The selection of the England squad for the forthcoming Six Nations has sent our readers a-scribbling. The jury seems to be hung over the inclusion of the likes of Lesley Vainikolo and Iain Balshaw, and there are tears shed for quite a number of absent friends. Here are some of your views...
Can't say I'm surprised Vainikolo's been picked but I am disappointed! He's Tongan, and as such he should jolly well play for Tonga! Beyond that however will someone please explain Ashton's blind-spot when it comes to Balshaw?! Noon's had his time and Hodgson has proved time and time again that he's a great club player but does not have the stones to step up! Where's Varndell? Where's Hipkiss? Where's Allen? Tell me who the inside centre is in that squad? Flood? Great distribution but the ball carrying ability of fractious toddler! You'll have to play Tins outside him which means your midfield is utterly one-dimensional?! And in the forwards ... where's Crane? Where's Hartley? Lipman? Lund? Instead we have Regan at the grand old age of 35, Mears who's too damn small and Kay who's holding onto his place by his finger nail?! I'm not advocating ditching all the old guard for the sake of youth - that's a sure fire way to lose test matches, but I sure as hell think the balance is wrong. Genuine talent who will be in New Zealand come 2011 should be in this squad - Crane being the most obvious candidate. I'm not saying start them but get them in the squad and keep them together for four years! We may perform in the six nations but I think Ashton's missed a trick.
- Andy Lee, London
I don't usually bother writing in to voice my opinion as it won't change anything and you have to assume the men in charge have a better knowledge of players than you do, but quite simply that is the most disappointing England squad Ashton could have picked after all the hype. It should have been goodnight to Cueto and Balshaw and I'm shocked at Vainikolo. The following are very unlucky: Hipkiss, Varndell, Lamb, Allen, Wood, Abendanon and there's many more. I would love to see a warm up game between the Saxons and the 'England' team. Finally I genuinely believe Ashton should back his choices and explain why James Simpson-Daniel has missed out again. It's criminal and I think the majority of England supporters (and the many fans he has abroad) deserve to know why. No wonder the rest of the rugby world laughs at us. Winning is great but do we have to be so boring?
- O'Dave, London
After all that whingeing about NZ taking Pacific Island players - now that it suits England I wonder is there still the same bleating? At least the Pacific Island players playing for the All Blacks grew up and learnt to play Rugby in New Zealand. Having said this I certainly don't blame the English, Vainikolo is a powerful hard-running player, better to have him with you than against you, eh? Last parting shot: re RWC, the biggest difference between England and the All Blacks - Kaplan actually penalised the French in their game, which is how England regained the lead funnily enough.
- Evan Christie, New Zealand
Considering the population of England and the fact that England has more rugby players to choose from than any other country, picking Vainikolo does not say much for the ability of England's home grown wingers. This guy came over here specifically to play rugby, albeit league, attracted by money and I certainly don't blame him for that. But for England to select him makes him a bought player. If he had migrated to England for other reasons than rugby or as a youngster with his family than fair enough he could qualify by residency. But to qualify by residency after coming over specifically to play rugby I feel is quite wrong.
- Gareth Williams
What on earth is Iain Balshaw doing there? What has he contributed in the last six years? I am now absolutely convinced he has photographic evidence of a ménage à trois involving Sir Clive, Andy Robinson and Brian Ashton. What other explanation could there be?
- Jack Simpson, Hong Kong
The Volcano is an awesome player, unbelievable. I am sure as soon as he scores tries, which he will, people will forget that he is from Tonga! The All Blacks do it all the time in terms of selecting nationalised players. I wish him all the best and I hope he tears defences apart in the Six Nations.
- Damien McColgan
Would I have picked Vainikolo? If I believed he was good enough, of course. But I now look forward to reading all the cries of anguish from the likes of Stephen Jones about how Ashton is "poaching" from Tonga.
- Trevor Paul
If [Vainikolo] is available and the best in the shirt, then give him a chance. I agree with his selection but not Balshaw's inclusion. What has Sinbad done to not get picked? He surely ticks all of Ashton's selection boxes.
- David Elley
I would definitely not have picked Vainikolo I do not understand what Tom Varndell has to do to get into the team he is the man on form and is far more likely to create a try from nothing rather than the likes of Strettle and Cueto, he was given one chance in the tour to Australia a few years ago and now he has been discarded it is ludicrous
- Stuart Wicling
Can't believe Ashton has dropped Lewsey. He played a blinder against Leeds last weekend and is obviously returning to top form.
- Tim Stockil
As a Tigers fan, I am delighted that our best player will be available during the Six Nations - but I feel Brian Ashton has got it wrong, he might have just hip-kissed his career goodbye.
