After a disappointing World Cup last Autumn, the England rugby community looks to 2016 with a sense of a new beginning. The opening game of the Eddie Jones era is beckoning, with a date against Scotland to kickstart their Six Nations campaign.
A different coach always has his favourite players, guys he can trust. Jones is no different to Stuart Lancaster, nor any other coach for that matter.
The Red Rose will be keen to get back to winning ways, after the calamity of a World Cup tilt as they were dumped out of Pool A after losses to Wales and Australia.
However, the Twickenham faithful are looking ahead rather than behind as the World Cup 2019 cycle begins, and the debate over team selection is starting.
The first Monday of 2016 has prompted us to get bogged down in that debate here at Pundit Arena HQ, so we decided to have a stab at what team should take to the field against Scotland on 6th February at Murrayfield.
15 Mike Brown
The Harlequins fullback was one of the better players throughout the World Cup, and remains their premier choice at fullback as long as England uphold their stance on overseas players.
14 Anthony Watson
At 21, Watson looks to have a big future ahead of him. He showed experience beyond his years against Australia to lead an ultimately unsuccessful comeback and score a try.
13 Jonathan Joseph
Stuart Lancaster’s reign left the England backline in good shape with an eye on the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Joseph has shown promise in spades, and ought to be a serious talent in the coming years.
12 Manu Tuilagi
Henry Slade’s broken leg means he is out of the championship, and this came as a hammer blow to England supporters. Tuilagi is set to return this month, and if fully fit, he needs to start for England.
11 Jonny May
May is another who looks like he has plenty of room to improve, and can terrorise defences this championship, if fit.
10 George Ford
The position that will cause the most debate. Owen Farrell and George Ford are both young, and have their merits. This writer gives Ford the nod.
9 Danny Care
An outcast of the Lancaster regime, Danny Care has continued to perform for Harlequins on a consistent basis. Again it is a very tough call, but he gets the nod ahead of Ben Youngs, just.
1 Alex Waller
Alex Corbisiero is just not getting the breaks, as the former Lions player is ruled out of the championship due to knee surgery. Joe Marler was not up to the task at the World Cup. Perhaps it is time to give Northampton loosehead Waller a tilt at international rugby.
2 Dylan Hartley (Captain)
The prodigal son of England rugby, Hartley’s return would signal a new beginning for the Red Rose. He is the best hooker at Eddie Jones’ disposal, and his leadership would take the pressure off Chris Robshaw (sorry for the spoiler, but please keep reading). His selection as captain might not be a popular choice.
3 Dan Cole
This writer is a big fan of Northampton’s Kieran Brookes, but injury has ruled the former Ireland underage player out for the start of the tournament. Cole is solid if nothing else, and ought to hold fort until Brookes is given a chance.
4 Joe Launchbury
Another who did not cover himself in disgrace at the World Cup, 24 year old Launchbury is set to be a rock in the English pack for the road to Japan.
5 Courtney Lawes
Despite a temptation to start Dave Attwood, we give the nod to Lawes. Another player who will be hitting his peak for Japan, Lawes is solid option at lock.
6 Chris Robshaw
The fall-guy of English rugby, Robshaw came in for torrents of abuse following the World Cup exit. He is not a world class seven, but is a quality back-row player, and a leader to boot. The blindside may suit him better.
7 Jack Clifford
Jones needs a new openside flanker, and will need to take a punt on somebody. Why not Jack Clifford? The Australian born Quins player has being producing the goods in the Premiership, and at 22 could thrive in the coming years.
8 Billy Vunipola
Selecting Ben Morgan has it’s merits, but this pack needs a ball-carrier in Vunipola. Hard running and brute force is the name of the game for the 23 year-old, and Jones will need a man to break the gain line.
Do you agree? What changes would you make to this side? As always, we’d love to know your thoughts, and you can head over to our designated rugby Facebook page to get involved with the debate.