England selection: would you change it for France?

Martin Johnson will face a selection dilemma ahead of the crucial showdown with France as key players return from injury, and we’d like your thoughts for this week’s feature in The Rugby Paper.

Flankers Tom Croft and Lewis Moody are set to play for their clubs this weekend as they look to prove their fitness to the England manager, and the back row will be one of a number of areas in which Johnno will have decisions to make.

Back row

This is the probably the hardest decision he’ll face – Tom Wood, James Haskell and Nick Easter have performed well and we know that Johnno is slightly averse to changing things even when the team is losing.

Will Moody and Croft slot straight back in alongside Easter? What would you do? Will they even make the squad?

Front row

Alex Corbisiero was impressive on debut last week after his late call-up for Andrew Sheridan. Assuming the latter recovers from a bad back, should Corbisiero drop out of the squad again, or will Sheridan have a battle on his hands to regain his place?

What would you do?


The problem area for England, and time is running out before the World Cup to find a combination that offers a little more than Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall.

What are the other options? Is Matt Banahan the preferred choice after his reasonable effort from the bench last week? Riki Flutey, Jonny Wilkinson and Brad Barritt could all be considered.

Put yourself in Johnno’s shoes, let us know your thoughts and we’ll use your opinions in The Rugby Paper on Sunday.

33 thoughts on “England selection: would you change it for France?

  1. Keep the team that started for Italy. Its a massive risk breaking up the back row, even if Croft and Moody do play this weekend.

    I wouldnt even want a change at centre for the France game at this stage

  2. Would you put Moody or Croft on the bench? Or both? Difficult decisions…

    And what about Sheridan? Both he and Corbisiero are back with their clubs this weekend, and it’s difficult to see them both in the matchday squad.

  3. 1. Corbisiero
    2. Hartley
    3. Cole
    4. Shaw
    5. Palmer
    6. Wood
    7. Haskell
    8. Easter
    9. Youngs
    10. Flood
    11. Cueto
    12. Hape
    13. Tindall
    14. Ashton
    15. Foden

    16. Thompson
    17. Sheridan
    18. Croft
    19. Moody
    20. Care
    21. Wilkinson
    22. Banahan

  4. Slightly short of cover at tighthead – Sheridan and Corbisiero can play on both sides I believe, but I think I’d rather have a specialist against the French.

    No second row cover and Shawsy is bound to be blowing after 60 minutes, so then you’d have to stick Croft in there which could undermine the scrum.

    I don’t think there’s room in the squad for Moody, Croft, Wood and Haskell…I’d be tempted to leave Moody out.

  5. Same XV apart from Sheridan back in, I can’t see Croft being ready for England after one bench appearance for Tigers and I reckon Moody should be a bench option for England but I can see Johnno starting his captain in place of Haskell.

  6. Sorry, was meant to add “thoughts and suggestions please”. Its a fair point regarding the lack of 2nd row cover, and maybe a gamble too far. Personally, i would make a few changes, but mainly to the bench, providing us with extra ammunition to finish the French off in the last 20 mins.

    Strangely, i like our centre’s for this game – lets face it, they are going to be doing a fair bit of defending in the 80 mins and at least we know there’s not much chance of people going through them.

    Out of Wood, Haskell, Easter, Moody and Croft – if i had to leave one out i know who it would be – sorry Easter!!!

  7. The back row’s showing a healthy wealth of riches – the fact that we’re debating who we’d play rather than who we’d rather drop is a sign unto itself.

    Personally, I’d bring in Moody at 7, Wood 6, Easter 8. Then have either Haskell or Croft on the bench (depending on how Croft gets on this weekend), with the view to them coming on at 6 – either to partner Moody, or to replace Moody with Wood moving to 7.

    Sheridan, if fit, should absolutely start.

    As for the centres, Hape and Tindall have to start. Banahan is the most likely option on the bench – he’s never going to be a great player but for this type of game, given France’s huge centres, and the fact he had an ok game last week, he is the best option as sub.

    It’s a huge game for both teams, which even if it doesn’t actually mean much in terms of how they’ll play in the world cup, will at least give the winner the crucial confidence going into the competition. As I understand it England are likely to meet France in the quarters this year so it would be great to go into that having beaten them in the 6N.

  8. Johnson was talking pre-tournament about Lawes might have a chance of appearing at the end of the 6N, does anyone know how his re-hab is getting on, really not a fan of Deacon!

  9. You can’t leave Easter out! He is the only one with composure, skill and leadership to play 8 against France. I would be tempted to bring Moody and Croft onto the bench. As well as Wood and (to a lesser extent) Haskell have played, Mad Dog and Croft are the top two flankers.

    Recalling Moody then gives the option of dropping Mr Cumberson Tindall.

  10. I would bring Sheridan back in to counter the French scrum, leave the rest unchanged! Perhaps Croft on the bench for Fouries as he is a line out option and game-breaker….

  11. This is pretty difficult.

    Firstly I’ll start off by saying that I’m making these decisions on the basis that Moody, Croft & Sheridan are fit and firing by next week.

