England travel to the Principality Stadium on Saturday for the first of their World Cup warm-up matches. The lineup has not yet been announced, but there has been much speculation online as to the expected combinations in the squad.
The World Cup is just over a month away and the England players have been working hard in training to put themselves in the best position to make the final cut. There will, unfortunately, be many disappointed players whose World Cup dreams will be left shattered as the 33-man squad gets announced by Steve Borthwick on Monday.
With this in mind, it will be interesting to see whether Borthwick’s selection for the match on Saturday will be filled with fringe players desperate to get on the plane to France, or whether he will select a team designed to achieve the win over Wales and get the England train moving.
Former England captain Dylan Hartley has had his say on the matter: “You want to roll these games into the World Cup and win them all. You don’t want to experiment and I would like to see conviction from the off. Don’t mess around and pick the team you would for a World Cup final,”
“Pick a team against Wales to win, not to work on combinations. If you experiment with a player you might learn more about him, but you get more from a winning team. You go through the gears easier when you are winning.
“Uncertainty can keep environments competitive and honest, but you also need a little bit of comfort. Injuries will come, but deal with those retrospectively and go win the games which will build momentum and confidence.”
The responsibility of picking an England starting VX is not an easy one, but one that Head Coach Steve Borthwick must shoulder. Possibly the most interesting position selection that many fans have had their own say on, is who should be given the number ten jersey as the tournament arrives.
Hartley believes that decision should be made early, and stuck with, to build consistency heading into the competition: “I would love for Owen to play at 10 and for Steve Borthwick to make his mind up and go with him for all these opening games,
“The team ticks when there is certainty and I love the conviction of seeing Owen at 10. If he is at 10 then it frees up Ollie Lawrence or Manu Tuilagi, or whatever combination there is outside him” he continued.
“As the leader, heartbeat of the side and world-class player when given the reins, Owen is integral to how England will perform. He is not just the fly-half and goalkicker, he is everything to that squad. He’s not a young kid anymore, he is a battle-hardened warrior.
“He is still matching where he needs to be physically. It’s not like they are carrying him just for his experience whereas you would probably argue I was just there for experience and captaincy instead of performance. In that regard, you hit a tipping point and my tipping point came pre-30 years old. Owen ticks all the boxes for me.”