England began their 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign with a confidence-boosting victory over Argentina, despite having to play with 14 men for practically the entire game following an early red card for Tom Curry.
The win puts Steve Borthwick’s men in the driving seat to qualify as one of the top two teams in Pool C. However, next up is Japan and despite an unconvincing 42-12 victory over Chile in their opening match, the Brave Blossoms are adept at causing a World Cup upset – just ask South Africa and Ireland!
Borthwick was unable to pick either Owen Farrell or Billy Vunipola against Los Pumas, but he will have Billy back for the Japan game. Farrell, however, must sit out one more. And now Tom Curry is banned for two matches.
So, should Borthwick rotate his squad or stick with a winning team? Here’s what our expert team of writers think...
Billy Vunipola is available again and should come straight back into the side to get him up and running in time for the Samoa game, and likely quarter-final. England will want to keep the core of the team together but it is worth experimenting with Marcus Smith at full-back and Henry Arundell on the right wing, with one eye on developing attacking options. A well-earned rest for Courtney Lawes allows Ben Earl to build on his impressive display against Argentina.
No messing around. You can afford to experiment against Chile but this is all about building upon the momentum generated by the gutsy win over Argentina. Assuming Tom Curry is unavailable then Ben Earl, who is close to undroppable, moves to openside with the returning Billy Vunipola adding to England’s firepower at No 8. Joe Marler and George Martin come in to provide an extra emphasis on the scrum and Max Malins’ footballing skills may help the backline moves, which was the one area that was found desperately wanting against the Pumas.
England have a simple mission statement: roll right on through and get another win which would all but guarantee a quarter-final. A single change sees Billy Vunipola return from suspension to replace Tom Curry, with Ben Earl shifting to openside flanker. Lewis Ludlam was excellent from the bench on Saturday, which deprives Jack Willis and underlines back-row depth. It is tempting to rejig the backline, perhaps to reintegrate Henry Arundell, though that feels unfair. That said, the attack has to be slicker.
Minimal changes. After that unexpected demolition of Argentina, England now need to build and develop as a collective. And how refreshing that England can name a largely unchanged XV – when was the last time that such a proposition seemed reasonable? Tom Curry’s expected ban means Jack Willis comes in and Henry Arundell could add greater attacking threat out wide with the ball in hand, an area of England’s game that was the only real negative against Los Pumas (although, admittedly, the loss of Curry forced their hand). Billy Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler (if fit) return to the bench after suspension and (hopefully) injury respectively.
A solid team that can build on the George Ford show against Argentina. Alex Mitchell belied his major tournament inexperience with sharp passes last time out so he keeps the nine shirt, while a midfield combination of Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi has an air of destructiveness that can inspire England’s backline, which is yet to properly fire. Japan will be no pushover, but their showing against Chile was underwhelming and Will Stuart’s swap for Dan Cole is a selection tweak made with player management in mind this early in the tournament. Working on the assumption that Tom Curry’s red card is not overturned, Jack Willis steps up at seven.
No need to change too much but England really don’t need to trot Dan Cole out against Japan given the state of the Brave Blossoms’ scrum (in November it was a disaster). Better to manage his workload with an eye on the knockout stages now that England have seen off Argentina. Otherwise, I’ve resisted changes to the backline despite the temptation to give Ollie Lawrence a start and have Joe Marchant on the wing in place of Jonny May, given it doesn’t make sense to break up a good midfield partnership. Finally, with doubts over Tom Curry’s availability and Billy Vunipola’s return from his ban, Ben Earl shifts to openside flanker.
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