Eddie Jones made significant changes for England’s most important match of the Six Nations so far when he announced his 24-man squad for the game late last night.
In the forwards, Northampton’s Paul Hill has been axed to make way for the Saints’ other tighthead, Kieran Brookes. Considering Saints had selected Brookes over Hill for their paramount fixture against Saracens last weekend, this doesn’t come as a massive surprise, although Hill has made quite an impact in his relatively short Premiership career so far.
Moreover, Luke Cowan-Dickie has been retained as well as Jamie George, suggesting there is serious competition for the hooker bench spot. However, it may also suggest one of Dylan Hartley or George is carrying a knock of some kind.
As expected, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje and George Kruis make up the three second row spots, although which of the three starts on Saturday is yet to be seen. With both Itoje and Kruis impressing against Ireland a fortnight ago, it may be that Jones opts for them again, but a fit-again Launchbury was named ahead of Itoje originally before picking up an injury.
More significantly, however, Alex Goode has been dropped from the squad completely. This suggests Elliot Daly and Manu Tuilagi may make up the bench options as cover for the back line. Goode’s deselection is important, as it means Daly has now established himself as genuine cover for 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15, with Tuilagi also offering cover at 12 and 13.
If Tuilagi does start – although this would be a surprise given he is still coming back from a 15-month layoff – it will be fantastic to see whether George Ford or Owen Farrell get the nod at fly-half. As Jones has previously stated, he only sees Tuilagi as a 12, the centre partnership would be likely to be made up of the adopted Samoan and Bath’s Jonathan Joseph.
There are no other major surprises in the squad, but those players dropped will have a huge influence on the way England approach the game. Daly now offers a real impact off the bench and could cause Wales problems coming on in any number of positions, including 15.
Having the scrummaging prowess of Brookes will be important given Dan Cole’s solidity in the set-piece.
Saturday’s clash is looking to be more and more enticing. Bring on the weekend!
Likely England team:
Marler, Hartley (c), Cole, Launchbury, Kruis, Robshaw, Haskell, Vunipola, Youngs, Ford, Nowell, Farrell, Joseph, Watson, Brown
Vunipola, Brookes, George, Itoje, Clifford, Care, Tuilagi, Daly
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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