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Rowntree longs for 'groundhog' day

England's forwards coach Graham Rowntree admits developing a genuine ball-poaching openside flanker is a key priority for the national team.

England's back-row options are bountiful for the RBS 6 Nations, with Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw, Tom Croft, Calum Clark and Phil Dowson capable of playing on either flank.

But none of them are specialist opensides in the mould of New Zealand's Richie McCaw, Australia's David Pocock or Wales captain Sam Warburton, and Rowntree said: "We haven't got a natural groundhog or ball-stealing seven so we're looking to develop one in the Saxons to bring into the senior squad."

The Saxons squad features Saracens' Andy Saull, Exeter's Tom Johnson and London Irish flanker Jamie Gibson, while Worcester's Matt Kvesic is in the Under-20s and banging on the door.

"We know what Saully can do, we have been looking at him for a long time. Saully fits the bill, so does Matt," Rowntree added.

Wood is awaiting the results of a scan on his foot before England know whether he will be to face Scotland in their Six Nations opener on February 4.

If fit, the Northampton flanker is favourite to start at openside, with Robshaw being tipped as a potential number eight option.

"You can't argue with how Tom Wood has played in the number seven shirt for Northampton this season," Rowntree said.

"He had a great Six Nations last year. We all know his frustrations at the World Cup. He's playing well at the moment. Chris Robshaw has probably been the form back row in the Premiership over the last few months.

"There's a couple of good sevens there and Dowson has played seven too. I'm sure Tom Croft could play seven too so we have enough good seven cover there."


From Belfast Telegraph