15. Mike Brown
A no-brainer here. Brown’s form in the autumn makes him one of the first names inked into the team – the one thing we’d like to see him add is a desire to fade into the line more, something that Alex Goode actually does very well.
14. Anthony Watson
Is Watson the biggest success story of the season? More often seen at fullback, his performance on the wing recently against the Tigers showed that he is equally as comfortable on the end of the line. And that was on the narrow pitch of Welford Road – imagine what he can do in the wide expanses of Twickenham.
13. Luther Burrell
There are no out-and-out 13s in the squad, so it’ll be between Burrell and Barritt for this spot. While the latter combined well with Twelvetrees against Scotland last year, surely this is Burrell’s time. The threat he offers in attack is so much greater (ask yourself who you think the French would rather face?), and his offloading game should bring the wingers into the action. Also has much better distribution than people give him credit for.
12. Billy Twelvetrees
Twelvetrees needs a big Six Nations. He has all the right attributes to be the future in the England 12 shirt, and appears to have Lancaster’s backing, but has yet to really live up to potential on the international stage. If he and Burrell gel, it could be a devastating partnership. If it doesn’t, Kyle Eastmond will be breathing down his neck.
11. Jonny May
There is no substitute for raw pace, and a partnership of Watson and May would have it in abundance. One of Ashton’s strengths is his reading of the game, and knowing where to be and when, something that May does equally well – the difference being that the Gloucester man is excellent at exploiting it. Some of the tries he has scored this year have been breathtaking.
10. Owen Farrell
With George Ford pressing his case, Farrell’s form has gone somewhat under the radar. He has been looking sharp for Sarries, and hopefully, finally, he can make the England back-line click. Standing flatter would be a start, but with Ford likely to be on the bench he will know there is someone that can spark a back-line available if he fails to do it.
9. Danny Care
There are four scrum-halves in the squad, and while Ben Youngs might be the favourite long term, he has struggled for form with the Tigers. Danny Care has been playing with the carefree zip that he made his name for, so why not let him bring that onto the international stage? If his control of the game isn’t looking up to scratch, Youngs, Wigglesworth or Dickson are all valuable options from the bench.
1. Mako Vunipola
With Corbisiero injured it is between Vunipola and Marler for this spot, and Vunipola’s destructive capabilities in the loose give him the edge. Neither have Corbisiero’s scrummaging prowess, but both can more than hold their own there, so it comes down to who offers more around the park – and that is the Saracens man.
2. Dylan Hartley
Both Hartley and Tom Youngs are in superlative form, but the Northampton captain was one of England’s best players in the autumn and deserves to keep going in the starting shirt.
3. Dan Cole
Cole’s form for Leicester has been brilliant this season, after many people thought he had gone off the boil towards the end of last year. His scrummaging is still excellent, and he brings a lot of endeavour in the loose – he is still one of the best front row forwards in world rugby at the breakdown.
4. Courtney Lawes
Lawes’ successful stint as line-out master in the autumn proved that he has acquired a shrewdness to go with his well-known physicality. Both will be needed as England go up against a solid French set-piece and imposing pack.
5. Joe Launchbury
England’s most consistent performer in the autumn, Launchbury is the perfect foil to the eye-catching nature of Lawes’ game. The ‘unseen’ work is a bit of a cliché, but it is exactly what Launchbury does so well. The engine of a back-rower in a lock’s body.
6. Tom Wood
One half of England’s much-talked about six-seven duo, Wood is as vital a cog in the England machine as any. He was more obvious with ball in hand in the autumn, which was encouraging to see, while his defensive work rate never dipped below the highest level.
7. Chris Robshaw (c)
A leader by example, Chris Robshaw at times seems to be everywhere on the rugby pitch. His ability as a link man is well documented, and his dubbing as a non-genuine seven often detracts from the excellent work he does do at the breakdown. In combination with Wood, it is a partnership on the flanks that should go on for many years.
8. Billy Vunipola
England’s wrecking ball, big Billy’s acclimatisation to Twickenham in the autumn should see him now more comfortable in the climes of the international arena. If he gets his ball-carrying game going, England have a sure-fire source of front foot ball.
16. Tom Youngs
17. Joe Marler
18. Henry Thomas
19. Ed Slater
20. Ben Morgan
21. Ben Youngs
22. George Ford
23. Jack Nowell
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images