LONDON, ENGLAND – This weekend’s matches won’t feature many of England’s best and brightest, as members of the Elite Player Squad have been called up for training in preparation for the Autumn Test Series. Leading clubs will be forced to dig deep, and as previous international windows have proven, it is sometimes the sides with the most Test talent that have had the roughest go of it throughout November. On to the Weekend Aviva Premiership Preview…
Robshaw Retains Captaincy
Chris Robshaw saw off the challenge of Tom Wood to retain the England captaincy for the Autumn International series. Seen by many as a top option to captain the British and Irish Lions before England’s capitulation in Cardiff, the flanker missed out on the tour entirely, and was then rested during England’s summer sojourn to Argentina. The June Tests demonstrated England’s depth in the pack, and Robshaw will have to cope with the double pressure of maintaining his high level of individual performance and keeping a cool head leading the team against tough opposition. Stuart Lancaster’s refusal to strongly express his faith in his captain has caused some tongues to wag, and some see Robshaw’s place as temporary. However, as England heads towards the business end of the World Cup cycle, it is getting late in the day to blood a fresh international captain, and experience, once Robshaw’s weakness, has become his ally. If he can pull off some strong performances against New Zealand and Australia, expect to see him retain the captaincy heading into the Six Nations, as well as during the much anticipated Test series in New Zealand come June 2014.
O’Connor Moves Closer to Switch
As examined a few weeks ago, troubled talent James O’Connor has been exploring a move to England. Though early buzz placed the back at Saracens, the latest rumors have him heading to the Madjeski to join up with London Irish. If O’Connor can keep his nose clean, he can give the Irish a much needed injection of quality. As a player relieved of his international duties, O’Connor can perhaps concentrate on the skills that made him famous in the first place, and give full attention to the game. As recently as last week, he was said to be contemplating a move to Rugby League, so for supporters of the 15 man code, his decision to remain in the picture is welcome. O’Connor expressed his understanding of the situation in the Northern Hemisphere, stating “England and Wales play a very high-pressured, territory based game. I thoroughly believe I will improve my game by being in those surroundings and playing in their conditions, and get a better understanding of how they play.” Time will tell, but we wish him all the best.
Bath and Gloucester lead things off with a contest at the Rec on Friday evening. George Ford missed out on selection for the Elite Squad, and Freddie Burns was one of ten players released back to club action this weekend, setting up a mouth-watering matchup of fly-halves looking to impress England management. Other standout games include Northampton-Saracens on Saturday evening, though the match will be robbed of some of its teeth by the absence of internationals, including George North and Owen Farrell. Wasps and Tigers round out the appealing matches on Sunday, as Christian Wade aims to make his mark, having failed to recapture the astonishing form that distinguished his last campaign. Elsewhere, Worcester look for their first win against Exeter, while Sale try to scrape by struggling Quins at the Stoop. Newcastle will face London Irish on Sunday, finishing off a hectic weekend of rugby that will mark the last round of club matchups before attention is turned to the Autumn Tests, and the annual battle for dominance between Northern and Southern Hemisphere sides.
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