- Tom May, Leicester
Choosing Vainikolo is morally wrong and strips a less fortunate country of an asset. He has chosen England because its probably financially worthwhile. In addition he has already represented another country at League. Like the same issue with Henry Paul that should have cup-tied him. We had Van Gisbergen a few season's ago, who went home to NZ to get married, at least Cockbain and Horseman married a Welsh girls.
- David James, Kettering
I have to say, a lot of moaning from readers about players that are not in but I think really SHOULDN'T be in. The likes of Hipkiss and co. Some players are just good club players, and that is it. I think the biggest mistake by Ashton is leaving Abendanon out! He is outstanding and a specialist Fullback. Lewsey out and Tindall in? Brian Ashton has lost the plot. However, I think Vainikolo is a great selection. He will score tries for England and move them over the gain line more often than not. Not sure how people are surprised by his selection? Sackey is way overrated in my opinion, he had a good world cup yes, but there are other players I would have ahead of him. I also think Stevens should start ahead of Vickery, so would have chosen another captain. Stevens is a much better all round player. We shall see I guess. Lets hope Abendanon gets a call up though, I think he is a great in the making.
- Peter, South Africa
Overall a fair selection, particularly in the forwards. Still can't understand what Balshaw has done to merit inclusion. I see no harm in picking oldies such as Regan, makes sense to opt for a blend of youth and experience and in my opinion should assist the development of the youngsters. Would rather have seen Hipkiss than Tindall in the side.
- Justin, London
Ashton has made some nice selections here. Haskell, Cipriani and Croft had to come in. However there is no way that the likes of Balshaw, Cueto, Flood and Hodgson should be keeping out the likes of Varndell, Hipkiss, Lewsey and Lamb (though I think Lamb will always be too small to play at test level). I'm sure he wants to keep experienced backs in the side instead of going with pure youth but each of them (Flood aside) has been found wanting at the top level. Once again our stogy backs will lead to an over-reliance on muscle up front. Can someone also please tell me on what planet Easter is an international back-row, Prop yes. Too conservative Ashton. Stick Moody, Rees and Haskell in the back row and let the backs play around with some quick ball for a change. The Volcano bucks the trend a little bit. We English have always thought ourselves a bit morally superior to Scotland, Wales and New Zealand despite fielding the likes of Catt and Van Gisbergen (Stevens is a Saffer too I believe). It is a shame but if the IRB see fit to play it that way then you can't find fault with anyone for being within the rules.
- Ben, London
It's not Ashton that's made a whole lot of wrong choices leaving out the likes of Varndell, Hipkiss, Crane, Lamb, Abendanon, Lewsey et al and by including either overseas players who should be playing for their own country or has-beens like Regan, Tindall, Balshaw and Vickery (captain - you must be joking). No it's Andrews/RFU whose made the wrong decision by keeping Ashton.
- Keith Cowley, Leicester
To pick Charlie Hodgson over Ryan Lamb is an absolute travesty. I know Lamb's place-kicking has been a little suspect but has lit up the Gloucester backline this season with superb delayed passing and half breaks with Lamb in the team you have a great attacking weapon and you can get someone else to kick. Wilkinson is selected on past merit only and possibly what he can do for morale for the rest of the team. Wilkinson's kicking from hand has been woeful for a good proportion of his career and his place kicking which was once a dead cert is now not much better than his kicking from hand. JW needs to know when to kick to touch and make it go to touch not just keep hoofing it up field to allow a counter-attack opportunity. If it was a choice between the volcano, Strettle and Varndell for the wing I know who I would pick on his current form and it would have to be Tom Varndell. Varndell's recent form improvement and speed and even his footballing nous can not be ignored, and what pray tell has Strettle done of recent months? One try this season I believe. Unfortunately Balshaw gets yet ANOTHER go to show how he can freeze like a rabbit in headlights on the international stage, how many more chances will he get to show his form of 2000-2002? And why is there no place for Dan Hipkiss?
The forwards selection is pretty much spot on though. Poor Wasps once again are victims of their own success with their players occupying 25% of the entire squad their only chance to qualify for the Heineken cup will be to win the trophy again I'll keep my fingers crossed for them.
- Paul Filmer, UK
After seeing the squad Ashton has picked for the Six Nations I now feel there could be a great deal more merit in the comments of Lawrence and Catty after the World Cup. The inclusion of Balshaw, Regan, Chuter, Cueto etc will have the rest of the world laughing their socks off especially all my kiwi mates. Given the depth of talent Brian now has at his finger tips, to select some of these players over younger and hungrier athletes who represent our only chance of success in the next WC is laughable but so very predictable. Brian should remember the old adage..."if you're predictable, you're beatable!"
- Max Pendrey