Many people will know that I have a love/hate relationship with England. The 6 Nations, I felt Lancaster mismanaged certain players and certain areas of the team and my opinion was that that was what cost us the title. Changing a winning team is almost sacriledge and I felt the changes made prior to the Ireland match unsettled the side.
With that said though, I'm really excited for the World Cup. Yes, it's a tough, tough group but we beat both Wales and Australia last time we played them, plus we've never lost to Fiji or Uruguay, so what should we fear from the group stages?
The pack has been singled out as an issue, but I don't see the set piece being a massive issue. It's things that can be tweaked on the training ground, but this pack, in the loose, is phenomenal. I've become a huge Joe Marler fan over the past 12 months, he plays like a back rower, Dan Cole is no slouch either and has an outrageous tackle count for a front rower. At hooker, Tom Youngs is not always the composed player we need, but in Jamie George we have a more than adequate back up, a player who started outside the original training squad, has forced his way in and I reckon he'll be the first choice either by the end of the World Cup, if not, by the 6 nations.
Our second row is perfectly balanced. We have the guile and nous of Geoff Parling combined with the brutality of Courtney Lawes, the all action Joe Launchbury and the more traditional, but no less bruising, George Kruis. All 4 put something very different on the table, but all of them have exceptional work rates and any combination is going to be succesful.
The back row is arguably missing an out and out 7, but as I'm a staunch Matt Kvesic fan, I reckon you'll all guess my opinion. The pairing of Wood and Robshaw is superb on it's day, both are underrated but they'll tackle to a standstill and both carry superbly. In Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola, we have 2 wrecking balls, Morgan has returned from injury looking sharp and incisive, Billy V will be a huge factor either coming off the bench or starting games, and as we all know, Bill and Ben is a proven comination, and neither are a little weed.....
The scrum halves are a pretty good set. Youngs and Care bring pace and excitement to the side, the game against Ireland saw England recycling the ball at a hectic pace and either of them will relish getting on the front foot and releasing the backs! Wigglesworth is a more rounded scrummy, a fantastic tactical kicker with an eye for a break when the options there. I see him as a closer for when the games are on edge in the last few minutes, but I can't see him disappointing anyone when he get's his chance!
At 10 we have Ford and Farrell, both are incredible young talents, and there's a cigarette paper seperating them. Ford is the exciting option, far more capable of playing the front foot rugby we are trying for, but Farrell is a far better decision maker and his kicking game is almost faultless, and as was proven in the Premiership final, Owen seems to have the cooler head in the big games. It's a tough call to who gets the start, and I'm glad that it's not me who has to make it!
The centres are a great mix of power and flair. Barritt and Burgess have certainly got the defensive power and big hits we'll need at 12, whereas Joseph and Slade have the X factor to unlock the meanest defence, and with the new and improved Jonny May,the workrate of Jack Nowell and ever increasing talent of Anthony Watson outside, any space created will be exploited by the wingers to the tune of 5 points at a time! These guys all have magic in their boots and will not be afraid to use it! Not forgetting the speed and talent of Mike Brown at full back. Arguably ball greedy during the Ireland game (to the obvious annoyance of May!) but Brown is a big game player, solid under the high ball, a great boot and immense pace to bring to the party!
The tools are there. This is a good, if not yet great, England side, there are several of the squad I haven't even mentioned that will be itching to play a part. The other unmentioned factor is luck. We will need a decision to go our way (See Cueto's disallowed try in the 07 final for how key a close call can be!) We may need to see one of the Southern Hemisphere sides to be knocked out on our behalf, but if the stars align, there is no reason at all why England can't be crowned champions. I see them topping the 'Group of death' and making, at the very worst case scenario, the Semi finals. Will the final be a step too far and the final a HUGE leap.... who knows. It will be great watching the drama unfold.
So polish your chariots and #weartherose. The biggest world cup ever held is on it's way!!!! 7 days to go!