With the announcement of the latest England EPS just weeks away Stuart Lancaster needs to pick with his head not his heart.
I’m a huge fan of Stuart Lancaster’s commitment to his incumbent players, but for the first time in his reign I can’t help but question this selection policy.
In any other year I’d argue to stick with much the same squad and continue to give them time to blend and gel, however this is no ordinary year for English rugby. The 2015 World Cup is just a little over a year away, and given it is being played on home soil a nation expects.
With this in mind I feel now is the time for Lancaster to start being a bit more pragmatic in his selections. There’s still the opportunity to include young talent, but it’s also the time to recall some of the ‘safe’ options in a year where he will be under immense pressure.
In the pack we’re unlikely to see much change as the England forwards have excelled as a unit under Lancaster’s stewardship. The only real questions remain over which combinations to select, particularly in the second row.
It is in the backs however where Lancaster must look at his current options and look to alternate options in a bid to get England playing more consistently. At fly-half Farrell looks likely to start but Myler certainly deserves a shot given his form. The likes of Ford, Burns and Cipriani all need to be considered as well for their playmaking abilities.
In the centres is where England have the biggest problem as no combination seems to have stuck for any period of time. Personally I think Lancaster must now end the Twelvetrees experiment as he has been given ample opportunity but failed to prove he can make a mark. Whilst Tuilagi looks a likely starter his partner is open to debate.
Burrell offers a form option, however Barritt has proven he is a solid performer at international level and can function well alongside Tuilagi. It may encourage a slightly one-dimensional style of play but many forget that it was the Barritt-Tuilagi combination that dismantled New Zealand in spectacular fashion just a few years ago.
Full back looks fairly locked down by Mike Brown, however out on the wings both shirts are up for grabs. For me Yarde looks like the best bet on either side so should be given as much international exposure as possible. On the other side I would select David Strettle who has been one of English rugby’s most consistent try scorers in the Premiership. Ashton also deserves a mention for his finishing ability.
Anyway based on this I’ve selected an EPS squad of 35 players and marked the five I would drop for the World Cup with a * unless they played their way into the final squad.
If the Saints loosehead can remain fit this season and sort out his wonky scrummaging he should be the automatic started for England at the World Cup.
Marler has matured hugely in the last 24 months and now looks like more than capable backup to Corbisiero and comes with the added bonus of captaincy experience.
Vunipola may not be the most prolific of scrummagers but adds something extra coming off the bench where his ball carrying is hugely effective.
Outside bets; Ethan Waller, Matt Mullan
There’s no doubting that Hartley is now England’s first choice hooker barring any injuries or major drop-off in form.
Youngs has something to prove ahead of the World Cup after slipping off the radar slightly but deserves another shot in an England shirt.
Webber looked like an excellent option for England on this summers tour of New Zealand and will be more than capable of stepping up should there be any injuries.
Outside bets; Dave Ward, Luke Cowan-Dickie
Cole has been unfortunate with injuries over the last six months but is likely to remain first choice tighthead due to a lack of alternatives.
Wilson proved a more than capable deputy in Cole’s absence and will provide solid backup in the number three shirt although England lack genuine competition in the position.
Whilst many may go for a more experienced option frankly Sinckler looks the best of the rest as he has the potential to make a huge impact off the bench.
Outside bets; Kieran Brookes, Henry Thomas
Pretty much England’s first choice lock now, Lawes is a huge presence in both attack and defence whilst also proving he can run the lineout.
Launchbury looks the most likely man to partner Lawes in the engine room given the way the pair have performed together over the last 18 months.
Attwood looks unlikely to be starting for England anytime soon but he is a physical presence who can shore up the scrum if necessary.
Parling has been unlucky to lose his place in the starting lineup but his mastery of the lineout could see him break back into the First XV.
Outside bets; Ed Slater, Michael Paterson
As the incumbent captain it seems highly unlikely Stuart Lancaster will be dropping Chris Robshaw anytime soon.
Wood has formed a potent partnership with Robshaw in the back row where their work ethic sees them regularly compete with the best in the world.
Newly appointed as captain of Wasps, Haskell has become one of the stand-out flankers in the Premiership and offers huge versatility and experience.
If Fraser can stay injury free this season there’s every chance he could be competing for a starting spot by the time the World Cup comes around.
Outside bets; Luke Wallace, Matt Kvesic
Vunipola has had an outstanding 12 months for club and country and looks set to battle it out with Morgan for the starting spot.
Morgan may have struggled slightly in Gloucester colours however he always seems capable of pulling it out of the bag in an England shirt.
Outside bets; Thomas Waldrom, Jackson Wray
At the moment the number 9 shirt is Danny Care’s to lose, he offers something a bit different to the other options and keeps England’s tempo high.
Dickson may not always be first choice at Northampton but he has proved for both club and country that he is capable of playing at the very highest level.
Youngs may have suffered an alarming drop-off in form since last years Lions series but still remains one of England’s best scrum-halves when on form.
Outside bets; Joe Simpson, Richard Wigglesworth
The incumbent of England’s number 10 shirt, there’s no doubting Farrell will be facing some stiff competition over the next 12 months.
The most consistent of all of England’s options at fly-half, Myler represents a safe bet although he is still untested against the best international sides.
Ford may lack a little bit of consistency, particularly in big games but has been impressive for Bath and offers a bit of flair in the backline.
Outside bets; Danny Cipriani, Freddie Burns
The Northampton centre proved in this years Six Nations that he is capable of playing international rugby in either of the central positions.
Despite the wing experiment failing Tuilagi still remains England’s biggest game changer and for that reasons looks likely to start.
Many may disagree but Barritt has been England’s most consistent performer in the 12 shirt which is exactly what you need in a home World Cup.
For me the Twelvetrees experiment needs to end now, for that reason I think Devoto deserves his chance in an England shirt.
Outside bets; Henry Slade, Billy Twelvetrees
Yarde currently looks like England’s strongest option on the wing and for that reason should start every game between now and the World Cup.
Lancaster needs to swallow this one up and recall one of the Premiership’s most prolific try-scorers before it is too late.
Many fans may not like him but you cannot argue against Ashton’s finishing ability, and what England need right now is tries!
Watson can cover both wing and full back and looks like the kind of game changer Lancaster has been looking for.
Outside bets; Christian Wade, Jonny May
England’s star player over the last 12 months, barring a total meltdown Brown should be starting during the World Cup.
Goode may not excite all fans but he has shown he has flair for Saracens and combines that with consistency.
Outside bets; Ben Foden, Chris Pennell
Based on this England’s side would look something like the below;
Brown, Yarde, Tuilagi, Barritt, Strettle, Farrell, Care; Corbisiero, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Wood, Robshaw, Vuniploa
Replacements – T. Youngs, Marler, Wilson, Attwood, Morgan, B. Youngs, Burrell, Goode
Who would you select in your 35 man EPS?