Consistency of selection is key for England

Consistency of selection seems to be the running theme of Stuart Lancaster’s decision during this current RBS 6 Nations campaign.

In the first two matches of the campaign Lancaster made no changes to his entire 23, and for the game against Ireland on Saturday he has made just two, bringing in David Wilson for the injured Dan Cole, and calling George Ford onto the bench in place on Brad Barritt.

It is a sensible policy for a number of reasons. First, it is a known statistic that teams that win the World Cup have over 600 Test caps in their starting XV, to get anywhere near that magic number Lancaster simply has to have consistency of selection.

Second, the only way for him to settle on his best team and best style of play is to have consistency of selection, allowing on field relationships to develop and familiarity and understanding to rule.

Look at any of the recent World Cup winning sides – you could name their starting XV as if you were reading your address, everyone knew who would be playing.

England are moving towards that type of consistency. It seems reasonably certain at the moment that barring injury or a dramatic change in form that England’s starting pack is pretty firmly nailed down. The only position that has a real likelihood of changing is at loosehead prop where between Alex Corbisiero, Joe Marler, and Mako Vunipola England has an embarrassment of riches.

That said, in just about every position in the pack there are at least two players in every position that the fans, players, and coaches would feel absolutely comfortable in coming into the team. Tom Youngs for Dylan Hartley, Wilson for Cole as on Saturday, Dave Attwood and Geoff Parling for Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft for Tom Wood, and Ben Morgan for Billy Vunipola.

The worry that still exists is with whom England would replace Chris Robshaw with should he be injured or unavailable. Matt Kvesic is not hitting the heights expected of him and Luke Wallace did not look quite ready when featuring for the Saxons a few weeks ago.

The answer is probably to shift Tom Wood, but when trying to create a situation where there are two top players in every position, moving a man from 6 to 7 is not quite ideal.

Either way, the England pack looks incredibly settled and yet has heavy competition for places – that is a very healthy position to be in with eighteen months to go before the World Cup, and ought to set England up to be one of the strongest forward packs in the competition.

Where things are less settled is in the backline. In fairness, there is a fair extent of that that is due to injury. With the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Marland Yarde, Christian Wade, and Ben Foden all suffering injuries of varying degrees of seriousness, a certain amount of experimentation has been forced upon Stuart Lancaster.

There are probably only two positions that look absolutely nailed on for the World Cup, Owen Farrell at ten and Mike Brown at full back. Though both could yet come under pressure from the likes of George Ford, Foden, Alex Goode, and Anthony Watson.

That is why the consistency of selection through the 6 Nations is so key though. If Danny Care keeps his form up throughout the competition he will suddenly be in the driving seat to make that scrum half shirt his. With Ben Youngs and Lee Dickson behind him there is certainly competition there.

In the centres things are a bit more up in the air, Billy Twelvetrees is the most natural distributor in the centres that England have had since Will Greenwood and if they can get him firing then it could be crucial. Tuilagi is clearly the number one choice in the outside channel.

There are lots of options in the centre though, with Brad Barritt, Luther Burrell, Jonathan Joseph, Kyle Eastmond, and even potentially Sam Burgess all circling. The competition for places is there, as in the forward pack, but the consistency of selection is still to come.

It is a similar story on the wing where Jonny May and Jack Nowell are impressing, while Yarde, Wade, Watson, Chris Ashton, and even maybe Foden are all hunting for starting spots.

It is an interesting time for England. The pack seems settled, competitive, and ready. The backs are competitive too, but to make the next step they need to become settled, and then they will become ready.

Lancaster’s consistency of selection in this campaign is the right way to get there though.

England XV vs Ireland, Twickenham, Saturday, Kick-off: 16:00

15. Mike Brown (Harlequins)  14. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)  13. Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)  12. Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester)  11. Jonny May (Gloucester)  10. Owen Farrell (Saracens)  9. Danny Care (Harlequins);  1. Joe Marler (Harlequins)  2. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)  3. David Wilson (Bath)  4. Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)  5. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)  6. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)  7. Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, captain)  8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens).

Replacements: 16. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)  17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens)  18. Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks)  19. Dave Attwood (Bath)  20. Ben Morgan (Gloucester)  21. Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)  22. George Ford (Bath)  23. Alex Goode (Saracens).

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