Friday, 9 October 2015

World Cup Preview - England v Uruguay

Right, let's get the honesty out of the way first.  I very nearly avoided writing this preview altogether, thinking "What's the point?" - not that there's ever much of a practical point to my musings anyway - but then I realised that that's pretty poor form.  I'm English for goodness sake.  We might be crap at rugby, in fact we're crap at most sports that we invent, but by God we are good at being polite and smiling through a crisis.  Stiff upper lip and all that.  Therefore, with the most forced of smiles, it's my pleasure to preview the deadest of dead rubbers, England v Uruguay, even if it feels like the most pointless game since Boris Johnson created the national bufoonery contest.  And it's likely to be as one sided as that, too.

England are at an all-time low.  There is no doubt about that and there is no point denying it, but I'll save my fall-out piece on who's to blame and where the problems lie (effectively doing the RFU's job for them) for another day.  But this is a chance for Stuart Lancaster to at least create the slimmest of silver linings to an otherwise horrific fortnight for the hosts - although I am surprised at the line-up he has picked.  So much criticism has been levelled at this side for not being able to play heads-up rugby - like the kind Foley and co executed to such devastating effect last week - that I was begging, in my mind, for Lancaster to resist the urge to pick a side to just give players game-time, but rather pick a side that shows the bright future for English rugby - even if he himself is not a part of it.

Has he done that?  Well, kind of.  In my view, the line-up should probably only include players that are likely to be around next World Cup - in that sense, the selections of Haskell, Parling and Easter are a bit puzzling - but otherwise he has kept a good blend of regulars and new talent.  The likes of Tom Youngs and Joe Launchbury deserve to keep their spots, and it's refreshing to see the likes of Nowell and Slade in the backline.  But why not try him with Joseph, a man who - on form - is sure to be a key attacking weapon in England's backline for years to come.  With Alex Goode playing - and I am in no way a brainless 'anti-Goode like some' - we effectively have a backline of 4 flyhalves and a couple of wingers.  Once again, it completely lacks balance - albeit, the absolute opposite lack of balance displayed when England faced up to Wales, where there was brawn but no brain.  A backline of Ford, Slade and Joseph would have been a fine, defiant final line-up from Stuart Lancaster - something that said "Look at my legacy".  But I think he's just missed the mark on that.

A lack of playing time as a combination is by all means irrelevant this week - I have it on good authority that, sadly, the coaches have effectively given up, with one player in camp informing me that they had a Captain's run on Tuesday, were told there would be no further training and that they would have to make their own way up to Manchester.  A sad end to a sad tournament if you're English.

But, with all respect to the 'plucky' (to coin the commonly-used patronising term) Uruguayans, most of whom are amateur players, at least it should end in a win.

England Team News

As mentioned above, it's another muddled line-up from the English coaching team.  Ben Youngs and Jonny May are injured so Danny Care and Jack Nowell come in for their first tastes of World Cup action, as does Henry Slade who takes the 13 shirt.  George Ford returns at 10 with Owen Farrell shifting to 12, whilst Mako Vunipola, James Haskell and Nick Easter come in for Joe Marler, Tom Wood and Ben Morgan respectively.  Jamie George takes a place on the bench that he should have had throughout the World Cup but Kieran Brookes is, confusingly, dropped altogether, whilst George Kruis has to be happy kicking his heels too.  Oh, and Sam Burgess is nowhere to be seen either.

Starting Line-up: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 David Wilson, 19 George Kruis, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Jonathan Joseph, 23 Mike Brown

Key Man

George Ford.  The Bath man has a glorious chance to play rugby on the front foot and to show what the future might look like with him steering the ship.  Hopefully we will get an opportunity to see him play alongside Jonathan Joseph and Mike Brown later on, so he has a few more strike runners to pick out, but Ford must remain composed in the face of some inevitably physical defence from the South Americans and attack the line like we all know he can.

Uruguay Team News

Agustín Ormaechea, their chirpy scrum-half, has been cleared to play after receiving the World Cup’s first red card against Fiji, and he teams up again with best mate and fellow professional Felipe Berchesi, who is recalled after missing the Fiji encounter.

Starting Line-up: 15 Gaston Mieres, 14 Santiago Gibernau, 13 Joaquin Prada, 12 Andres Vilaseca, 11 Rodrigo Silva, 10 Felipe Berchesi, 9 Agustín Ormaechea, 8 Alejandro Nieto, 7 Matias Beer, 6 Juan Manuel Gaminara, 5 Jorge Zerbino, 4 Santiago Vilaseca (c), 3 Mario Sagario, 2 Carlos Arboleya, 1 Mateo Sanguinetti
Subs:16 Nicolas Klappenbach, 17 Oscar Duran, 18 Alejo Corral, 19 Mathias Palomeque, 20 Diego Magnol 21 Agustín Alonso, 22 Alejo Durán, 23 Manuel Blengio

Key Man

Agustin Ormaechea.  The scrum half may have got himself into hot water last week, but he's been the man to catch everyone's eye in light blue this tournament.  Smart, stocky and physical, he's proven to be a real menace around the fringes and his battle with Danny Care will be well-worth a watch - he'll be licking his lips at taking on a physical but aging English back row.  Got a hell of a gob on him as well so, if there's any rough stuff, expect to see his well-beaten face grinning in the middle of it.

Key Battle

Henry Slade v Joaquin Prada.  It's hardly a fair contest, comparing Henry Slade - the apparent prodigal son of English rugby - to a chap who plays his club rugby in the amateur Uruguayan league but, from a purely selfish/English point of view, it will be fascinating to see how he performs.  I think Slade could be the future for England at 12 - fulfilling a kind of Matt Giteau role - but at 13 he will have his space closed down quickly by the aggressive Prada, who is certainly no mug in defence.  We know he can handle pressure pretty well for a young lad, but here we need to see him take the game by the scruff of the neck and emerge as a leader for future England sides.


This World Cup has been a dismal failure for England, but they can finish on at least a vaguely positive note before retiring to their couches - or, more realistically, their clubs next Monday.  There is talent in this side to offer a glimpse at what England might be able to offer in the future - and it is a chance that I expect several of the young players to take, unlike some of the more established names in this tournament.  England by 52.

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