    Sheridan – Straight into the team, relegating the unlucky Corbisiero to the 23rd man. Corbisiero played well against Italy but Sheridan is a proven international and can be an immense ball carrier. As well as Corbisiero played against a fearsome front row last week I believe the French will provide a far greater test, especially in the scrum.

    Croft – Straight in for Wood. Croft is one of the best blindsides in the world, and the presence he brings on the team is huge, both in the loose and in the tight – where he’s been underrated I think. Wood has played very well in these past 2 matches but I believe Croft to be the better, and more experienced player. Wood relegated to the bench, where he can cover both 6 & 7.

    Moody – Unfortunately I would have Moody as missing out. England have not seemed to have lacked in the leadership Moody offered in the Autumn, and elsewhere I cannot see him improving the team. If England see fit to pressure Trinh-Duc in the way they did to Quade Cooper then perhaps it may be worthwhile but I’d leave Moody out for this one.

    All the rest unchanged.

    PS. I probably wrote down this message about 5 different times. To tell the truth if all are fit then Johnson faces some very tough choices, but MJ will know better than we do how well Croft, Sheridan & Moody are looking fitness-wise and that may dictate in the end.

  12. If fit Sheridan will have to start and I think Wilson will stay on the bench. He’s the only one who plays both sides reasonably regularly. That spot on the bench might go to Matt Stevens in time.

    I don’t think Croft will feature. He’s been out for quite a while and the guys there are doing well. He’s the long-term guy there but don’t think they will feel any need to rush him back. I think Moody should come in, probably for Haskell – Wood offers a lineout option so would probably retain him and Easter complements the rest of them very well. Yes he may lack in some departments but you’ve got to have balance and a solid base, you’ve got to take care of the plumbing before you think about shiny taps (read that yesterday in an article about rubbish business jargon – so chuffed to have squeezed it in). The bench then gets difficult. Fourie is a different player from the others and you need a second row so do you drop Haskell from the squad altogether? That would seem harsh. Very tough call.

    What I think they will do is bring Moody in for Wood but I’d disagree with that.

    In the centres, Hape has not been playing well and an out of form Flutey is preferable to an out of form Hape. To play the way we are playing we need centres who run straight and play flat so Wilkinson there is no more of an option than Barkley. Barritt an interesting choice but think he’d just be more of the same. They’ll blatantly keep it the same, Johnno seems to have invested a lot in Hape.

  13. We would seem to have a plethora of riches, BUT those injured have to be fully fit to be considered. The French front row are small(in height!) so I would keep Corbisiero with Sheridan on the bench. I would not start Shaw, and the back row has to be carefully considered after this weekend’s matches. Otherwise as before…

  14. It all depends on clubperformance this wknd, but I think it’s fair to say a fit Sheridan is a given on the teamsheet, and Hape unfortunately will retain his place.

    The backrow dilemma is a very tricky one – my preference would be Moody, Wood and Easter starting, with Croft on the bench if proves himself this wknd. One industrious match against poor opposition does not stop Haskell being a 1 dimensional meathead.

    Nice position to be in, roll on Courtney Lawes return.

  15. Rugby is a team sport and needs a team to play with cohesion to enjoy success (unless you’re the All Blacks where 12 or so individual superstars is often enough). If a team is playing well and winning, keep it. We could look at some changes on the bench, I think it would be good to see Croft & Sheridan in the 22. Moody has been on very good form lately but the back row performance has been pretty good.
    It hasn’t all been pretty rugby played with flair but it’s been solid and done its job of achieving the result.
    I don’t like to dwell on the past but looking at the 7 games played in the 2003 RWC the only flair was against Uruguay and Georgia. What they did have though was a unit, a cohesive team like none other in the tournament and we seem to be heading back in to that position.
    Now is the time to make sure that we’ve got a bunch of blokes that play well together and more importantly, play together.
    Keep the starting line up but make sure we have the strength and skill on the bench to deal with a very different opponent. France may be doing some winning too at the moment but if we can keep working as we are then the French are there for the beating.

  16. Moody is the captain. If he’s fit, he should play. Surely that’s all there is too it?

    Yes, Wood will be unlucky to miss out. But he’s young and his time will come.

    Croft, Moody, Easter back row.

    Sheridan back in.

    Same centres.

    Those are my thoughts.

  17. im no front rower, but my concern is scrumtime.

    We have a tall front row, the frogs a short squat front row that have nailed everyone so far. they remind me the lions ’97 front row which nailed the bocks, despite being dwarfed in size.

    The frogs were saved by the scrum v Ireland getting a few penalties which dug them selves out of a hole.

    Who will come out on top there?

  18. You have to keep Corbisiero in the team. He had a fantastic debut and not starting him would send out the wrong message. If he didnt have trouble against Castro i cant see him having trouble against the french. In fact i noticed a significant dip in the number of scrum collapses.
    Moody isnt the best open side we have and so why should he start? He offers leadership but we havent really been lacking in it lately and so the only reason to bring him in would be to make a change at OC but there isnt really and need.

