When England take on Scotland in Murrayfield on the 6th of February the question everyone is asking is what is England’s starting team and captain going to be? I’ve given my own stab in the dark with what i think it could be.
1.Mako Vunipola
The first discussion is about who starts loose head prop, your options here are Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler and Matt Mullan with the injury hit Corboseiro taking a sabbatical from rugby after numerous injuries have dented his international progress significantly. For Me it has to be Mako Vunipola the man has been a wrecking ball this season but not just in the loose, saracens scrum has been a weapon of serious magnitude. A part of that is down to Vunipola and his work in the loose doesn’t get touched by Marler or Mullan, his scrummaging is also superior which is a big thing through the eyes of Eddie Jones with the focus of the team being on set piece.
Actual starter: Joe Marler.
2. Dylan Hartley
Hooker is a less discussed position with Luke Cowan Dickie no way near the finished product to enter the world of international rugby yet leaving Dylan Hartley and Jamie George. You can argue George should be starting if we are talking about form as he has been the best hooker in the Premiership this season. Does George have 66 caps for England though and one of England’s most experienced players who by the way’s set piece of line out throwing and scrummaging has been beyond superb for England every time he has played. For me Hartley sneaks it but George is applying more than just a bit of pressure on Dylan, Hartley gets the captaincy for me as well. Simply down to England needing a rugged leading by the front confrontational captain which they haven’t had for a long time. I know controversial.
3. Dan Cole
At tight head its a easy choice for me considering the only person pushing him for a starting place is injured till further notice in Kieran Brookes. Dan Cole the England veteran and the oldest 28 year old you will ever see has to start with over 50 caps he has been the cornerstone of the England and Tigers scrummage to nearly a decade. Nice to see Paul Hill included as well with last season he was starting for Yorkshire Carnegie in the Championship!
4.Joe Lauchbury
At 4th position for second row it has to be Joe Lauchbury the man is a complete athlete who’s a lot more physical than you think, he offers a carrying game, second receiver game, great at the breakdown for a tall man and oh yeah averages around 10 tackles a game for England at the very least. No brainer and was in my thoughts for the captaincy.
5. George Kruis
At 5 second row i have picked George Kruis a true line out operator who is physical in his own right but can move very well for a man of his statue, he can carry into space as well as being able to nail up the jumper carry’s if needed to. A very complete player making me leave out Lawes which shows how much i rate Kruis’s work, its about balance as well though Lawes and Lauchbury are very similar both athletes with the way they play second row. Lawes definitely grabs a place on my bench.
6. Chris Robshaw
6. With the injury to Dave Ewers i am left no choice to pick Chris Robshaw at blind side flanker, the man has been brilliant at 6 this season for Harlequins and is a big factor of why they are where they are in the premiership (3rd place). Itoje has been pushing hard as well but i don’t think the young man deserves to start ahead of either of my second rows or Robshaw, Haskell etc these guys specialise at 6 Itoje doesn’t. Haskell has been good this season as well captaining Wasps but with also over 50 caps to his name that could be valuable and needed experience. But with coming up to 50 caps Chris Robshaw is my England 6, the main is carrier, very good second receiver, dogged tackler and picks up a couple of turn overs a game as well. Sorry James, Chris has to start.
7. Matt Kvesic
Have to say when i read Matt Kvesic was only in the England squad due to Ewers being injured that did worry me as there seemed to be not one out and out 7 in the squad which was originally picked. Never mind about that now though Kvesic is in the squad he has the most turnovers in the premiership this season which is a impressive stat when you remember he’s up against guys like George Smith, Francois Louw, Brendan O’Connor real genuine fetchers like himself. Kvesic is the only man i can start at 7 and we’ll see if having a “genuine seven” really gives England another dimension to their game.
Actual starter: James Haskell.
8. Billy Vunipola
With Ben Morgan seeming to be disappearing from club rugby let alone international rugby it leaves Billy Vunipola with the England 8 shirt, not to say the man does not deserve it he has been brilliant this year scoring tries, carrying better than ever, a turnover game he’s suddenly discovered along with that stone lost in the England world cup camp he’s faster more mobile. Josh Beaumont looks a great prospect as well standing at 6 ft 7 118 kilos quite gigantic for a number eight, but the man is a real natural runner who is the son of England 1980 grand slam winning captain Bill Beaumont. Josh looks like one for the future England wise but Billy has that eight shirt for the foreseeable future.
9. Ben Youngs
At scrum half i pick Ben Youngs and this coming from a Harlequins fan who loves Danny Care, my only reasons are better game management and superior box kicking everything else they are on par. If i was being very harsh i could say Youngs attacks the fringes better but Care does a good job at that as well. England blessed in this department.
Actual starter: Danny Care.
10. George Ford
Fly half another tricky decision but I’ve gone with George Ford, this decision is down to me studying England’s narrow attacking over the last year with them really looking not that dangerous out in open play. For me when Farrell is 10 England really aren’t as dangerous compare to Ford who takes the ball to the line so well and is great at bringing other people into play. I admit Farrell has been the form fly half this year with Saracens flying high unlike the average stuff we’ve seen from Bath so far. For the benefit of England and more creativity i pick Ford 10, the goal kicking is tough as Farrell is superior but i have a trick up my sleeve for that problem even though Ford is a good kicker himself in a white shirt.
12. Owen Farrell
Yes that trick up my sleeve is Owen Farrell 12, with Tuilagi not scheduled to return for England till the Wales match and Henry Slade out with broken leg. I refuse to throw younglings like Devoto or Sam Hill into the cauldron of Murrafield, good players but not ready yet and being realistic they’re in the squad as cover for the two guys i mentioned that are injured. Farrell can also be a quality second receiver as a passing option or with a big boot if you need it, he offers aggressive defines which will be needed against Scotland especially down that 12 channel. Then of course his nearly flawless goal kicking has to be a factor for team inclusion, Farrell at 12 is a temporary solution for this game not a permanent one for the future for me.
13. Jonathan Joseph (JJ)
My heart is screaming Daly but my brain with my Eddie Jones cap on says Joseph, two outstanding 13’s and on form you would pick Daly who has been more than good for Wasps this season at 13. Constant running threat, great kicking game, gives the pass at the right, i can’t actually count how many times he’s beaten his opposite number on the outside to either score or set someone up for a try. He’s been doing this against the Toulon’s of this world not just the Newcastle Falcons. Joseph was arguably England’s best player of 2015 and Eddie has seen first hand that he can do it internationally i think he keeps his starting place for at least the Scotland game but Daly is at his heels if he slips up.
11. Jack Nowell
Left wing i have to start Jack Nowell he’s got a good try scoring record for England anyway but his work and mobility this year at the Chiefs slotting in at 13 has showed what a complete player he is. The England U20 world cup winner is a guy Eddie Jones would be fond of, gets through a hell of a lot of work for a winger hovering constantly around the fly half and over the pitch but is back in defence on his wing by the time the ball gets turnover or he’s dropped ready to receive the kick and chase. Solid in the defence and a good carrier, what else could you want? of course if he is out of the Scotland match Yarde has to start just down to theres only three wingers in the squad.
14. Anthony Watson
On the right wing its another one of England’s star performers of not only 2015 test rugby but at the world cup, yes you did hear me correctly of the world cup a England player being a star performer. This man is Anthony Watson, he’s been a shining light in the Bath team this year which has been very average. Long term his position may well be full back for England but at the moment he’s doing a pretty good job on the wing.
15. Mike Brown
Last but not least Mike Brown has to keep his place as full back for England, he might not be having the best of seasons but the guy has been a rock for England there the past 2 years and every time he puts the white shirt on he gives it his all through passion but also his own competitive streak he has within himself. Alex Goode has been excellent this season so is well worth a mention, again could argue full back of the season so far. Hasn’t got Mike’s shirt off him yet though, in neither mine or Eddie Jones’s head yet.
15. Mike Brown
16. Jamie George
17. Joe Marler
18. Paul Hill
19. Courtney Lawes
20. James Haskell
21. Danny Care
22. Elliot Daly
23. Alex Goode
Word on the bench – I think you can define that subs bench by saying its the right mix of youth and experience to come on and change a game for you from a losing position but at the very same time help you close a game down which you are winning. Overall i do think that 23 can more than compete with Scotland, yes its away and a difficult place to go but if England equip themselves with a similar 23 i can’t see them losing but if they do it will be by a extremely narrow scoreline.
Actual bench: Mako Vunipola, Jack Clifford, Ollie Devoto.
Personally I think I did well considering I predicted this nearly 3 weeks ago and the match day squad had not been announced. The Marler and Care call I did not see coming but Marler offers stability in the scrummage with a superior work rate to Vunipola but you can bring Mako on for the last half hour showing off his carrying/offloading game. Mako’s scrummaging has improved a tonne also which is why I would of personally started him. Care is a more of call I could of got, he will add a quicker tempo to England’s game increased quick ball from the breakdown will allow England to play the game they want to controlling the tempo of the match. Being captain of Harlequins and his improved box kicking has got him his starting position, Eddie Jones has continually talked about leadership. Finally Haskell was a call I showed naivety with selecting Kvesic, Hask has over 50 caps to his name and is vastly experienced player who can do more than a job at 6, 7 and 8. His breakdown  work has improved a tonne in the last 2 years which is why I think he got the call at 7 pushing Robshaw to his more natural position of 6. Prediction of Captain in Hartley was also correct.