This time a year ago there was a whiff of revolution in the air. Stuart Lancaster had just been appointed England's interim head coach and he made sweeping changes. Fifteen of them in all from the squad that Martin Johnson had picked just five months before for the World Cup.
Since then continuity has been the watch word. He has resisted temptation to make changes to his match-day squad and to his Elite Player Squads as well.
Lancaster wants the bulk of the squad announced on Wednesday to be together going into 2015. By doing that England will have the right balance of experience and youth still on their side. It is all about arriving at the World Cup with an optimum number of caps and experience to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.
I am expecting the announcement to be just a nudge on the tiller and not a heave on the helm. There will be changes though. Lancaster will want to formalise promotion from the Saxons for the likes of Freddie Burns, Tom Youngs and Joe Launchbury, all of them - especially the latter two - played so well in the autumn series.
As to who misses out well I think Ugo Monye's days are probably numbered and I think Anthony Allen or Jordan Turner-Hall will miss out for Burns. Turner-Hall has not quite done it yet and I think Jonathan Joseph has overshadowed him a little bit. Allen, well is he really going to be a contender for 2015? My feeling is no and I think he will be the one to drop out.
There is a question surrounding the left wing position. Ben Foden has played there and in the autumn Mike Brown played there too with good affect. You really want a finisher in that position though and Lancaster may well look to the in-form team in the Premiership for the answer. Tom Varndell has been in superb form for Wasps, and may get the nod. I know Christian Wade plays on the right wing but he is just electric at the moment. There is an outside chance that he gets promoted - they may want to have a look at him and see if he can play on the left wing.
Another Wasp player to look out for is Billy Vunipola and I expect to see him named in the Saxons squad. Lancaster will only be able to bring players into the Elite Squad from the Saxons, so he needs to get that selection right too. He said it numerous times when he was the coach of the Saxons; that players in the Saxons squad are only one phone call away from playing for their country.
Talking about injuries, the return of Tom Croft to fitness will be a huge boost for Lancaster. What a selection dilemma to have - does he play Tom Wood who was man of the match in the win over the All Blacks, or do they play Tom Croft - a proven Lion with bags of experience who is another line out option? That is a great selection headache to have!
I am not expecting wholesale changes from Lancaster. He wants his favoured squad to build-up the number of caps they have and not to chop and change too often. It's going to be steady as you go and I think that is the right thing to do.
England will be confident heading into the Six Nations. I spoke to Danny Care and you can not underestimate what that All Blacks win has done for the self-belief of this squad. Care said he has played them six times before and had lost every time. They were written off all week but to turn out that performance against the world champions was astonishing.
They have to back that up in the Six Nations and really build on it. They have three home games so you would like to think that they can put in a good showing. France is going to be the big game - they really impressed me in the autumn and have some real eye-catching players themselves. I hope I am wrong and that we arrive at the last game against Wales and it is the Grand Slam decided, but you get the feeling that Wales have really fallen off the pace lately.
Watch Stuart Lancaster announce his England EPS squad, Wed, 1pm on Sky Sports News
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Rich B says...
Full backs at left wing. Big mistake. Isn't Charlie Sharples a left winger? Why has 1 missed tackle got him dropped?
Posted 13:15 9th January 2013
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