After England’s heroic hour against Wales on Saturday, the Red Rose are now one game away from securing their first grand slam in 13 years. Because of this, it is paramount that head coach Eddie Jones gets his selection right.
There were a number of notable performances for England, none more so than young second row tyro Maro Itoje, who appears to be the first English player in many years to be actually living up to the hype put on him by both over-eager fans and the media. His contribution in defeating Wales was pivotal and he was involved in every match-defining moment, including England’s solitary try.
Yet a number of other players really impressed for the Red Rose, including Chris Robshaw – who had an excellent game on the blindside – and Dylan Hartley, who led by example and is turning out to be something of a revelation after Jones controversially selected him as England captain despite his poor disciplinary record for his club Northampton.
Owen Farrell silenced any critics; including this writer who suggested he would be heavily tested against a powerful Welsh back division. He passed this latest test with flying colours and was at the very heart of both England’s attack and defence. Even with Manu Tuilagi returning to a Test match for the first time in over a year, it is unlikely he will oust Farrell from the inside centre berth for England’s all-important championship decider against France.
It would be unnecessary to go into too much detail about the strengths of England’s game given the excellent piece Brian Barry wrote immediately after the game, but nevertheless England will take so much from this victory.
Indeed, it would be difficult to pinpoint many weaknesses in the side at the moment, except perhaps for fly-half George Ford, who put in so much good work throughout the game but needlessly gave away a soft try to Wales that signalled the beginning of Wales’ late fightback. If Ford wants to remain England’s fly-half for the long-term then those silly errors cannot happen.
Danny Cipriani lost his England shirt during Martin Johnson’s time in charge for similar mistakes and Ford will need to sharpen up if he wants to keep the 10 shirt for England’s summer tour to Australia.
Obviously England will be tremendously disappointed from the last ten minutes when Dan Cole saw yellow and then decided to stop playing altogether, against a re-energised Wales team who sensed one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game was on the cards. However, it is probably a good thing for England that their performance was not perfect as it gives them significant areas to work on next week.
But, ultimately, it is unlikely Jones will change any of his 23 for the France game unless injury strikes. Saracens’ Alex Goode may travel to France as back injury cover and Joe Marler could yet be cited for his alleged punch on Wales prop Rob Evans, but otherwise the 23 will stay the same.
Jones would be foolish not to allow this team to finish the job they’ve started against the French and a win in Paris would take England on to the next level, a level that was simply beyond them during Stuart Lancaster’s time in charge.
Therefore, for the last time this Six Nations, here is the team that Eddie Jones should pick for England’s grand slam decider. You might want to switch on Radiohead’s classic ‘No Surprises’ for this one:
J Marler, D Hartley (c), D Cole, M Itoje, G Kruis, C Robshaw, J Haskell, B Vunipola, B Youngs, G Ford, A Watson, O Farrell, J Joseph, J Nowell, M Brown
M Vunipola, L Cowan-Dickie, K Brookes, J Launchbury, J Clifford, D Care, M Tuilagi, E Daly
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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