Ben Kay Column
Worsley can do a job on Wales
January 26, 2011
Joe Worsley is in the running to start against Wales © Getty Images
The Six Nations is now just around the corner and the temperature is rising prior to the opening Friday night clash between England and Wales at the Millennium Stadium on February 4.
Both sides have been struck by serious injury blows but will be desperate to get their campaign, and World Cup year, off to a flyer.
It's certainly not ideal for Martin Johnson to have lost so many players, with skipper Lewis Moody, flanker Tom Croft and lock Courtney Lawes all sidelined. Their replacements, Leicester's George Skivington and Northampton duo Phil Dowson and Tom Wood, have got to very quickly get up to speed with all the calls and patterns of play. They have to immerse themselves in the system.
A number of people have tipped Wood to fill the void left by the loss of Croft's pace and lineout ability, but his selection at openside depends on another injury, to Hendre Fourie, and considerations for countering Wales' attacking threat. Wood has been absolutely outstanding for Northampton and he fully deserves to be there but whether Johnson will feel that he can throw him straight in or not is a different question.
Another option is Joe Worsley, who has never really had a bad game in an England shirt. He is a fantastic leader in the way he plays. In your first game, where you're trying to find some rhythm against an attacking side like Wales, Worsley is an absolutely outstanding defender, as he showed in Cardiff two years ago.
I've never seen a more destructive low-tackler. He gets in under your knees. If you're a big ball carrier, you want to take people on who are going to try and put a big shot on you up high, near your chest. The last thing you want is an exocet coming in at knee height, like a bowling ball. Worsley is one of the best in the world at that. He knows Andy Powell very well from Wasps and will feel that he can do a job to keep him quiet.
On the other hand, the main area of concern for England is, without Lawes and Croft, how the lineout is going to function. Being able to dominate in the forwards is about having the ball and while Dylan Hartley's throwing has come on leaps and bounds, as has Steve Thompson's, you wouldn't describe them as being the best in the world.
They're both quite fast throws and they rely on their jumpers getting up quicker than the opposition and creating the space for them, rather than dinking a soft throw to someone who has gone up in front. Worsley is not the best jumper and Nick Easter can do a job but is not world class at the lineout, particularly in terms of speed and getting up there.
One of the best things that could have happened to Hartley is for Wales boss Warren Gatland to have come out in the media and said that they're going to target him as a weak link. It gives him time to prepare for the fact that they are going to try and get to him and it gives the England coaches time to make sure that he's as calm as he can be in a Test against Wales at the Millennium Stadium. I think Gatland would have been better off keeping quiet and telling his players to try and wind him up as much as possible.
The Millennium Stadium is a tough place to go but how the noise affects you depends on your personality. It's a fiery place to play and was always my favourite of the stadiums that we played at regularly, away from Twickenham, because of the atmosphere. You want to play in intense atmospheres as they are what brings the best out of you.
Where the crowd can have a negative effect is when people are not confident in their own ability and the ability of their team. You've got to be confident, and that's down to the coaching staff and players. People accuse England of being arrogant but if you've got to go to the Millennium Stadium and win, you've got to be arrogant. Every time New Zealand go anywhere they are arrogant and that's why they are so successful. You can't be over confident, but you've got to have unquestioning faith in your ability if you are going to succeed in a place like that.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN