After a hard-fought 19-16 victory over France at Twickenham on the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations, England face a Wales team smirking from their 33-7 win over Italy at the Millennium Stadium this weekend.
Here Angus Cross picks his alternative England XV to face the Welsh on Saturday.
1. Joe Marler
After miraculously recovering from a broken leg, Marler just about held his own against the giant French front row and deserves to start again.
2. Dylan Hartley ©
Hartley was replaced early on in the second half and questions remain whether he is the right man to lead, or even start. Nevertheless he is a leader, and England will need leaders in Wales.
3. Dan Cole
Cole was solid enough against France, and Kyle Sinckler is too inexperienced to start in such a big game.
4. Maro Itoje
The 22-year-old started on the blindside flank against France in an unbalanced back row. In place of Joe Launchbury he is brought back in to his favoured position.
5. Courtney Lawes
To add a bit of nastiness and robustness, Lawes comes in to smash Wales backwards. He was quieter than usual against France bar a couple of trademark hits.
6. Jack Clifford
Since coming back from injury, the former England U-20s captain has been impressive for Harlequins. England’s back row was unbalanced and did not test the French defence enough. Clifford is a quick and aggressive carrier, in the mould of Wales back row, Ross Moriarty.
7. James Haskell
Haskell was very effective coming off of the bench, with some big carries setting up Ben Te’o’s try. Although he’s only had about an hour of game time since his injury, England need a man of Haskell’s stature more than ever.
8. Nathan Hughes
Hughes was impressive in his first start against Australia, but was completely dominated by the superb Louis Picamoles. Hughes needs a big game to prove to Eddie Jones he can fill in for Billy Vunipola.
9. Ben Youngs
For a man who was on fire in the autumn, claiming England’s Player of the Series award, Youngs was incredibly sloppy against France. His distribution was poor all game and he offered no real threat. He must significantly improve, especially when playing against a player like Rhys Webb.
10. Owen Farrell
England really turned on the pace when Farrell was moved to fly-half and Te’o moved in field. I like George Ford, and am a fan of his 10-12 combination with Farrell. I also feel sympathy towards him, with the messy Bath situation clearly affecting his international and club displays.
One would hope for him to come on and change the game as he did in the first test in Australia. Farrell was superb last week and will command the team through a tough battle.
11. Elliot Daly
Although I prefer him as a 13 to a winger, with Jonny May playing like a headless chicken at times against France and Anthony Watson still unavailable, I have to find room for Daly’s talent to add to a dangerous looking back line.
12. Ben Te’o
The match winner picked an exquisite line off Farrell’s pass to secure a 15-game winning run in a match England arguably should have won.
He has been doing it all year for Worcester and deserves a crack from the start. He could add what Manu Tuilagi would be doing if he were not injured.
13. Jonathan Joseph
Joseph was another to have a quiet game, but not a poor one by any means. He remains my choice for Lions 13 at present, but needs to really shine in a big game. Hopefully his combination with Te’o will open up some gaps for him to stretch his legs in.
14. Jack Nowell
Nowell has been sensational for Exeter in 2017, demonstrated by his superb one-handed catch to score against Saracens. With Jonny May lacking the discipline and overall rugby brain in a tight contest, England need Nowell to create balance to the team.
15. Mike Brown
Brown was solid against France, with one standout tackle on a galloping Scott Spedding being the highlight.
16. Jamie George
Some would consider George to be a better option than Hartley, but if Hartley struggles in the opening 50 minutes, George will be eagerly awaiting to impress.
17. Matt Mullan
Continues ahead of Genge for that little bit of experience in big games.
18. Kyle Sinckler
If he makes it on this time, Sinckler will run at the tiring Welsh defenders until the sun goes down.
19. Joe Launchbury
Perhaps unlucky to be dropped to the bench, but will add his quality later on in proceedings.
20. Tom Wood
Wood endured a pretty horrendous game against France, giving away far too many penalties and thus squandering scoring opportunities. If he is back to his best from the bench he will add a needed defensive impact.
21. Danny Care
Care really improved the pace of England’s attack when they needed a try, as he always does.
22. George Ford
It is a more a case of when Ford comes on rather than if he comes on. He will look to analyse the Welsh defence aching from the weight of Te’o’s carries, to put agile runners such as Joseph and Daly through the gaps.
23. Jonny May
Love him or hate him, May can finish tries and is lightning quick, which England may need late on. I consider him more of a sprinter than a rugby player, hopefully he can prove me wrong.
Angus Cross, Pundit Arena