Time to take England on the road
September 20, 2012
Can Quins' Mike Brown further his chances of claiming the England No.15 shirt for the end of year internationals? © PA Photos
The start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup is now less than three years away and one story that caught my eye as organisers marked this milestone was the possibility of England playing games away from their traditional Twickenham home during the tournament. I am hoping that this comes to fruition because, in my opinion, it is very important that they take a game to the north.
We know what a huge boost playing at Twickenham can be for England but having said that, the excitement that would be generated means it is well worth the gamble - and I'm not just saying that because I'm a northerner. The passion for the World Cup around the country as a whole would be a lot stronger if the north had a game they could look forward to, rather than having to travel south, and I'm sure that the atmosphere would be electric. There's a big rugby union following in that area and they'd have absolutely no problem in filling Old Trafford for a group game.
The club game might not be as strong at the elite level as it is down in the south west or the Midlands, for example, but the region has produced some amazingly talented players so it makes sense to take England up there at some point in the tournament. It's an excellent idea and makes sense off the back of the Olympics that also managed to engage the entire nation.
But while the future looks bright for the World Cup, there is still massive uncertainty surrounding the Heineken Cup. It's unfortunate that all the talks seem to be about posturing for position. The truth of the matter is that everything that has been discussed in the press by the various parties should've been kept private. We've seen it in the past when the players took on the Rugby Football Union that matters such as this should be kept under wraps as it inevitably gets to a stage where one side or the other feels that the only way to get any sort of serious negotiation done is to get their viewpoint public.
Premiership Rugby seems to have made its bed already but the key players in these negotiations are the French. I think it's reached the stage with the Premiership clubs where they've made a decision that they would rather not be in Europe than continue with the current set-up. An Anglo-French league as they have proposed with the best sides in the Top 14 playing their Premiership counterparts may not have the pan-European appeal of the Heineken Cup but it appears they may well favour that.
But it is the French sides that hold all the trump cards when it comes to deciding the future of the tournament. If they decide to side with the English then the Welsh - due to their own financial troubles - would probably have to join that party as well. There's still a long time to run but this has brought it all out in the open.
Thankfully we still have another season of the Heineken Cup in the pipeline but one man who looks certain to miss out, on the early stages at least, is Northampton Saints fullback Ben Foden. It is really sad for Fodes - the ESPN cameras were at The Rec when he limped off injured and he's done nothing wrong. I rate him very highly and he has played well for England for the last few years and will clearly be missed.
He got shifted out to the wing to try Mike Brown at fullback while on tour in South Africa and his Quins rival has been a fantastically consistent player in the last few years. It looks like he will now get his opportunity to impress in an England shirt come the autumn without Foden set to be an observer.
I think Foden has got that international x-factor and it's time for Brown now to show that he can transfer his impressive club form onto the Test stage. If England had been able to call on some sensational wing options over the summer then I don't think they would have shifted Ben out on to the flank but the fact that they haven't got these cast-iron choices on the wing meant they could make that change.
We will have a close look at Brown this weekend when ESPN cover Quins' trip to Welford Road to tackle the Tigers. But Brown is not the only one in contention with another candidate for the England No.15 shirt set to come into focus on Sunday when we travel to Sandy Park for Exeter's clash with Saracens.
Sarries' Alex Goode is another one who probably needs an opportunity to show that he can transfer club form into international form. England's desire to see him play at fly-half certainly impacted on his place in the Saracens pecking order last season and he must come back from that. He's gone the right way about it with some quality performances in the Premiership but he is still playing catching up to the likes of Foden and Brown.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton