England boss Stuart Lancaster admits that after weeks of preparation he is looking forward to pitting his side against the best teams in the world in the upcoming QBE internationals series.
Lancaster’s last game with the national side was way back on June 23rd when his team played out a well-deserved draw against the Springboks in South Africa.
November 10th for England’s next game will have seemed like an age away for the head coach on that flight back from the southern hemisphere but their first game against Fiji next month is edging ever closer.
Betfair Rugby Union markets has them as overwhelming favourites for that encounter, though the challenge from the other three southern hemisphere sides is expected to be much tougher.
There have not been too many real surprises in Lancaster’s selection, with only Saracens prop Mako Vunipola set to make his debut for the national side in the upcoming game against the Pacific Islanders.
Should he impress, then a start against South Africa, Australia or New Zealand is a possibility, as Lancaster looks to defy the England v Australia Rugby Union betting and plot a victory against the Wallabies, who are well fancied to triumph.
The 21-year-old, who was born in New Zealand, has worked his way through the England youth system and has certainly earned his place in the full squad, after some impressive performances in the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup so far this term.
Vunipola will add some rawness and hunger into the front-row, which could do with a dynamic prop who will not be afraid to run at defenders.
Meanwhile Harlequins winger Ugo Monye is set to make his first appearance for England since 2010 and after his efforts with Quins, the British and Irish Lions star will be a welcome return to the squad.
The anticipation is already growing and Lancaster is looking forward to getting the squad together.
He said: “As a coaching team we can’t wait to go into camp and get the guys focused on what will be a massive challenge in the QBE Internationals – Fiji and then the three major Southern Hemisphere teams in successive weeks.
“We have been impressed with some of the rugby we have seen in the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup and are looking forward to the players bringing that form to Twickenham.”
Dawson, who won the World Cup with England back in 2003, thinks that the Wales coach will unite the squad and could be the key to a series victory down under, something those who bet at www.betvictor.com will be keen to discuss.
“I think it’s the right appointment, the Lions committee have absolutely nailed it. Maybe for once in goodness knows how long there’s very little controversy.” Dawson said.
The former England international played in three Lions tours, the first was the 1997 triumph in South Africa under Sir Ian McGeechan and then the losing tours of Australia in 2001 and then New Zealand in 2005.
2001 saw former Wales and New Zealand coach Graham Henry take charge, whilst in 2005 it was the man who guided England to World Cup success in 2003 – Clive Woodward who was given the task of managing the Lions.
Dawson admitted that the unity in the squad was almost non-existent and now Gatland must get the team spirit high if the Lions are to be victorious in Australia next year.
He said: “In 2001 we were struggling because it wasn’t a Lions tour. Whether I was in the midweek or weekend team, you literally wouldn’t see half the other touring party.
“I was in the lift in 2005 in New Zealand where a certain Welsh player of notoriety, I don’t need to go into too much detail, was in the lift with me going down to breakfast asking me what the midweek score was from the night before!”
McGeechan then took charge of his second tour of South Africa in 2009 and although it ended in defeat, the Lions put in much better performances and the Kiwi was part of the backroom staff, so has experience of what these tours are like.
Dawson is now backing Gatland to keep the feel-good-factor going in the Lions squad and is adamant that if anyone can guide the team to success, then it is him.
The Lions will play ten matches in total, which consist of seven tour encounters and then three Test matches against Australia.
Johnson stepped down from leading the men in England Rugby Shirts this week after reviewing his position following a disappointing World Cup campaign and Mallett was one of a number of names linked as his successor.
However, he has ruled himself out of the running, despite admitting he was intrigued enough to speak to the RFU about the position.
He said: “I was interested to hear what the RFU had to say. After mulling it over for a few days and discussing the opportunity with friends and family, I have decided that I will not be making myself available.”
“I am happy to have returned home to South Africa after a tremendous four-year term with the Italian national team.”
“We are settled in Cape Town and it is my wish to be able to enjoy time with my wife and kids after four years in Italy.”
Mallett isn’t the only man to rule himself out either, with another former South Africa coach, Jake White revealing that it is simply ‘bad timing’ for him to be considered for a role with England.
This doesn’t mean the RFU are running out of options though. Eddie Jones – who led Australia to the 2003 World Cup final has said that he would be interested in the possibility of succeeding Johnson.
He said: “You’d always be interested in coaching England,” he told BBC Radio 5 live. “It has got a fantastic domestic competition, very, very good players and you have just got to get the right programme in place and they should be good enough to win the next World Cup.”
There are lots of opinions with regards to who England should go for of course, with former players Matt Dawson and Will Carling making it clear that they believe Johnson should remain involved in some capacity.
However, England seem set to go into a new direction with Northampton Saints coach Jim Mallinder the current favourite to land the position. A decision is set to be made before the start of the 2012 Six Nations.
Despite being situated in the town where the sport was born, the Lions are minnows of the game and compete in the National League 3 Midlands division.
However, they are bankrolled by businessman Michael Aland, who has revealed a vision of turning the club into a Guinness Premiership outfit.
Back, who was born in Warwickshire, faces a severe drop in standards after agreeing to join the Lions, having left Leeds in May.
Sports betting pundits note how Back’s former side spent two seasons in the Premiership, but were relegated on the last day of the season after a dreadful campaign.
But with Rugby being close to his hometown of Coventry, the 66-cap former England international has insisted he is ready for the challenge and dismissed claims that his decision was purely a financial one.
“It’s a big call for me having coached in the Premiership and I have asked myself whether it’s a retrograde step given how ambitious I am,” he commented.
“But it’s not about money. Nor is this an easy option by any stretch of the imagination, which is why I asked for a five-year contract.
“I believe that turning around Rugby and getting the club to the Premiership would be a significant achievement and one I can use as a stepping stone to coaching at the very highest level.”
Chairman Aland is a former player himself and has blueprinted a 30,000 capacity stadium for the town as he bids to oversee the club’s rise to the top.
However, with a modest population of around 60,000 in the town with a further 30,000 across the borough, plans to fill that stadium may be difficult.
Rugby Union dedicates its name to the town, after William Webb Ellis famously ‘invented’ the sport by picking up a ball and running with it during a football match as Rugby School in 1823.
O’Gara, recalled to the side at the expense of Jonathan Sexton having missed out on a starting place for the opening two games of the tournament, converted all three of Ireland’s tries to end the game with 11 points. Bigfreebet would likely have seen Sunday’s contest as too close to call as it proved to be.
Scotland head coach Andy Robinson entered the tournament looking to leave a mark, having secured a remarkable victory over South Africa during the autumn internationals, but are without a single win after three games. They now go into their next game against big free bet championship favourites England with the real prospect of facing Italy in their final game in a battle for the wooden spoon.
Scottish errors were the overriding feature of a lacklustre first half as both Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan crossed the line off the back of Scottish errors. The newly recalled Chris Patterson picked up where he left off as he hauled Scotland to within 5 points as indiscipline got the better of Ireland, but Robinson’s mood will have noticeably darkened when loose-head prop Allan Jacobsen was sent to the sin bin by referee Nigel Owens for not hitting square in the scrum.
The game picked up in the second half as O’Gara’s influence began to be felt, and before long he had touched down to put the game beyond Scotland. Flanker Sean O’Brien did most of the damage, charging through limp Scottish tackles before off-loading to O’Gara, who side-stepped Ross Ford’s tackle to run in under the posts.
Scotland tried to pull themselves back into the game once more, and looked to be in with a shout as Dan Parks added a penalty and a drop-goal to move within three points but Ireland managed to hold on for a much needed victory.