With England struggling against a resilient and highly impressive French outfit, but with the home side’s replacements making the difference to see the men in white take the victory, coach Eddie Jones has some very difficult selection decisions to make before next week’s game against Wales in Cardiff.
We put together the side that we think Jones should consider for the second round of the Six Nations and to face the Welsh at home, which is always a significant challenge for any English team.
1) Joe Marler
Some will be calling for Matt Mullan’s inclusion after the Wasps loosehead impressed in his short time on the field in the final quarter of the game against the French, but for the rest of the game England’s front row stood up against a powerful Les Bleus pack and were solid enough at the set piece. Marler deserves another chance to show what he can do.
2) Dylan Hartley (c)
When Jamie George came on he brought an abrasiveness and clinicalness that was missing when Hartley was leading the side, but the Northampton hooker has only just returned from yet another ban which means he is arguably not match fit. With a lack of real leadership options right now, Hartley must continue to captain the team, but Jones may well turn to Owen Farrell as his next best captaincy fit if Hartley’s own form does not improve.
3) Dan Cole
Like Marler, Cole stood up to be counted against a particularly powerful French front row and deserves to keep his spot for next week. Moreover, Cole’s experience will be needed in the heat and intensity of the Millennium Stadium next week rather than throwing in the youthful Sinckler in his first start.
4) Maro Itoje
Whilst Itoje was solid enough as a blindside and put in his tackles (14 to be precise, making him England’s joint top tackler for the game), he looked a little out of sorts playing out of his usual lock position – in the same way New Zealand’s Jerome Kaino did not look at home playing as a lock when the All Blacks went down to Ireland in Chicago last year. Although Itoje’s move to blindside should not be ruled out for later in the tournament, next week should see the Saracens man revert back to his old position in the team.
5) Courtney Lawes
Lawes was so impressive in England’s run of victories in the autumn last year and again put his body on the line time and time again against the French. He held keep the team in the game with some ferocious hits and was a vital cog in England’s lineout throughout the match.
6) Tom Wood
Northampton’s Wood looked far more composed and effective when coupled with James Haskell in the back row and a flanking partnership of the pair might be just the ticket to revitalise England’s stuttering pack against the Welsh next week. The flanker also proved useful at the lineout when facing France, winning a couple for his country.
7) James Haskell
Lacking games under his belt but certainly not time in the gym during his prolonged injury lay off, man mountain Haskell brought direct running and a ferocity in England’s attack that was missing for the majority of the match. If The Hask doesn’t start against Wales next week then this writer will find a hat and attempt to eat it.
8) Nathan Hughes
In the aftermath of the match some fans felt it necessary to criticise the Wasps’ number eight’s contribution to the match, but the Fijian-born behemoth was England’s top carrier with 15 carries. Hughes also seemed more comfortable once Haskell was brought on and Itoje reverted to the second row, so it seems a sensible combination for next week.
9) Danny Care
Leicester are currently out of form and Ben Youngs has brought his mediocre club form to the international stage. His passing was sloppy, his decision making at times hesitant and therefore costly, and despite an effective box kicking game the scrum half brought little to the party. Replacement Care was slicker, quicker and helped to accelerate England in attack. He must be given his chance to face a determined Wales team.
10) George Ford
Again, many England fans have questioned Ford’s role in the side once more after Owen Farrell spent the last part of the match at fly-half and Ben Te’o at 12, but with England’s pack struggling and Youngs’ delivery off, Ford had no real platform to work with, yet still managed to create the gaps for the rest of England’s back division. Watch the build up for the Daly dive to the corner and you’ll see it was all engineered by Ford. In defence the wee man stood up to be counted and should start once more next week when he may have a better chance to shine in attack.
11) Jonny May
Arguably unlucky to be given a yellow card early on in the match, May nevertheless put in another decent defensive performance in a game where he managed to make just 43 metres – England’s third best ‘metres made’ stat behind Mike Brown (97) and Nathan Hughes (45). If given the ball in space he could cause havoc against Wales next week.
12) Owen Farrell
This writer believes Jones will resist calls to move potential Lions fly-half Farrell back to 10 and will stick with the Saracens man at 12, where his combination with Ford was for most of the match the only time when England managed to find any chink in France’s defensive armour.
13) Jonathan Joseph
The Bath centre was not really given much a chance to show what he can do in attack, but Joseph is still very much the lynchpin of England’s defence and deserves another chance to start next week.
14) Elliot Daly
Daly’s monster boot in terms of place kicking and from hand steadied the England ship and kept his team in the game. Most of the team’s brief glimpses of attack came from Daly and he should start once more next week, despite the in form Nowell on the bench.
15) Mike Brown
Brown made almost twice as many metres as any other England player and was rock solid at the back, although the Harlequins’ fullback’s pace is starting to wane as his years advance now. He may come to be replaced at 15 by Watson, Daly or Haley at some put this year, but for now he is the right man to start.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
On this week’s edition of The Oval Office, we discuss all things Six Nations with George Hook, Paul Williams from Rugby World magazine and former Ireland u-20 international Adam McBurney.