Could an all-Wasps England v Wales No.7 contest happen?
The Six Nations is a wonderful competition because of its colour, history and partisan local rivalries.
Usually the rugby is pretty enjoyable too, and for many fans it has a magic that the autumn international series never will, despite the presence of world stars wearing All Black, Wallaby and Springbok jerseys.
A good number of Wasps could be involved with England this year too, with Matt Mullan and Tommy Taylor set to join fit-again James Haskell, Elliot Daly and their club captain Joe Launchbury in Eddie Jones’ thoughts.
However, it is the first-time selection of Thomas Young in the Wales squad that has really caught the eye this week. Wasps’ flanker replaces now-departed lock Bradley Davies as a black-and-gold dragon, in a richly-deserved selection. Stats for the 13 completed Premiership rounds show just how loudly Young has made his selection case. Among all forwards he is ranked 20th for carries, seventh for turnovers won, sixth for metres made, fifth for defenders beaten and top of the shop in line breaks, with 11.
The next task is to get past an array of outstanding Welsh flankers to the matchday 23 for their opener in Italy, and if he is successful in this, an all-Wasps No.7 battle between Young and Haskell at the Millenium Stadium a week later is an enticing prospect.
This assumes that Eddie Jones considers the former Wasps skipper fully match fit to take a starting role in the competition, which England begin against France at Twickenham.
A few doubts will inevitably surround Haskell, who has played almost no rugby since June through a toe injury and concussion, although his director of rugby Dai Young is sure he will be ready.
“We were confident with his foot injury that he’d be back for the Six Nations. It’s typical really, he comes back, plays one game for us and goes and plays for England,” Young said.
“We were never going to push him or put him under pressure to come back. He has worked really hard and although he hasn’t been able to have much of a lead-in he is extremely fit and he wants to get back out on the field. I’m sure he’ll play a big part in England’s campaign.”
After a lay-off of this duration, many players would take several weeks to regain match fitness of the level required to cope with the rigours of a Six Nations clash. However, Young believes fitness guru Haskell, who has recently produced a book and digital content on the subject, is an exception to this rule.
“He’s trained fully for four weeks, including lots of contact stuff, and come through with flying colours,” Wasps boss says. “It’s not like playing, but he’ll have a bit of game time this week and I’m sure England will do some contact stuff when he’s away with them next week.
“In an ideal world I’m sure he’d rather have more game time under his belt, but he’s experienced enough for it not to faze him. Sometimes having three or four games beforehand is more of a confidence thing with players, but that’s not something James struggles with so I think he’ll be alright.
“In the training sessions he’s done with us, he’s looked totally comfortable, and he’ll be perfectly able to go in to the Six Nations and do a job for England.
“He’s never far off being in great condition anyway, so he was never going to need to spend loads of time getting back in shape. Because it was a foot injury, he had to get back running again, but his heart and lungs were never far away, as he’d done so much other stuff.”
It now seems incredible that England’s award-winning player-of-the-year was pretty much sidelined for three years under the previous coaching regime.
Most experts would now have a fully-fit Haskell in their British & Irish Lions squads for next summer, and his club boss believes this is down to Eddie Jones, whose arrival has given the 31-year-old flanker a new lease of life.
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