England’s World Cup door still open

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Published: Wednesday 22nd April 2015 by The News Editor

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England will “keep an open mind” on potential World Cup bolters such as Saracens lock Maro Itoje, according to backs coach Andy Farrell.

England Under-20s graduate Itoje cemented his breakthrough season with a stellar showing despite Saracens’ 13-9 Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Clermont on Saturday.

The 20-year-old has already made his England Saxons debut this term, but could yet sneak into head coach Stuart Lancaster’s 45-man World Cup training squad next month.

Exeter playmaker Henry Slade is expected to be chief among an uncapped nucleus to make that 45-man training group, but Itoje is quickly sneaking up on the rails.

Farrell insisted England’s coaches still have a host of decisions to make, with four more selection meetings ahead before rubber-stamping that training squad.

“Maro would be a prime example of those fortunate that their club will be there and thereabouts in the big games at the end of the season,” Farrell told Press Association Sport.

“There’s no bigger game for him to perform in than in the semi-final of the Champions Cup against the French giants of Clermont, and he performed outstandingly I thought.

“There’s that type of player with potential all over the division, so we’ll keep an open mind.

“People think you’d know roundabout what your squad would be – and of course we have a good idea of what that would look like, but we’re also very open-minded and we always have been.

“We’ll do the right thing, because selection is so important, because it means so much to everyone involved; both players and coaches.

“Youngsters like Maro and Henry Slade that are shining through, it’s because they have characters strong enough to deal with top-level rugby, that’s why they are coming through so early.

“And that’s what you need certainly at international rugby.”

Boss Lancaster must finalise his 31-man World Cup squad on August 31, but between now and then lies a two-week high-altitude training camp in Denver and several warm-up Tests.

Former dual-code international Farrell pledged the England coaching team will leave their selection calls open as long as possible – to give the players every last chance.

“We’ve got at least four more meetings as far as selection is concerned,” said Farrell, speaking after meeting level-two qualified members of the QBE coaching club at a Twickenham event.

“We’ve always been a coaching staff that will bide our time and let things unfold.

“Experience tells us that you always shoot yourself in the foot anyway, and you’re always wrong, if you try to presume things anyway.

“Whether form, injuries, there’s always something that happens around the corner.

“All that matters to us as far as selection is concerned is making sure that it’s right for the squad. Whatever makes them united as one and to feel right going into the World Cup, that’s got to be at the forefront of our minds.

“What’s happening now is that this is the main stage of the season everyone’s worked so hard to get to.

“Nothing is settled as far as the top four and the top six in the league, so it’s still about who can perform and you’re already seeing over the last few weeks people really putting their hands up and saying ‘this matters to me’.

“You can see in some of the lads’ performances that they have selection into the wider squad in the back of their minds.

“Form matters, because at this stage of the season they are all big games and who can and who can’t in those big games is what international rugby is all about.”

:: Andy Farrell was representing England Rugby at an event hosted by QBE, the business insurance specialist and official insurance partner of England Rugby. To make a nomination and enter the QBE My Coach head to QBErugby.com.

Published: Wednesday 22nd April 2015 by The News Editor

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