Biggest Question Pre-World Cup: England

One could very easily argue that England have some of the most pressure on them ahead of this summers World Cup. Being the home side, there is a level of expectation from the fans, and really from everyone else. There are position battles all over the English roster, but one of the biggest will be the battle for the out-half spot. For some bizarre reason Jonny Wilkinson is left out, as is arguably the world’s most dominant flyhalf, Andy Goode, but we will carry on without them.

The incumbent option in the side is George Ford. Ford has had an incredible season, getting his first start at 10 during the November Tests and then exploding into life, leading England through the 6 Nations with aplomb. During this time Owen Farrell was out with a knee injury, but it is unlikely that he could have usurped Ford, given the way the Bath youngster was playing. Ford’s attacking style of play saw his teammates score plenty of tries, as he led Bath to the European Champions Cup Quarter-finals, where he had an unforgettable, albeit losing performance against Leinster. For England, Ford had a hand in nearly every try England scored, scoring tries himself against Scotland and France. Ford’s remarkable ability to create space for himself and others in open play has seen him become a fan favorite for England, and certainly a star for the future.

Owen Farrell forms Ford’s biggest competitor for the 10 shirt, and will not lie down and let Ford get the job for the World Cup. One thing that people often forget is just how young Owen Farrell is. At only 23, he has amassed an impressive 29 caps since making his debut in 2012. One of Farrell’s biggest strengths is his defensive work, and Ford himself credits Farrell as the “Best Defensive 10” he has played with or against due to his size, and energy when organizing the defence. Another of Farrell’s skills is his accurate goal kicking, and kicks from hand which is one of the reasons he was favored by Stuart Lancaster over the likes of Danny Cipriani, Stephen Myler, and Freddie Burns. Farrell is probably a more apt game controller than Ford, however one of Farrell’s biggest criticisms remains that he is not exciting enough at 10, and never really opens up the defense the way that Ford does. Farrell missed the 6 Nations due to a knee injury, but his return for Saracens has been incredible, and he led his side to victory over George Ford’s Bath in the Aviva Premiership Final.

After those two, things start to get a little more interesting. Danny Cipriani was the second choice for England in Farrell’s absence, and put in some excellent shifts off the bench. Then, he was given a start against the Barbarians, and he ran riot, scoring two tries, and didn’t miss a kick all day, en route to a massive 73-12 England win. Cipriani has been at his explosive best for Sale all season long and was one of their standout performers in their not so memorable campaign. However, just as Stuart Lancaster seemed to be warming to Cipriani’s talents, the man goes off and gets arrested for drunk driving. Given the swift discipline handed down to Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi, you can expect that Cipriani will face a similar fate. Talented as he is, Cipriani has shot himself in the foot once again.

Stephen Myler is the only other specialty out-half in the side, and he has been a trustworthy option for Northampton over the years, guiding them to the title last season. In addition to Myler, the English side also includes Alex Goode of Saracens, who has played 10 plenty of times, although he is almost always utilized at fullback, and Henry Slade, who is an exciting prospect at both 10 and 13. An explosive attacking weapon, Slade led Exeter throughout their season, and starred for them in good times and bad.

England have no easy choices ahead of them, especially at the flyhalf spot. George Ford’s attacking talent has had England fans salivating all season, however the more experienced, predictable Farrell remains very appealing from a coaching standpoint. Based on Farrell’s remarkable form since he has returned from injury, and Ford’s struggles against Saracens in the final, I would say that you can expect Farrell to start, with Ford on the bench as an impact sub. Bear in mind that Lancaster has backed Farrell to be England’s long-term 10 since day 1, and his faith will remain unwavering.

Predicted England XV 

1. Joe Marler 2. Rob Webber 3. Dan Cole 4. Joe Launchbury 5. Courtney Lawes 6. James Haskell 7. Chris Robshawⓒ 8. Billy Vunipola 9. Ben Youngs 10. Owen Farrell 11. Jack Nowell 12. Luther Burrell 13. Jonathan Joseph 14. Anthony Watson 15. Mike Brown

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