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Riki Flutey set to miss out on England Rugby World Cup squad

August 22nd, 2011 by · No Comments · Features

The Wasp’s attacking talents and versatility have been deemed less crucial than Shontayne Hape’s defensive abilities

When Matt Giteau was left out of Australia’s Rugby World Cup squad last week, the cry went up across the home unions: “We’ll have him”. Perhaps the acid test of England’s 30-man squad, which will be unveiled formally at a gala evening at Twickenham on Monday, is to ask a similar question of those rejected. Few, one suspects, would provoke a similar flutter, save for Charlie Hodgson, whom Scotland would love to pick at fly-half.

That is not to say England are short of quality. All World Cup contenders must have a world-class kernel of talent and Dan Cole, Matt Stevens, Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Jonny Wilkinson, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden will hope to have shown their true worth to the world by the end of October. Less certain are the combinations in midfield, at half-back and in the back row, among the most pivotal of areas. England have a decent-enough frame but the hinges are not quite as strong as Martin Johnson, the team manager, would like.

The untimely toe injury suffered by Danny Care has complicated things. With Ben Youngs having played little rugby and Richard Wigglesworth not having dazzled in the warm-up games, Johnson has been forced to revise his intention to take only two scrum-halves. The 23-year-old Joe Simpson of Wasps will become that rarity – an uncapped England player poised to make his Test debut at a World Cup – and a midfield back has had to be sacrificed. It says everything about England’s priorities that Riki Flutey, barring further late injury problems, is the unlucky casualty.

Flutey, admittedly, has had a patchy fitness record but he seemed to be on the cusp of rediscovering some decent form. Such is Johnson’s admiration for Shontayne Hape’s defensive ability, however, that Flutey’s subtle attacking promptings and versatility are deemed less crucial. The option of playing Toby Flood alongside Wilkinson will re-enter the equation, the snag being that they have started in tandem only once since 2007. Johnson far prefers certainties to “what ifs”, particularly at major tournaments.

A sense of reassuring solidity will also be missing from his back-row permutations until his captain, Lewis Moody, is totally injury-free. The latest bulletin from those closest to Moody, encouragingly, is that he is fit and raring to go, which helps explain why the underrated Hendre Fourie has been edged out of the picture. It has been apparent for some time that Fourie, Simon Shaw and David Wilson were fighting over two places, at least until the valiant Moody was ready again. England’s World Cup schedule, with games against Georgia and Romania sandwiched between Argentina and Scotland, at least makes it feasible for replacements to be thrown straight into the pool fixtures.

England also have an age profile that history suggests will help them prosper. A dozen players over the age of 30 may sound a lot but is not such an issue at the end of a four-year World Cup cycle. This squad’s likely average age of 27.5 is almost two years younger than the 2007 crew and not dissimilar to the 2003 squad that was dubbed Dad’s Army en route to winning the Webb Ellis Cup. The oldest England XV in history was the one that took the field against Australia in the 1991 World Cup final; the average age of that team was a little over 30.

Johnson, like many before him, was never going to be inclined to gamble on flighty youth. No one can say, though, that the red-rose net has been cast halfheartedly. Since the last World Cup, 78 players have represented England, with Simpson – born in Australia to a Kiwi mother and an English father but schooled in Ealing – due to become number 79. No fewer than 17 of this large cast have won two caps or fewer; the likes of Jason Hobson, Tom Varndell, Tom May, Ayoola Erinle and Mike Brown lie among the fallen. It might surprise many to learn the identity of the player who has played most often for England in the past four years. Step forward the ever-positive James Haskell, who has made 24 starts and a further 10 appearances as a substitute.

Had Johnson been keener to embrace the Wallaby model of backing talent regardless of age, there might have been a World Cup place for Alex Goode, the Saracens full-back, or his club-mates Andy Saull and Brad Barritt. Instead, consistency and experience have been Johnson’s preferred measures, even if certain bodies are fraying at the edges. Along with those discarded from Johnson’s 45-man training squad, Steve Borthwick, Phil Dowson, Luke Narraway, Danny Cipriani, Olly Barkley and Anthony Allen will watch the tournament unfold with particularly mixed feelings.

Which leads us on to Johnson’s next conundrum: picking his best XV. He will want to see Moody, Youngs, Andrew Sheridan and Simpson play some role against Ireland in Dublin this Saturday, fully aware that England cannot afford a thumping on the scale of their Six Nations defeat in March. The odds on Wilkinson resuming as the starting No10 continue to shorten; interestingly, when Wilkinson is involved, Johnson’s England win almost 60% of their games, whereas Flood can boast only a 50% success rate. With England due to fly south on 29 August, however, the spectre of injury still lurks. Naming a 30-man squad, as Johnson may yet discover, is the easy part.

Likely World Cup squad

Backs (13): Full-backs: Delon Armitage (London Irish), Ben Foden (Northampton Saints). Wings: Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks), Matt Banahan (Bath). Centres: Shontayne Hape (London Irish), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Manusamoa Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers). Fly-halves: Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon). Scrum-halves: Joe Simpson (London Wasps), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

Forwards: (17): Props: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks), Matt Stevens (Saracens), David Wilson (Bath). Hookers: Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Lee Mears (Bath), Steve Thompson (London Wasps).Locks: Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Tom Palmer (Stade Français), Simon Shaw (London Wasps). Back row: Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), Nick Easter (Harlequins), James Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams), Lewis Moody (Bath), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints).

The men missing out

Tim Payne (London Wasps), Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton), George Chuter (Leicester), Mouritz Botha (Saracens), Joe Worsley (London Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Hendre Fourie (Sale Sharks), Thomas Waldrom (Leicester), Charlie Hodgson (Saracens), Riki Flutey (London Wasps), Ugo Monye (Harlequins), Charlie Sharples (Gloucester), James Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), David Strettle (Harlequins)

(Plus Danny Care (Harlequins) – injured)

All named in England’s 45-man training squad © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & ConditionsMore Feeds

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