Saxons primed for Churchill Cup defence
June 3, 2011
England Saxons will be expecting big things from Matt Stevens during this month's Churchill Cup © Getty Images
England Saxons will have the benefit of home advantage as they attempt to successfully defend their Churchill Cup crown.
Stuart Lancaster's men claimed the title 12 months ago courtesy of a 38-18 victory over Canada and are clear favourites to retain given that the tournament is returning to England for the first time since 2007.
The Saxons certainly have an impressive pedigree. They are the only side other than the Canadians to have competed every year since the tournament's inception in 2003 and they have lifted the trophy on five occasions in total. Better still for the hosts, the only other sides to have won the event are Ireland 'A' and the New Zealand Maori - neither of whom are participating this time around.
Nevertheless, Saxons boss Stuart Lancaster has been forced to address accusations that the selection of South African-born lock Mouritz Botha is a sign of the English game's increasing need to poach players from overseas.
"England want to put the best side out and I don't think there are any concerns we are losing our Englishness," he said. "I don't think it is an active recruitment policy. If the likes of Hendre Fourie and Mouritz Botha come through the development programmes in England and put their hands up then ultimately they can be considered for selection."
The Saxons will not be paying too much attention to Botha's selection as they have been placed in a tricky pool alongside the USA, who are coached by former Ireland boss Eddie O'Sullivan and have five players based in England, and tournament debutants Tonga, who, as ever, are likely to prove tremendously physical and frustratingly unpredictable.
The Saxons have just four survivors from last year's final-winning side - Alex Goode, Micky Young, Graham Kitchener and Luke Narraway - but the youngest Saxons squad in Churchill Cup history is brimming full of exciting attacking talent. The significance of the inclusion of Matt Stevens, who will bring explosive power to the front-row, cannot be overstated either.
As for Pool B, Canada will be hoping to go one better after coming up just short last year. However, while they will hope to overcome Russia, Italy 'A', who, like Tonga, will be making their first appearance in the Churchill Cup, are likely to prove far more difficult to handle. With the World Cup looming large on the horizon, the Azzurri are taking this tournament very seriously indeed and have included the likes of Mauro Bergamasco in a squad littered with players with plenty of experience at senior level.
2011 Churchill Cup:
Pool A: England Saxons, USA, Tonga
Pool B: Canada, Italy 'A', Russia
Saturday, June 4:
Wednesday, June 8:
Sunday, June 12:
Saturday, June 18:
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