indeed in the back row even with cover provided by Wasps Thomas Young and Cardiff’s Josh Turnbull.

Leigh Halfpenny will miss Wales’ opening two matches but should be fit in time to face England.

Wales have no uncapped players in the squad but one cap duo Jarrod Evans and Jonah Holmes feature. Lions star Alun Wyn Jones will captain from the engine room.

Jarrod Evans is among four fly-halves, Dan Bigger, Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell are all also in the squad. Gatland will have a selection headache there.

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Are Gloucester Genuine Contenders?

For years Gloucester struggled finding themselves in the bottom half of the table, this year is different. In their second season under former Lions boss Johan Ackermann they are in the top four and seem to be in with a chance of making the play-offs.

The squad is stronger now than it was, that is partly down to the arrival of fly-half, Danny Cipriani. He has been the in-form stand-off in the Premiership. His attacking play and playmaking ability make him one of the most exciting players to watch.

With his ability to create space and their pace out wide make the Gloucester backline and extremely potent weapon. They also have the luxury to employ a second playmaker in a reinvigorated Billy Twelvetrees which as we have seen with England and the Lions can reap enormous benefits.

The South African head coach has also looked at his home country to bolster the ranks in the pack. Ruan Dreyer, Franco Mostert, Ruan Ackermann, Franco Marais, Gerbrandt Grobler, Jaco Kriel and Jaco Visagie all joining over last two seasons making a previously shaky forward pack into an altogether more fearsome unit.

Gloucester have also benefitted from not having loads of international stars, that is the double edged sword of having internationals, the benefit of having the best talent in the world at your disposal but losing that talent for large portions of the season.

Not having the core of their squad leave has allowed them to build combinations and consistency within their squad. This builds a settled squad that understand each other and understand the systems that Ackermann is implementing.

They are contenders. They are dangerous and the league would do well to be wary of what Ackermann is building in the deepest, darkest corner of the west country.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Present to You the Best Player in the World

Last week England were bullied in the first half and thanks to outstanding performances Japan led England 15-10 at the break.

After half-time England looked a far more confident side and that was mostly down to the presence of co-captain Owen Farrell.

Farrell’s mere presence brought England back into the game, George Ford looked more relaxed, the forwards were a completely different unit. This change proved just how important Farrell is to England.

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By Pierre-Selim – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pierre-selim/11924004016/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37461498

He leads from the front, the fact his mere presence can lift England is remarkable, he manages the game expertly, defends powerfully and leads exceptionally.

England have gained back some form this autumn following a narrow victory over South Africa and narrow loss to the All Blacks despite a spirited display. Much of this is down to the leadership provided by Owen Farrell , unlike Dylan Hartley he often finishes the game and having your goal kicker making the decisions when it comes to penalties does have its benefits.

His never say die attitude is evident and you can see how much winning means to him, just seeing his reaction after Angus Gardener deemed his borderline hit on Andre Esterhuizen was deemed legal to hand England a vital win.

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By Richard Allport from London, United Kingdom – England V Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44117860

Farrell has such a massive effect on so many games he must surely be considered by many is the best fly-half in the world, he has the all round tactical game Beuden Barrett is lacking. His creativity has come on leaps and bounds from his early career when he was regarded as boring.

England will feel far more confident going into the World Cup with an in-form and fully fit Owen Farrell will without the influential Saracen.

Australia this weekend could be another massive step for England in what could be seen as a recovery of form which has been a difficult year so far. Owen Farrell will be starting and he should lead England to an emphatic win.