With the final England squad being announced last Monday and the all the warm-up games now gone the Rugby World Cup is rapidly approaching. The first game kicks off on September 9 meaning with less than a month to go, all the squads are ramping up their preparations.

The England squad announcement on Monday bought a few shock omissions and call-ups. The exclusion of Riki Flutey is probably the most notable, leaving Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall as the only specialist centres in the squad.

Martin Johnson has chosen Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson as his two fly halves. This will be Wilkinson’s fourth World Cup meaning he is one of the most experienced players not only in the England squad, but also at the World Cup. Other 2003 World Cup-winning veterans include Steve Thompson, Mike Tindall and Simon Shaw who will be one of the oldest players to compete at a World Cup at the age of 38. 

Injury worries have plagued the England squad in the warm up matches with the major blow being captain Lewis Moody suffering a ligament strain in his right knee. Despite this, he has been named squad captain and should make a full recovery allowing him to lead the England team out in their first game against Argentina on September 10.

Another set of injuries has hit the England scrumhalves. Ben Youngs has made the cut despite having not yet fully recovered from a knee injury, but with Danny Care’s broken toe ruling him out it has opened up a gap for uncapped youngster Joe Simpson.

The Australian born scrum half is yet to make his debut for England but was on the bench against Ireland on Saturday. He has been playing for Wasps since 2006 and has represented England from U16 to U20’s as well as England Saxons, but we will wait to see if his previous success translates on to the big stage. Perhaps with his enthusiasm, high skills and serious speed he is just what England need?

Another popular pick is that of Leicester Tigers 20 year old Manu Tuilagi. Tuilagi is a versatile back that looks set to play in the centres alongside either Hape or Tindall, yet he gives Martin Johnson many options. Despite his infamous altercation with Chris Ashton in the Premiership semi-final they will be playing alongside each other throughout the World Cup.

Manu could face his brother and Leicester Tigers team mate Alesana Tuilagi in the quarter finals if England top their pool and Samoa come runners up in their pool which also includes South Africa, Wales and Fiji.

The bookies favourite this year is the home team, New Zealand. However, the All Blacks have failed to win a World Cup in the professional era with their only victory coming in 1987. Yet anyone would be mistaken to rule out the other two Southern Hemisphere giants of South Africa and Australia, both of whom are fielding highly experienced teams.

Once again it looks to fall to France and England to represent the Northern Hemisphere beyond the quarter-final stages. Nonetheless, there is a good chance of Scotland causing an upset in the group stages with England and Argentina their main rivals in group B, and Wales and Ireland look set to reach the quarter-finals providing there are no major upsets.

With England fielding a team of varying ages and experience, is this mix of young-blood and old heads the perfect make-up for a World Cup winning team or, is it perhaps time that New Zealand translate their dominance in international fixtures to a World Cup success?


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