Forget about the Six Nations Andy
January 17, 2005
Andy Robinson leads England into their first Six Nations under his stewardship © Getty Images
In only a few weeks time Andy Robinson will take England into the RBS Six Nations for the first time. The new coach however has not been helped with a series of injuries which will decimate his back row and midfield throughout the tournament. It's not a situation that England are accustomed to, and one that certainly never troubled Clive Woodward on his build up to World Cup success.
Robinson's three tests in charge have failed to give us a real glimpse into how he will want to develop his side in the next few years leading to the 2007 World Cup. The injuries may be seen as a hindrance to England 's chances of regaining their Six Nations title but in the long term may present Robinson with an opportunity to build towards the 2007 competition.
And frankly that is what Robinson should concentrate on. What benefit will there be to England if they win the Six Nations with a side containing the likes of Matt Dawson and perhaps even Mike Catt. Now is the time to move the team on even if it means forfeiting the chance to topple the French from their European perch. Robinson should take the opportunity to blood the names who will be there in France in two and a half years time. Now is the time for the coach to begin building a new side that he can mould into a team which can defend the World Cup.
Robinson should not even consider re-introducing Jonny Wilkinson for the final games of the tournament - even if the star fly half does regain full fitness. Charlie Hodgson should be given the opportunity to show his undoubted attacking skills with an extended run in the side and he should be partnered with Harry Ellis. The Leicester scrum half may have a tendency to get himself wound up in pressure situations but is certainly the future and if Robinson is to think of the next few years rather than the next few weeks he should be preferred to Matt Dawson. While Dawson may be in fine form and would be able to do his Lions hopes some good he is unlikely to wear the No.9 in 2007 and Robinson must move on.
With Will Greenwood, Mike Tindall and now Stuart Abbott missing Robinson could do worse than employ a partnership of Ollie Smith and Matt Tait outside Ellis and Hodgson. Smith's test career stuttered after his debut in 2003 but this season has shown he is back at his peak with explosive running and bone crushing tackles for the Tigers. Tait may only be 18 years old but has always shown his ability to step up to the next level when it's required of him. He has sparkled for Newcastle this season and his early introduction to the test arena could prove of huge benefit to Robinson.
Up front Robinson should also make some crucial changes for the long term good. Steve Thompson may have redeemed himself at Northampton by rescuing their Heineken Cup campaign with his late try against Llanelli. Yet his inconsistent line out throwing has been, well, consistent throughout the season and now could be time to give someone else the chance. George Chuter may be two year's Thompson's senior but he has been central to the form of the resurgent Leicester Tigers and if he is given the opportunity - while Thompson is allowed to refine his lineout work - England would have two top quality hookers in harness come that World Cup defence.
Martin Corry was England 's player of the series in the November games against South Africa and Australia and is the long term natural replacement for Lawrence Dallaglio. However his injury should again be seen as an opportunity by Robinson - with Gloucester's James Forester back to full fitness and certain to be in Robinson's mind.
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