Wednesday, October 17, 2007

80 Minutes From Greatness?

Brian Ashton has made up his mind with his chosen matchday 22. Largely unchanged, apart from the enforced replacement of Josh Lewsey due to his hamstring injury. Here's the rundown:

15 Fullback - Jason Robinson (Sale Sharks)
It will be Robbo's last match, and 51st cap for his country at Rugby Union. He's had quite a remarkable career in both codes of the game, and I've enjoyed watching him play, jinking round defences, making breaks, and scorching up the pitch! It would be great to bow out with another World Cup Winner's medal to add to his collection.

14 Right Wing - Paul Sackey (London Wasps)
Sackey has taken a while to get a regular place in the England team, but this match will be his 10th cap. Let's hope he gets a chance to show his speed against South Africa, in attack rather than in defence!

13 Outside Centre - Mathew Tait (Newcastle)
Some commentators doubted Tait's defence skills at the beginning of the tournament, but he seems to have been effective in the last couple of games. His partnership with Mike Catt no doubt benefits his game, and he will be earning his 19th Cap in the Final.

12 Inside Centre - Mike Catt (London Irish)
The man who kicked the ball off the pitch at the end of the last Final gets another bite of the cherry, and in doing so, will become the oldest player to take part in a World Cup Final game, having had his 36th birthday last month. If Tait is a relative rookie, Catt will be appearing for his 75th Cap on Saturday.

11 Left Wing - Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks)
Cueto gets the nod in place of injured Josh Lewsey on the wing. He hasn't started for England since their pool game against Tonga, but will earn his 24th Cap. Let's hope he can top up his try tally beyond the current count of 13 in a white shirt.

10 Fly Half - Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle Falcons)
There have been times over the past four years, when everyone thought they would never see Jonny play in a World Cup Final again. But he's never been one to give up easily. All that lonely practicing at goal kicking has paid off sufficiently for him to help the team to this final in the first place. Let's hope the match balls don't mess up his kicking stats any further. This will be cap 65.

9 Scrum Half - Andy Gomarsall (Harlequins)
Gomarsall's career looked like it had stalled when he was dropped by Worcester at the start of the 2006/07 season. But since signing for Harlequins, he's had a renaissance and Ashton's faith in him has paid off in the last few games, where he's bossed the scrum and linked well with the backs. He will earn his 33rd cap in the final.

1 Tighthead Prop - Andrew Sheridan (Sale)
The big lads in the front row have been scrumming well in the competition so far. Let's hope Sheridan and Co. can keep Boks' front row in order. Sheridan will be winning his 20th cap on Saturday.

2 Hooker - Mark Regan (Bristol)
"Ronnie" will be propping up the middle of England's front row in the Final, and earning his 43rd cap at the age of 35. He's renowned for his matchday banter, so let's hope he'll be bending the Boks' ears as well as their backs in the scrum.

3 Loosehead Prop - Phil Vickery (London Wasps)
Old "Raging Bull" himself, Captain Phil Vickery looked close to tears after England's defeat of France in the semifinals. A man of few words, his 5-minute captain's speech before that game obviously had the desired effect. I'm sure he'll come up with a few more ahead of the Final. It will be his 60th cap for England, and he's one of only 4 players left from the winning 2003 Final.

4 Lock - Simon Shaw (London Wasps)
The 6'8" second rower will be making his 43rd appearance for England on Saturday. He's been a constant threat will ball in hand, solid at the lineout and great at the rucks. His only little slip up was a silly chip ahead when he really should have kept the ball in hand.

5 Lock - Ben Kay (Leicester Tigers)
Kay's influence as lineout captain has paid off in recent games, with the team having decent possession from lineout ball. He partnered Martin Johnson at the last World Cup, and is one of the four team members who played in Sydney in 2003 - with Jason Robinson, Mike Catt and Phil Vickery. This Final will see him play his 53rd game for England.

6 Openside Flanker - Martin Corry (Leicester)
Cozza had a bit of a torrid time of it during his tenure as England Captain. But he seems to be happy to graft away in the pack and snipe at the edges of rucks for possession, playing the role of foot-soldier somewhat more convincingly. He'll be earning his 64th cap.

7 Blindside Flanker - Lewis Moody (Leicester)
"Mad Mongo" Moody will chase anything, particularly restart kicks, and more often than not, he gets to them in time. Also reknowned for his chargedown attempts, which I'm sure have earned him a few bumps and bruises in his time. As long as he doesn't give away any penalties, he should be an asset to the team, earning his 52nd Cap.

8 No. 8 - Nick Easter (Harlequins)
The surprise find of the Back Row recently, Easter has been effective for England under Brian Ashton and should provide a solid base for the scrum. He will have just a dozen caps when he steps onto the field on Saturday, but I'm sure he's ready for the game of his life!

As for the subs, they will probably be wheeled on around 60 minutes, depending on how the game is progressing:

16 - George Chuter (Leicester Tigers)
Replacement Hooker Chuter has been cultivating a healthy growth of facial hair during the tournament, and has vowed to shave it only when England are done in the competition. Having reached the Final, he's now beginning to rival Sebastien Chabal for the title of hairiest man on a rugby field. Beard or not, he'll earn his 19th cap if Ashton brings him on.

17 - Matt Stevens (Bath)
The South-African born prop has nailed his colours firmly to the England mast, but it must feel slightly odd for him to play against his native country. If he makes it onto the field, it will be his 21st appearance for England.

18 - Lawrence Dallaglio (London Wasps)
After his horrendous ankle injury during the 2005 Lions Tour, it's a wonder he was able to get back to match fitness, let alone regain form for Wasps and push for a place in Ashton's World Cup squad. Not time to write off the old man yet! He would earn his 85th cap if he's brought on for some impact and fresh legs on Saturday.

19 - Joe Worsley (London Wasps)
Worsley's tap tackle on Vincent Clerc was monumentally important - saving a try and therefore probably the game, to take England through the semifinal and onto the Grand Day Out on Saturday. It will be his 65th cap if he gets called up from the bench.

20 - Peter Richards (Gloucester)
Richards has played second fiddle to the more experienced Andy Gomarsall during the tournament. The coach has often opted for experience rather than youth, but he's not done badly when he's come off the bench. It would be his 12th Cap on Saturday.

21 - Toby Flood (Newcastle Falcons)
The young centre has been used sparingly so far, with Mike Catt the preferred option in big games. But Flood plays regularly with Newcastle team mate Wilkinson, so he makes an excellent first receiver and can read Wilko's game plan well enough. If he comes onto the pitch, it will be his 12th Cap for England.

22 - Dan Hipkiss (Leicester Tigers)
A lot of people thought he might get the nod instead of Mark Cueto as cover for Josh Lewsey, but instead he'll have to content himself to Shine The Pine on the bench... if he makes it onto the field, it will be his 6th appearance.

So, all that remains between these boys and the William Webb Ellis Trophy are 80 minutes on the field. Throughout the TV coverage of the tournament, Guinness have been running adverts with the tagline of "You are but seconds from greatness". That's 4,800 of them, to be precise. I don't think I can hold my breath for that long, boys...

1 comment:

online sports betting said...

The opening round of Six Nations fixtures certainly didn’t disappoint. We had a tense thriller (Ireland 16 – 11 Italy), a shocking upset (England 19 – 26 Wales) - which must have cost the bookies in Wales a few quid, seen as though the Welsh were massive underdogs and not to mention the Taffies like a bit of Rugby Betting UK. Then there were the brave Scots; who went down 27-6 to France. So many parts of Scotland’s game were working well and all three of the French tries came from schoolboy errors by the Scots... I hope their confidence is still in tact because they actually played really well.