Lancaster Must Select the England EPS With His Head Not His Heart

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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.

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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.

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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.

Loosehead

Alex Corbisiero

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.

Joe Marler

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.

Mako Vunipola

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

Hooker

Dylan Hartley

There’s no doubting that Hartley is now England’s first choice hooker barring any injuries or major drop-off in form.

Tom Youngs

Youngs has something to prove ahead of the World Cup after slipping off the radar slightly but deserves another shot in an England shirt.

Rob Webber

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

Tighthead

Dan Cole

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.

David Wilson

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.

Kyle Sinckler

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

Locks

Courtney Lawes

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.

Joe Launchbury

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.

Dave Attwood

Attwood looks unlikely to be starting for England anytime soon but he is a physical presence who can shore up the scrum if necessary.

Geoff Parling

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

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Flankers

Chris Robshaw

As the incumbent captain it seems highly unlikely Stuart Lancaster will be dropping Chris Robshaw anytime soon.

Tom Wood

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.

James Haskell

Newly appointed as captain of Wasps, Haskell has become one of the stand-out flankers in the Premiership and offers huge versatility and experience.

Will Fraser*

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

Number 8’s

Billy Vunipola

Vunipola has had an outstanding 12 months for club and country and looks set to battle it out with Morgan for the starting spot.

Ben Morgan

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

Scrum-Halves

Danny Care

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.

Lee Dickson

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.

Ben Youngs*

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

Fly-Halves

Owen Farrell

The incumbent of England’s number 10 shirt, there’s no doubting Farrell will be facing some stiff competition over the next 12 months.

Stephen Myler

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.

George Ford*

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

Centres

Luther Burrell

The Northampton centre proved in this years Six Nations that he is capable of playing international rugby in either of the central positions.

Manu Tuilagi

Despite the wing experiment failing Tuilagi still remains England’s biggest game changer and for that reasons looks likely to start.

Brad Barritt

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.

Ollie Devoto

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

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Wings

Marland Yarde

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.

David Strettle

Lancaster needs to swallow this one up and recall one of the Premiership’s most prolific try-scorers before it is too late.

Chris Ashton

Many fans may not like him but you cannot argue against Ashton’s finishing ability, and what England need right now is tries!

Anthony Watson*

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

Full Backs

Mike Brown

England’s star player over the last 12 months, barring a total meltdown Brown should be starting during the World Cup.

Alex Goode

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?

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  1. Including injured players, my eps would be as follows:
    Props: Corbisiero*, Marler, Mullan, Cole*, Wilson, Thomas, M. Vunipola*, Brookes
    Hookers: Hartley, Webber, T. Youngs
    Locks: Launchbury, Lawes, Attwood, Parling*, Slater*, Gaskell
    Flankers: Haskell, Wood, Fraser, Robshaw, Croft*
    No. 8: B. Vunipola, Morgan
    Scrum-Half: Care, Youngs, Simpson
    Fly-Half: Farrell, Ford, Cipriani
    Centre: Barritt, Burrell, Eastmond, Joseph, Tuilagi
    Wings: Wade, Watson, Yarde, Rokodoguni
    Full-Back: Brown, Foden, Goode

    Lancaster’s XV: Marler, Hartley, Wilson, Launchbury, Lawes, Wood, Robshaw, Vunipola, Care, Farrell, Yarde, Burrell, Tuilagi, Watson, Brown

    My XV: Mullan, Hartley, Wilson, Launchbury, Lawes, Wood, Haskell, Vunipola, Care, Farrell, Yarde, Eastmond, Tuilagi, Wade, Foden

    Explanation: Mullan has shown great form including the recent demolition job he did on incumbent tighthead, David Wilson. Harlequins have struggled and Marler has not been at his best; with so few matches left a start for Mullan would give England greater experience and depth at loosehead, especially important given Corbisiero’s injury woes. Haskell deserves a recall whether it be at 6 or 7 depends entirely on your opinion of Robshaw. Personally I think Haskell is the far better option at openside, he’s more tenacious at the ruck and a more dynamic ball carrier than the current captain. The leadership role he fulfills at Wasps has been key to their resurgence and he, along with Hartley could easily take up the captaincy. Eastmond has been excellent this season, and while his defensive abilities were exposed somewhat by the All-Blacks, he is a dynamic playmaker in attack. Tuilagi brings the thunder to Eastmond’s lightning. Yarde and Wade would have been the wing pairing had injury not sidelined the duo. Wade’s defensive capabilities have been questioned and with big wings like Savea and Speight lining up opposite him, Watson might be the preferred option. However, his quick feet and sheer pace make him a must see player and would offer England a great deal in attack. Perhaps the most controversial selection, Foden over Brown; allow me to explain. Foden has been in scintillating form this year and offers a much better attacking option than Brown does. He’s faster, he runs better lines and is a superior support runner (watch Brown get it horribly wrong in second test vs NZ on the Tuilagi break). Defensively they’re even, and both have international experience. Starting Foden would be a just reward for his good form and acclimatize the Full Back to the new England set up should an injury befall the incumbent.
    Although the objective is always to win, the autumn internationals are really the last chance to reward good form and try new combinations in a truly competitive environment.

    • Completely agree with your squad choice, Tuilagi now injured as well though with causes headaches.

      My XV: Marler, Hartley, Wilson, Launchbury, Lawes, Wood, Robshaw*, Vunipola,
      Care, Farrell, Yarde, Eastmond, Burrell, Rokodoguni, Brown

      *As individual players I feel that Haskell has been playing better and would pick him if Robshaw was not captain, however I think to remove him now would damage the entire squad. Also, Robshaw has been playing well (excluding the Sarries game) and has not done enough to warrant him getting dropped.

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