We take a look at the five key selection dilemmas England Head Coach Eddie Jones faces ahead of his side’s crunch clash with Wales at Twickenham…
1.Who starts at loosehead?
Both Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola provide solid options at loosehead, and at the moment, it is pretty much a coin toss as to who starts. They have both had their best games coming off the bench to great effect, however one of them has to start. Given they are both proven club and international starters there isn’t too much concern over starting either player, the question however is who is better suited to playing the first 50+ minutes?
The decision will likely come down to whether Jones wants to see more impact at the set piece or in the loose. Marler is largely seen as the better scrummaging prop of the two and could help negate some of the impact of Wales’ Samson Lee on the tighthead, however Vunipola generally offers more as a ball carrier and may help take some pressure off his brother Billy in this respect. At this stage Marler looks the more likely to start, with Vunipola adding impetus off the bench.
2.What is the ideal second row partnership?
Courtney Lawes is now confirmed as being out of contention for the clash helping make this decision a little easier, however Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje and George Kruis all remain in contention to start, whilst Ed Slater has also been called into the squad as injury cover having performed well for Leicester in recent weeks. At this stage it very much appears to be a case of form versus experience in terms of selection.
Whilst George Kruis looks almost certain to start having been one of England’s best players so far, it is a close call between Itoje and Launchbury as to who starts alongside him. Launchbury has vastly more experience at this level and has played against Wales on a number of occasions, however Itoje performer admirably last time round against Ireland and is probably in better form. Given Jones’ conservatism so far, it’s likely Launchbury starts with Itoje on the bench.
3.Stick or twist with Robshaw and Haskell?
Chris Robshaw and James Haskell is hardly a back row combination to set fans pulses racing, however they have thus far both performed admirably, even if there performances have been far from flashy. In contrast, Jack Clifford has made a number of appearances off the bench and appears to have added a little more dynamism to England’s back row play, therefore raising the question of whether a change might be in order.
Both Haskell and Robshaw are key leaders on the pitch and do plenty of the unseen work around the breakdown, however they are arguably very similar in their style of play. Although Clifford isn’t a traditional seven, he does offer something a little different to the incumbents and has shown in his limited game time so far that he looks comfortable on the international stage. Again though, it is hard to imagine Jones making changes to a winning side.
4.Should Brookes come onto the bench?
With Kieran Brookes having missed the beginning of the tournament with injury, Paul Hill has filled in admirably, even if he has seen limited game time so far, and didn’t even feature last time out against Ireland. With Brookes now back playing for Northampton, Jones faces the dilemma of whether to stick with the inexperienced Hill, or to bring in Brookes who has a number of caps already under his belt.
Hill definitely looks like a future international and has shown even at 21 he can compete at the top level, however Brookes has considerably more experience on his side, particularly on the international stage. Given Jones hasn’t shown too much willingness to trust Hill as a replacement, it looks likely Brookes could come back onto the bench against Wales this weekend as Dan Cole can’t play 80 minutes in every game.
5.Should Manu Tuilagi feature?
Much of the debate in the lead up to this games has centre around whether Tuilagi will be thrust back into action having only just returned from injury, or whether Jones is using him as a distraction to help take the spotlight off his other players. Whilst it would be a huge surprise to see Tuilagi start against Wales given how well Farrell has performed at 12, it will be interesting to see if he is named on the bench for the clash.
Tuilagi has now played 80 minutes in two consecutive games for Leicester, and whilst he has hardly shined, he has shown his trademark power in both defence and attack which could be vital in the final twenty minutes against a physical Welsh side. On the other hand, there must be some serious concerns over whether he is fit enough for international rugby. The signs do however point to him coming onto the bench given Farrell can step into 10 if necessary.
6.Daly or Goode?
Whilst there is a chance we could see both Daly and Goode feature on the bench again, it looks more likely we will see just one of them named as a replacement this week. The question is whether to stick with the experienced Goode, or to gamble on Daly who has just a few minutes of international experience to his name. Although they both cover full back, Daly has a bit more versatility which could work in his favour.
This decision could come down to whether Tuilagi features on the bench. If he does. then Daly may be the preferred option as he can cover a number of positions that otherwise wouldn’t have cover. Given Jones has given Goode little to no gametime off the bench so far, and even bringing Daly on over him against Ireland, it looks like the Wasps flyer may get the nod, although it depends on whether he values experience or game changing ability.