England’s final match of the Rugby World Cup pool stages pits them against Samoa on Saturday.
Having already qualified for the quarter-finals, Steve Borthwick, England’s head coach, must decide whether or not to select his strongest side or manage his squad.
Should George Ford and Owen Farrell be paired together at 10 and 12? Should Henry Arundell remain in the team after his five-try exploits against Chile? Telegraph Sport’s rugby experts pick the team they would like to see.
If the experiment of starting Marcus Smith at full-back was a measured success, this is the moment to return to the side that Borthwick is likely to start with in the quarter-finals, even if that results in a harsh demotion for George Ford. Against the physical challenge of Samoa, and potentially Fiji in the quarter-finals, England will want to start with a more robust midfield of Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence, with Ford set for an influential role off the bench in the second half by switching Owen Farrell to inside centre and introducing Smith to target the final quarter to score their points.
Despite having a quarter-final place in the bag, England certainly should not be treating this as a free hit-out or be thinking about wrapping up any key performers in cotton wool. After a two-week break from what was effectively a stroll in the park against Chile, England need to keep their foot to the floor, particularly as they will be the least battle-hardened team in the last eight.
So this is a pretty full bore selection with a couple of exceptions. We saw what Henry Arundell was capable of against the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, now let’s give him a proper test against a Samoan team with plenty of powerful backs. We know what Elliot Daly and Jonny May are capable of, but Arundell is a difference maker who needs to show he can match that experienced pair in high ball and defensive work. Now is also as good a time as any to press go on the Ford-Farrell axis which is likely to have been Steve Borthwick’s original plan for the midfield. There is also a welcome return for Tom Curry at openside.
When it comes to the selection of an England back line at this juncture, there are trade-offs at every turn. Yes, a midfield of Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant was solid, but it did not look capable of spreading the ball to wide channels. Unless he starts Marcus Smith at full-back to give his fly-half an additional distributor, Steve Borthwick will be tempted to reach for a familiar 10-12 axis.
Ollie Lawrence is the ideal outside centre to carve angles beyond George Ford and Owen Farrell, with Marchant well capable of roaming off his wing and picking up touches. Elliot Daly is preferred to Henry Arundell, though the latter should be a handful from the bench. Lewis Ludlam has done little wrong, but it is worth seeing if Tom Curry can rediscover his sharpest ahead of the quarter-final. Will Stuart nips ahead of Dan Cole on the bench as well.
Feels important to get a good glimpse of Ford-Farrell before the knockout stages, and also to give Alex Mitchell some time with that combination as well. Otherwise it’s a team which sort of picks itself – which sounds wild given Tuilagi isn’t in the starting XV – although you could quibble over the starter at tighthead where Cole remains the best scrummager. Marchant is better at 13 but bringing Ford back shifts him out to the wing where England have used him regularly this year. Game time for Martin, Willis, Arundell and more minutes for Smith at full-back are also high up the wishlist.
The order of the day must be as close to the strongest 23 as possible. To that end, the Ford-Farrell axis returns in midfield, with Ollie Lawrence’s individual threat as an out-and-out 13 complementing the two distributors inside him. Given the match is largely a dead rubber and there are wing spots up for grabs – even in the first-choice XV – Henry Arundell deserves one more crack to prove he can cut it at the top.
Even if there are frailties defensively, England might well need players who can make something happen – and Arundell is one of those. The pack virtually picks itself, with Tom Curry immediately restored to openside and Ben Earl shifting to No8 to accommodate the Sale flanker. The bench is full of dynamism, versatility and options; as well as ‘super-strengths’, something which Steve Borthwick loves.