England scrum coach Neal Hatley believes all six English front-rowers are in firm contention for Lions places.
The scrum against Ireland which will go a long way to deciding not just whether England can make it back-to-back Grand Slams but also determining the composition of Warren Gatland’s front row with Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole facing off against Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong.
England can also call upon considerable reinforcements in the contrasting shapes of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler, who will also come into the Lions reckoning, according to Hatley.
“All the guys have put their hands up, Mako, Joe, Jamie, Dylan... there isn’t a single player we’ve used in the front row who hasn’t put his hand up and pushed a really strong claim for selection,” Hatley said. “They’re a very good six, particularly at loosehead with the two players we have there. We have one of the best tightheads in the world in Dan Cole and one of the best up-and-coming tightheads in Kyle Sinckler. From a prop point of view, we’ve got three really experienced, top-quality players and one kid who is going to get there very quickly.
“Dylan will become the fifth-highest capped England international and you don’t get there if you’re not a quality player. He may have come in for some stick earlier in the tournament, but every week he leads the team unbelievably well, he works ridiculously hard with his prep. We think he’s been playing well throughout the tournament.”
Before the Six Nations started, McGrath and Furlong were considered the favourites for the propping positions but that wisdom had to be revised after the Irish pack struggled in the scrum against Wales while the English front row all impressed against Scotland. There is still plenty of time for that pecking order to change once again at the Aviva Stadium and Hatley is under no illusions regarding the scale of the challenge they will face.
“Their props are good on the engage,” Hatley said. “They put a lot of pressure through on the binds and because they are a heavy pack, you’ve got to make sure you’re able to withstand that and push back. A little bit like us, they take good confidence from good performances. They scrummaged really well against Australia, won a big penalty in the autumn to win the game.
“I thought the French pack was immense, probably one of the biggest packs I’ve ever seen, but Ireland are a very good side, a good pack, Greg Feek has done an outstanding job there. They’ve done really well throughout the Championship, did well against the All Blacks in the autumn, it’ll be a tough afternoon from a scrum point of view, without a shadow of doubt.”