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Jeremy Guscott Q&A

Owen Farrell scores a try for Saracens against Treviso
Jerry thinks Owen Farrell is in with a shout of an England debut in 2012

Former England and Lions centre Jeremy Guscott answers your questions after an exciting weekend of European action.

Among the topics Jerry discusses this week are:

- What Stuart Lancaster needs to to do turn around England's fortunes

- Who he thinks is in with a shout of making Lancaster's first team

- His views on the issues distracting Northampton's England winger Chris Ashton

- Whether summer rugby is a good idea

Jerry also paid tribute to Jonny Wilkinson after his international retirement. Read his column here.

If you have any questions for Jeremy, please use the post form on this page. He will answer as many as possible but not every question submitted can be used. This week's answers appear below.

Now Stuart Lancaster is in charge of the England team what should he be doing to get the team playing well again?
Guto, Wales

Hi Guto, I'm sure Lancaster will have a very close look at all the players he will already have mentally short listed that he believes are up to playing international rugby. He's already said he will travel around the country to speak with head coaches to get their knowledge about players.

My suggestion is to pick players on form and not be influenced about what players have done in the past. We will understand a lot more about Lancaster and the man he is and what rugby philosophies he believes in when he announces his captain. If he goes old school with someone like Nick Easter then I would get the feeling not a lot is going to change.

In selecting a captain he could do no worse than to ask a selection of players their views because that would give him good feedback. Getting this team playing well has a lot to do with who is leading them. That will be crucial.

Hi Jeremy, with a new, albeit temporary coaching team, installed in the England set-up, if you could forget about injuries, what would your ideal starting XV be?
Dan, England

The nerves never leave you whether you are playing your first game or your 100th, you always live with the pressure to produce your best every time you step out to play. You've just got to learn to live with it and love it

Jerry on the pressures of being an international rugby player

Hi Dan, given we are eight weeks away from the Scotland v England game that's a tough question to answer but here goes. Bear in mind, however, that this is by no means the team I would select nearer the time, but one that is based on current form. 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Delon Armitage, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Joe Marler, 2 Jamie George, 3 Dan Cole, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Tom Croft, 7 Tom Wood, 8 Chris Robshaw.

Hi Jerry, do you think that Andy Farrell is the correct choice as England's short-term backs coach? I would have thought that Mike Catt would have deserved a chance, as he has so much more international rugby union experience than Mr Farrell Sr.
Derek Wilcox, UK

Hi Derek, I would like to think Catt was in the running because of his past international experience and recent coaching career. I think Catt would be a coach more of the players could relate to easier.

Having said that I'm very interested to see what impact Farrell has as a coach. He came too late as a player to union from league and was pretty ineffectual, but the team he currently coaches - Saracens - are going well.

They are pretty programmed in their playing strategies but show glimpses of enterprise from time to time. I believe his approach should be to listen to how these players would like to play and accommodate their ambitions.

Only one of the seven English clubs are on track for qualification in the Heineken Cup. Does this show that the Premiership is the weakest of the three main leagues and if this is the case do you think raising the salary cap could improve the standard?
Rob, England

Jerry, we've seen two strong teams in Leicester and Quins defeated by big-spending French sides. Will English teams keep getting beaten in the Heineken Cup while we still have a wage cap, or do you think French league rugby is of a better standard?
Jonathan B, England

Hi Rob and Jonathan, the salary cap does have a huge impact on a team's ability to produce quality squads able to compete in all competitions. This is especially important in the English league because there is both relegation and the need to qualify for Europe.

The generous size of French squads and the money they can offer their players does mean they can keep most of their stars fresh for important games.

As far as the standard of their Top 14 versus the Premiership, I've not seen enough of the Top 14 to make an educated judgement.

Chris Ashton on the run for Northampton
Ashton, currently banned, is a reported target for Saracens

Hi Jerry, after news this week that Chris Ashton may be leaving Northampton at the end of the season do you feel rugby players are becoming far too commercially minded? David Strettle has never flourished in the Saracens backline because of their playing style so I cannot see Ashton going anywhere but backwards, except in the size of his new paycheck.

After the Saints put years of training into him it seems incredibly selfish to leave after only a couple of seasons at his best as an international player.

The suggestions from the Northampton management that approaches have been made before January is also worrying for the future of the transfer market, which is infinitely better than football's.
George, England

Hi George, you have to accept it is a player's choice where he wishes to ply his trade and he has to balance the commercial viability against the environment. Another factor which might impact your choice is what stage of your career you're at.

The salary cap has a part to play here. If it was larger then I really don't think Ashton would be considering leaving Saints. The reason he hasn't signed a new deal would suggest to me that he is not happy with the package Saints have offered him and that would be down to finances.

Ashton isn't the type of player who waits to get the ball, he goes looking for it and so it wouldn't really matter who he played for... even Sarries.

Jeremy, as a Saints fan I have mixed feelings about the length of Ashton's ban for pulling Alesana Tuilagi's hair. Clearly he should be punished but given that last season Manu Tuilagi was banned for five weeks for basically assaulting Ashton, four weeks does seem harsh for a hair pull by comparison.

However, Ashton has of late proved himself to be, frankly, stupid. It's not the first indiscretion recently and I wonder if the hype is going to his head.

Perhaps four weeks out will help him sort out his act. If someone like Vasily Artemyev or Noah Cato can step in and make it difficult for him to get back in the starting line-up it might make him think. Thoughts?
Steve Hall, UK

Hi Steve, I've always said that outside influences generally tend to affect a player's state of mind. Ashton's come back from the World Cup in the glare of the media and public because of off-field events, not what happened on the field.

He's also going through contractual negotiations and until that's settled I don't think we will see the best of Ashton.

We could discuss the pros and cons of the length of his ban for ages, but it is what it is and Saints didn't appeal, so they must have thought the case against him was pretty watertight.

I think this is only going to be a little blip in his season, his appetite to score tries is as big as ever and he knows better than most what he has to do to achieve that.

Hi Jeremy, how do you rate Cardiff Blues' chances in Europe? They've not lost a game so far in Pool Two of the Heineken Cup, but they seem to be in one of the easier groups.

Against Edinburgh they won but looked a little lost in attack, with their defence winning the game for them. Can you see this changing if they continue to rely on Dan Parks kicking drop-goals every time they get into the opposition's 22?
Matt Harris, Wales

Hi Matt, quite simply winning is everything and to be 3-0 is a great position to be in. Cardiff's objective is to reach the knockout stages and they are on track but by no means home and hosed!

If they can beat Edinburgh this weekend then they are in pole position and it would be their pool to lose. Don't be too bothered about drop-goals, after all two World Cups have been won with drop-goals!

Hi Jerry, what are your thoughts on the form of Stephen Ferris for Ulster at the moment? With his ball-carrying, tackling and knack for tries he must be just about the best blind-side in Europe at the minute!
JJ, Northern Ireland

Stephen Ferris on the rampage for Ulster against Leicester
Blind-side flanker Ferris is a wrecking ball for Ulster and Ireland

Hi JJ, if Ferris can stay fit for the next four years I'm sure he will prove himself to be a phenomenal blind-side. He has speed, size and power, and when those three attributes are combined he becomes a wrecking ball.

He appears to be quite feral at times, wild and raw. I think that his desire to get the ball in hand or to win it back helps him be the player he is. I really hope he stays fit and doesn't get too much bigger because he will entertain us royally over the next few years.

Hello Jeremy. What do you make of rugby union possibly following rugby league's lead and moving to summer?
Jon, Catalonia

The old seasonal switch has once again been brought up as the Premiership clubs seek to maintain a hold of their best players during the World Cup and Six Nations.

Obviously, more forgiving weather would allow for a more attractive brand of rugby than the inevitable mid-January mud-ball, but do you think that rearranging the rugby calendar is really worth doing? Is it practical, and would the benefits outweigh the effort?
Niff Knipfing, USA

Hi Jon and Niff, I have a long answer but I will do my best to keep it short. A few years ago I wouldn't have given the idea of having a global rugby union season too much time at all, but times have changed and I believe it ought to be given careful consideration by all stakeholders.

It would make sense, and more so for the northern hemisphere, to have players for the whole of their domestic competitions, without interruption, just like the southern hemisphere teams do.

Then there could be an exclusive window for the internationals where players would be with their national squads for the duration. The hardest area to consider would be the players' welfare, keeping them fit and healthy.

I think in England there are 33 weeks of playing (that's not including the LV= Cup) if you get to finals. Generally there's 10 internationals played in 12 months, so that's 43 games if you were to play them all (although England squad members are limited to 32 full games).

I think in general the home union supporters are quite traditional and would initially oppose a suggestion like moving to a summer season.

However, I would ask supporters of clubs, regions and provinces 'would you like your players to be available for all the matches you watch?' I would think most fans would prefer to have their Test stars available for all games.

That's why the idea of a global season ought to be given serious thought. I truly believe the idea has legs, whether the world of rugby union also agrees we will have to wait and see.

How nervous were you on your international debut?
Charlie Blampied, England

Hi Charlie, I was nervous, no doubt about that, even though it was against Romania. I was fortunate to have club colleagues in the squad in the shape of Andy Robinson, Gareth Chilcott and Simon Halliday, who was my centre partner.

I also had my wife at the time, mum and dad, uncles, aunties and granny all out in Bucharest as well, but even with that family support you can't help feeling nervous because there's a lot at stake.

A poor performance is not going to help you get more games so there's always huge pressure to play well. The nerves never leave you whether you are playing your first game or your 100th, you always live with the pressure to produce your best every time you step out to play, you've just got to learn to live with it and love it.

Follow Jerry on Twitter: @JeremyGuscott

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see also
Clermont Auvergne 30-12 Leicester
11 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Bath 13-18 Leinster
13 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Glasgow 20-15 Montpellier
13 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Bucuresti 13-24 Worcester
13 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Ashton could leave Northampton
13 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Exeter 18-6 NG Dragons
13 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Saracens 31-26 Ospreys
10 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Scarlets 14-17 Munster
13 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Racing Metro 14-34 London Irish
10 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Connacht 10-14 Gloucester
10 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Bayonne 19-11 Wasps
13 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Harlequins 10-21 Toulouse
10 Dec 11 |  Rugby Union
Roberts warning to leaders Blues
10 Dec 11 |  Cardiff Blues
Ulster 31-10 Aironi
09 Dec 11 |  Ulster

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