Injuries, form and ‘exceptional circumstances’ have led to many opinions about England’s best XV for the Six Nations. Here we have our say.
From a number eight dilemma of whether to go for the evergreen Nick Easter over Billy Vunipola and Thomas Waldrom to the ongoing fly-half debate regarding Danny Cipriani, some big calls await Stuart Lancaster and that’s without even mentioning Sam Burgess and Steffon Armitage.
Of course views differ on the make-up of England’s Six Nations XV, with the Saxons fortunately giving Lancaster an ideal platform for further scrutiny. One expects that team to face the Irish Wolfhounds in Cork will offer the biggest clue yet of who will run out against Wales on February 6.
Here are Lancaster’s options…
It is hardly an ideal situation for Lancaster and his charges in such a pivotal year for all nations but positives he can lean on are that England possesses real depth in almost all areas right now. The case in point has been at lock where Joe Launchbury’s Six Nations absence, albeit a blow, is cushioned by the form of Dave Attwood, George Kruis and Graham Kitchener. Courtney Lawes and Geoff Parling are stalwarts.
In front of his preferred duo one expects Dan Cole to soon reclaim the three slot from David Wilson, who did himself no harm whatsoever in November. Meanwhile, loosehead is another area of strength as Lancaster must choose two from Alex Corbisiero, Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola.
Once that’s decided Lancaster arrives at the sticky situation of hooker where Dylan Hartley’s antics will have tested his nerve. It surely has to be last chance saloon for the sinning Saint this month – some might say he’s already ran out of lives – but don’t expect any shocks when the squad is named. It will be Hartley, Tom Youngs and Rob Webber, who must up his game with Ross Batty banging hard at the club door.
The back-row, much like the captaincy, divides opinion but can you imagine any change of the leadership occurring as England looks to build momentum both on and off the field before September? Us neither. Chris Robshaw is there to stay which means two positions are up for grabs.
Unfortunately for Ben Morgan it could become extremely difficult to force his way into the RWC side on the back of his injury, which is why the focus now turns to Waldrom, Easter and of course Armitage. The latter is being talked up as an option at eight and while he has played there for Toulon, seven is his best position. Vunipola and Tom Wood are surely starters while Calum Clark and James Haskell act as back-ups.
Are we to witness another change of heart from Lancaster at scrum-half? Danny Care dropped down the pecking order in November and it would surely take a special run of form at Harlequins coinciding with dismal showings from Ben Youngs and Richard Wigglesworth to see him return. Those are the three set to fight it out for two spots in the 23 and we expect it to be as you were with the latter duo involved in Cardiff.
Speaking of November, George Ford is set to retain the ten jersey ahead of Owen Farrell after flourishing in a Bath team that continues to impress in the Premiership. What a dream it must be to have Burgess, Jonathan Joseph and many more playing with such confidence at the Rec. The coveted third spot remains up for grabs with Stephen Myler’s impressive performance against Newcastle possibly being undone by his one-on-one battle with Cipriani last weekend. Credit to Cipriani, he has kept his head down this season and the Sharks are reaping the rewards.
Don’t expect to see Burgess involved against Wales as the Saxons is the ideal stage for him to further his union progress, which means we could have a Brad Barritt and Luther Burrell midfield although the preferred option due to Barritt’s fitness has to be Burrell and Joseph. Henry Slade is also pushing hard as a dark horse for selection while one waits to see if Billy Twelvetrees’ club form has cost him a spot.
And finally the back-three of Jonny May, Mike Brown and Anthony Watson is likely to be left unchanged for the clash in Wales, despite this writer’s feeling that Semesa Rokoduguni offers a threat too good to leave out. Ben Foden and Christian Wade will also believe they should make Lancaster’s 23 after solid form for Northampton and Wasps respectively as January 21 fast approaches. The World Cup will do likewise.
So there it is; Lancaster and his coaching team’s options for a decision announced exactly one week today. Here is the XV we expect him to pick against Wales in that critical Six Nations opener at the Millennium Stadium. Go ahead and name your preferred XV in the comments below.
England’s expected XV to face Wales: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.