    “If it aint broke, dont fix it”

  19. It’s not broke against Italy. And a poorly performing Italy side too. But just because something’s not broke, does that mean it can’t be made better?

    I’d disagree anyway – i think Moody is the best proven international openside we have.

  20. The best Proven. yes. The best now? No. Wood is in fantastic form and reguly plays openside for Northhampton. Croft is Fantastic and so a Croft, Wood, Easter back row would be very ballanced. Wood is good at the break down and line out, Croft in the open play and line out, Easter adds more substance and power and can also jump at the tail.

  21. No Tom Croft this weekend for England…he’s staying with the Tigers this week. Moody is back in the squad, Chris Robshaw has come in for Joe Worsley, and Corbisiero replaces Wilson as well.

  22. Good to see Robshaw’s working his way into the fold, and Johnson has recognised there’s quality coming through so Worsley is now surplus to requirements. A shift in his conservative attitude indeed.

  23. Not surprised by Croft’s omission. 20 mins of rugby after a 3 month lay off is not enough. Moody hasn’t been out for quite as long.

    Corbisiero did have a good game but Sheridan is the number one. I don’t think it sends out the wrong message at all. Players know the score, he came in for a guy with 40 odd caps, equipped himself well and is now likely to be on the bench ahead of Wilson.

    I actually think changing/improving a winning side is a sign of strength. There is no problem saying to a bloke ‘thanks, you’ve done a good job but we’re giving this guy a crack for X Y Z reasons’. Moody has earned his place over time and is the captain.

    Rod, agree that there’s been a shift in the attitude but Worsley is actually injured, hence Robshaw’s elevation. Think most of us would have had Robshaw there in the first place though so no complaints.

  24. Robshaw is the future, Worsley the past.

    Worsley is lauded as a tackle defence machine, but Robshaw has the highest tackle count in the premiership and can attack as well.

    delighted to see Corbisiero instead of wilson, Corbs will be going to the World cup.

    I prefer my props shorter than Sheriden and i think he could be exposed against the french.

    Moody getting injured as created an opening for a different look back row (Easter, wood, haskell) and for me theres a niggle of doubt.

    SA bullied us in the Autumn and I felt moody was bossed about. We will be ok against the lighter, quicker french back row but when we come up against NZ, SA – i would want to see Moody off the bench, although im not sure who for!

  25. With the fact that Moody only got about 9 mins of game time, i’d put him on the bench for France game, and continue with Wood, Haskell, Easter. Not my preferred choice of back row, but they have been doing a good job and i seriously doubt Moody would last more than 50 mins at the mo, so Haskell should keep his place and then Moody can come on for the last 15/20 mins (if we need him to).

    I’d also start with Corbs, and have Sheridan on the bench. Sheridan is fantastic, but it’s Corbs that needs the experience and i’d rather him get it now before the RWC, rather than at it. We need to add experience to all this talent and the only way to do so is by giving them significant game time – plus that way we can have the old guard on the bench to come on if things aren’t going to plan.

    Does anyone know how Robshaw got on playing at no.8?

  26. Not to say that it may not have happened anyway; but Wilson and Worsley are both carrying injuries hence the call-up of Robshaw & Corbs being retained.

  27. Tom, IMHO Johnson is not even thinking about the World Cup at the mo! The annoying fact is that Eng have not won the 6 nations since 2003 and so that has to be his main focus at the moment and this next game is the pivotal point so not the time to blood new players but picking the players to win the game. If that all goes well then Johnson can relax a bit a test a few options against Scot and even in a poss Glandslam showdown with Ireland.

  28. Robshaw struggled against Exeter but played very well against Sale at No.8.

    He isnt a natural no.8 but as he’s switched from 6 to 7 with ease, it is possible he could switch to 8 in the long term although I’d rather see Crane, Narraway or Guest fight it out post RWC.

  29. England should stick with the same team that did a number on Italy. Wood a revelation in the back row and can only get better with more game time. Moody has had limited game time in recent weeks and anything less than being 100% against the French is a risk too far in my book. Tindall has done a good job as captain, so why change it for such an important game.

  30. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

    For the new boys, the positive message its sends out would be huge to know they are keeping the likes of Moody, Croft and Sheridan out of the starting 15. The bench plays a big roll nowadays so send on these 3 with Jonny after 60. They will be champing at the bit to get into the French and to prove there worth!

  31. I have to agree in part with jimmymc1 that Worsley is a “Tackle Defence Machine” and, as one of the TV pundits recently called him “The Best Defender In The Northern Hemisphere”.

    But as for being the “the past”…..sorry don’t agree. If it wasn’t for the neck injury against Liecester I feel sure he would have been, at least, on the bench for additional impact in the 2nd half, if not starting as one of the back 3.

    Against France we will need early stopping power not half tackles.

  32. feel sorry for maddog.
    who will be our back row?

    quite like the idea of haskell getting into a scrap with chabal.

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