Australian rugby league has its fiercely competitive state of origin series and England cricket recently announced plans to host a north versus south fixture, so wouldn’t it be great if English rugby could devise a similar match to pit the best players in the country against one another?
Despite the extreme improbability of the RFU agreeing to the best players in England going hard at each other, it would certainly be a fantastic spectacle to see Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury versus Maro Itoje and George Kruis, Nathan Hughes against Billy Vunipola, and Manu Tuilagi shaping up against Owen Farrell.
Given the entrenched north-south rivalry in England, it could also be a great advert for English rugby.
Here, I select the two sides that would face each other if this match were staged this season and all the players were fit.
But, before we get on to the teams, here are a couple of housekeeping points:
- Players are regarded as being eligible for the north or the south based on the clubs they represent. So Owen Farrell, born in the north but playing for Saracens, would feature for the South. This is one way of getting around the inclusion of England-eligible players who were born overseas, such as Dylan Hartley and Billy Vunipola.
- For the purposes of splitting the Aviva Premiership in two, this is how the clubs have been categorised into north and south. Given rugby union’s dominance in the south of England, Midlands clubs have had to be engulfed into the north.
|Northampton Saints||Exeter Chiefs|
Here are the two lineups for this thought experiment and dream of rugby fans:
|1||Kieran Brookes||Mako Vunipola|
|2||Dylan Hartley (c)||Jamie George|
|3||Dan Cole||Kyle Sinckler|
|4||Joe Launchbury||Maro Itoje|
|5||Courtney Lawes||George Kruis|
|6||James Haskell||Chris Robshaw|
|7||Teimana Harrison||Jack Clifford|
|8||Nathan Hughes||Billy Vunipola|
|9||Ben Youngs||Danny Care|
|10||Freddie Burns||George Ford|
|11||Mathew Tait||Jack Nowell|
|12||Manu Tuilagi||Owen Farrell (c)|
|13||Eliot Daly||Jonathan Joseph|
|14||Christian Wade||Antony Watson|
|15||Danny Cipriani||Mike Brown|
So who would win? There really is very little to choose between the two forward packs, but I fancy the south would take it on the strength of their backs. If nothing else, it’s interesting to note how, at the moment, players from southern clubs are dominant in representing England behind the scrum.
What this exercise also does is highlight the current strength in depth of English rugby. For example, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Alex Goode both missed out. That alone suggests England are in a good place when they unite to tackle the southern hemisphere in November and December.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena