Saint-Andre: Hodgson the finished article

England fly-half Charlie Hodgson has been tipped as potential player of the tournament in this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship. [more]

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England fly-half Charlie Hodgson has been tipped as potential player of the tournament in this season’s RBS 6 Nations Championship.

The ringing endorsement comes from Hodgson’s Sale Sharks boss Philippe Saint-Andre, who believes his tactical controller and chief playmaker can click England into gear as they target a first RBS 6 Nations title since their 2003 Grand Slam campaign.

World Cup star Jonny Wilkinson has been absent from the England scene since his drop-goal heroics defeated 2003 World Cup final opponents Australia, and there is no immediate sign of a return.

Given Hodgson’s current form, it is debatable whether England head coach Andy Robinson could consider a fully-fit Wilkinson above the Sale ace anyway.

But do not be surprised if Robinson finds room for both players in his starting line-up nearer the 2007 World Cup defence, as a combination of Hodgson at fly-half and Wilkinson filling England’s problematical inside centre-role is believed to be the boss’ preferred option.

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Robinson will expect Hodgson to call the shots in next weekend’s opener against reigning champions Wales at Twickenham, when England need a strong start following two years of RBS 6 Nations under-achievement.

And former France skipper Saint-Andre believes the 25-year-old Hodgson is ready to deliver, having matured considerably as a top-class performer during past 18 months.

"If you had spoken to me this time last year, I would have said Charlie wasn’t the final article. Now though, he is the final article," said Saint-Andre.

"I think his confidence has grown a lot. Over the past 18 months, he has played some tough games for Sale, England and the Lions, and he has so much more experience.

"He is a fantastic playmaker, and I believe he can be the player of the Six Nations.

"His kicking is fantastic, and he is very confident. He played well in the November internationals, and as a fly-half, you need experience, which is something he has gained during the past 18 months."

Hodgson will go into the Wales clash one point short of 200 in Tests, while he is also poised to join an elite Premiership 1,000 points club, whose only other members are Wilkinson, Andy Goode, Tim Stimpson, Paul Grayson and Barry Everitt.

Performance, though, rather than statistics, will be uppermost in Hodgson’s mind, as he looks to build on an impressive autumn series of games, when he was comfortably England’s most notable contributor behind their juggernaut pack.

"Charlie has done a lot of work, and he has grown up a lot as a leader," added Saint-Andre.

"Before, it was always about Jonny Wilkinson or Charlie Hodgson, but now I think Charlie is the fly-half for England.

"It wasn’t easy for Charlie because he didn’t have that much experience of the highest level, and he knew if he missed a kick then people would start talking about Wilkinson, so just imagine the pressure that was on him.

"The situation between Charlie as a player now and Charlie last year is completely opposite. He is a different animal.

"As a fly-half, you need to make decisions, and he is not scared to do that. He is a fantastic footballer."

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