Here are the five changes we would make to the England squad that beat Ireland this weekend when they face Wales in two weeks time…
1. Danny Care starts at scrum half
This isn’t a criticism of Ben Youngs who has played well and therefore comes on off the bench, but an acknowledgement of the impact Care has had in the last two games. The urgency of England’s play seems to immediately creep up a notch as soon as Care enters the fray, and against a solid defensive unit like Wales, the extra pace of delivery from the breakdown could help England’s outside backs exploit any potential weaknesses in the defence.
2. Jack Clifford starts in the back row
Clifford could arguably replace either Haskell or Robshaw in the starting XV, but for me he has shown more than enough to suggest he should be given more game time. He came on against Ireland and made an immediate impact, especially with a key turnover. Although Haskell and Robshaw have both played well, Clifford adds an extra element of dynamism into England’s back row play which could be vital when playing against the likes of Sam Warburton.
3. Mako Vunipola starts at loosehead
Again, this isn’t a case of Joe Marler starting, but is more to do with Vunipola’s extra impact around the pitch. Although he makes an excellent impact substitute, his ball carrying could be vital against Wales and may just help take some of the inevitable heat off his brother Billy who will be targeted early due to his impressive ball carrying recently. It also means Marler can come on in the last 20 and hopefully get England on the front foot in the scrums.
4. Kieran Brookes comes onto the bench
Paul Hill has shown that he has a huge future ahead of him for England, but given his young age, Jones clearly doesn’t have a huge amount of trust in him meaning he isn’t being utilised in tight games. England therefore need an option on the bench who can come on and replace Dan Cole later in the game to keep things fresh, therefore the inclusion of the experienced Brookes on the bench means Cole can go all out for 60 minutes before potentially being replaced.
5. Ollie Devoto comes back onto the bench
Unfortunately Elliott Daly wasn’t really given the time necessary to make an impact against Ireland, and should therefore retain his spot on the bench where he can cover full back, centre and wing. This means Devoto steps in for Alex Goode who is undoubtedly a solid player, but probably lacks a little bit of impact. This means England have the option of bringing a big inside centre to face up against the power of Wales’ Jamie Roberts.
That would leave the matchday squad looking like this…
15. Mike Brown
14. Anthony Watson
13. Jonathan Joseph
12. Owen Farrell
11. Jack Nowell
10. George Ford
9. Danny Care
8. Billy Vunipola
7. Jack Clifford
6. Chris Robshaw
5. George Kruis
4. Maro Itoje
3. Dan Cole
2. Dylan Hartley
1. Mako Vunipola
16. Jamie George
17. Joe Marler
18. Kieran Brookes
19. Joe Launchbury
20. James Haskell
21. Ben Youngs
22. Ollie Devoto
23. Elliott Daly