England coaches facing tough choices

Date published: January 9 2015

The England coaching staff say that competition for places in the squad ahead of the Six Nations is “harder than ever.”

The festive period is full of high-octane Aviva Premiership clashes and that means there is a lot of rugby to analyse for the expectant England coaches ahead of the Six Nations.

With the mouth-watering opener against Wales in Cardiff – the scene of England’s Grand Slam capitulation in 2013 – in just four weeks’ time, devising a plan to defeat Warren Gatland’s side is dominating the thoughts of Graham Rowtree, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt.

After finishing the November Internationals with morale-boosting victories over Samoa and Australia, attacking skills coach Catt said it was important to monitor the players’ performances closely and ensure they are continuing to improve.

“We’re preparing for the big game against Wales, which is the next goal for us,” he told the RFU website.

“We learnt a lot in the last game against Australia and the whole autumn series really. We want to make sure we maintain our scrutiny on the players and prepare them for the Six Nations that is coming up.

“You can see from all the teams doing well over the Christmas period, it’s those players who have been really performing. Northampton have been very good, Wasps were very good against Sale on the weekend. Analysing the players and making sure they’re where they need to be is key.”

Catt added that it was “great to see Jack Nowell being consistently good” before Rowntree highlighted welcome the selection problems he is facing with a host of British and Irish Lions forwards returning from injury with dominant performances.

The England Forwards Coach, who will be at Harlequins versus Leicester Tigers at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday, said: “This January month is crucial for selection, there’s a lot of rugby to be watched.

“I’m not going to single out specific players who have caught my eye but it’s great to see Alex Corbisiero and Mako Vunipola back on the field and playing well.

“All of them [the 2013 Lions] – Geoff Parling, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole – it’s great to see these guys back and being influential for their clubs.

“Some guys came into that autumn series and have put their hands up and played very well, then you’ve got other guys back in the mix. Competition is harder than ever for me to decide who’s going to be in our starting pack.”

Like Rowntree, Farrell will take in some live rugby this weekend, heading to Gloucester this evening to see the visit of Saracens. Similarly cautious to name names, the backs boss is looking forward to the added intensity of two rounds European Champions Cup rugby before the England Squad meet on 25 January.

“I was very pleased to see the England boys go back into the Premiership and make a difference in the first two or three weeks when they came out of the autumn games. I thought all the boys were in good spirits and good form, they looked fit and hungry.

“We’re going into a period now where there is one Premiership game and a couple of big games in Europe which is ideal for us going into the start of the Six Nations.”

England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster names his squad for the 2015 Six Nations on Monday, 21 January.