Former England star’s radical selection idea for Steve Borthwick ahead of Ireland clash

David Skippers
Ben Earl England training Six Nations 2024 - Alamy.jpg

England number eight Ben Earl.

They say that desperate times call for desperate measures, and that seems to be the case for ex-England and British & Irish Lions fly-half Stuart Barnes, who has come up with a surprising selection idea for the Red Rose’s head coach Steve Borthwick.

Writing in his column for The Times, Barnes has urged Borthwick to think outside the box when picking his team for their highly anticipated Six Nations Test against Ireland at Twickenham on March 9.

Ireland in superb form

Andy Farrell’s charges are in superb form as they have won all three of their Six Nations Tests – against Ireland, Italy and Wales – with bonus points, and they are sitting pretty at the top of the Championship’s standings on 15 points, six clear of second-placed Scotland while England are in third place on eight points.

Barnes identified number eight Ben Earl as England‘s strongest ball carrier and said the Saracens player needs to get his hands on the ball more often.

“Anyone else notice who carried the most and most effectively against Scotland?” Barnes wrote in his column. “That’s right, it was Ben Earl, again.”

And the 61-year-old, who played most of his club rugby for Bath, believes a shift from the forwards to the backline would work wonders for Earls and England against the men from the Emerald Isle.

Barnes wants Earl at 12

“So I am picking him at inside centre. He can slip back to No 8 for the odd attacking scrum and link up like a back-row forward.” wrote Barnes, who then gives his reasoning for his radical proposal.

“If anyone thinks England don’t need to think radically after the constant failure to ignite under Borthwick, they are condemning England’s fans to dreary wins against weak teams and disappointment against superior sides.”

Whether Barnes’ suggestion is taken seriously by Borthwick remains to be seen, but it has certainly become a talking point amongst the Red Rose’s supporters.

Elsewhere in the team, Barnes has called for experienced props Joe Marler and Dan Cole to start either side of captain Jamie George in the front row.

His preferred second row consists of Maro Itoje and George Martin, with Ollie Chessum shifting to flanker alongside Sam Underhill. Barnes picked Zach Mercer at number eight despite Borthwick snubbing the Gloucester star for the Red Rose and England A.

Alex Mitchell is his pick at number nine, with Marcus Smith, if fit, at ten; otherwise, Fin Smith is his instead of George Ford.

He has picked Ollie Lawerence to partner Earl in the centres, with Emmanuel Feyi-Waboso and Tommy Freeman on the wings and George Furbank at fullback.

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