All change for England?
March 8, 2004
Girvan Dempsey's try allowed Ireland to leave Twickenham with a famous win © Getty Images
Clive Woodward will spend the next few days debating the future shape of his side following the defeat by Ireland on Saturday.
The England squad for the game against Wales is set to be announced on Thursday and there will be much debate as to whether now is the time for Woodward to make wholesale changes.
Clearly England are missing the presence of Martin Johnson much more than anyone within the camp is prepared to admit - not just for his immense presence at the lineout but also for his unparalleled leadership.
Past Six Nations slip ups occurred when the great man was missing and although Lawrence Dallaglio will always lead from the front he may not have the same presence of Johnson. If ever a commanding figure was required it was in the last 20 minutes on Saturday when you have to feel that England under Johnson would have found the depth to pull something out of the fire.
Ireland were clearly aware of the perceived deficiencies at the back with Iain Balshaw an target for Ronan O'Gara's pin point accurate kicking. It is all very well to let your backs play their own game despite the number on their back when you are winning but in a situation like Saturday there was a need for specialists.
Woodward must be glad that Mike Tindall is back in harness - although the absence of a game for Bath this weekend might leave him still a little short of match pace. None the less he must return to the centre, allowing Jason Robinson to return to the wing and Lewsey to move to full back at Balshaw expense.
Woodward can never be accused of being sentimental in his selections - just ask Neil Back or Jason Leonard - but when it comes to Matt Dawson Woodward seems to let his heart rule his head. The Northampton Saint has played little rugby since the World Cup but was given the nod ahead of Andy Gomarsall, whose service was excellent against the Italians and the Scots. Dawson may have collected the English try but his snipes around the fringes are not always as productive has they have been in the past and Gomarsall must be given the chance to make the No.9 shirt his own.
The lineout was a shambles on Saturday and Steve Borthwick looks likely to be the man to loose out as Danny Grewcock should be fit to partner Ben Key - who can't be that bad at the lineout again. Mark Regan should also get the chance to start after a shocker from Steve Thompson whose confidence you could see ebbing away as the afternoon went on.
However all this blue sky thinking may not enter Woodward's head as he tries to balance the calls for changes with the need to keep confidence in the squad. So don't be surprised if, when he puts pen to paper before Thursday's press conference, all but one or two in the 22 are given the chance to redeem themselves against the Welsh.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker