With the World Cup just a matter of months away, we take a look at England’s top five positions of concern in the build up…
Whilst there are a number of contenders for the number six shirt, the two front runners in Tom Wood and James Haskell are both slightly struggling for form. Whilst players like Dave Ewers and Maro Itoje have put their hand up for selection, there must remain questions over whether they have the necessary experience. This therefore leaves the England coaching team deciding whether to select an under-performing regular, or take a gamble on an untested option.
England aren’t exactly lacking options at hooker with experienced and youthful options available. The issue is that incumbent Dylan Hartley hasn’t looked quite at his best this year, and whilst Tom Youngs has been on fire, his line-out throwing is still somewhat suspect. There are a number of backup options in the likes of Rob Webber, or alternatively England could take a bit of a gamble on an untested player like Jamie George or Luke Cowan-Dickie.
Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson pretty much guaranteed their places in the England team after impressive displays during the Six Nations, the issue is who should back them up. Does Stuart Lancaster opt for a more experienced option like Chris Ashton, or does he opt for someone like Christian Wade or Semesa Rokoduguni given that Jonny May looks to have fallen out of favour since the Six Nations this year.
Although the starting half-backs are nailed on in George Ford and Ben Youngs, there must be some serious questions raised over who will be covering them on the bench. It looks like Richard Wigglesworth will cover scrum half, although there are some concerns about his ability to up the ante, whilst the back up fly half is wide open for debate. Do England opt for an out-and-out replacement like Danny Cipriani, or opt for someone like Owen Farrell who also covers centre.
The biggest area for concern will be the number 12 shirt, with nobody having really claimed it for their own over the last four years. With Manu Tuilagi guaranteed to miss the World Cup, England must now consider who will best fit in between George Ford and Jonathan Joseph. Do you go with the solid option in Brad Barritt, revert to the likes of Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, or opt for a newcomer like Exeter’s Henry Slade?