Six Nations 2019: An England team to take on Ireland

Mark Wilson

England’s Six Nations campaign gets underway on Saturday 2nd February, with a trip to Dublin to take on international rugby’s form team, and reigning grand slam champions, Ireland.

Eddie Jones has selected his squad for the tournament and from that, here is the team I would select to play.

1 Mako Vunipola; 2 Jamie George; 3 Kyle Sinckler
I found the front row a relatively easy selection; Kyle Sinckler really stepped up his game during the autumn internationals, showing a strong set piece to complement his trademark powerful carrying. The Harlequin did enough to see off Exeter Chief’s Harry Williams and the resurgent elder statesman Dan Cole.

On the loosehead, and despite Ben Moon’s able deputising last autumn, Mako Vunipola returns. One of England’s best players and a concrete selection when fit. In between them, and with Dylan Hartley missing at least the first game, Jamie George is also an obvious selection.

4 Maro Itoje; 5 George Kruis
Maro Itoje is another cert at lock – although he does need to curb his tendency to give away a few unnecessary penalties. He would also be my choice for captain should Owen Farrell fail in his fitness race following surgery on his thumb.

However, I found choosing his partner in the second row tricky. I cycled through both Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, but eventually settled on George Kruis. The opposition had a say in this decision, given Ireland’s exemplary set piece and England’s struggles at the lineout during the autumn series. Kruis is a canny lineout operator and that edges him above his rivals for me – especially given the familiarity he has with both George and Itoje.

6 Mark Wilson; 7 Tom Curry; 8 Billy Vunipola
The back row also mostly picks itself. With Sam Underhill out, Tom Curry is the natural replacement (sorry Jack Nowell). Since slipping behind Underhill in the pecking order, Curry has been in fine form for Sale Sharks this season and as the true breakdown menace England have lacked for years, has a chance to reassert himself as England’s first choice in the seven shirt.

At the back of the scrum, a fully fit Billy Vunipola, of course, returns. Although England proved they can execute a gameplan without Vunipola’s best bulldozer impression, the back row looks better for having him in it. Because of that, the man who filled his sizeable boots during the autumn internationals – and my player of the series – Mark Wilson, switches to the blindside flank. Wilson showed a brilliant all-court game, carrying hard, making some big tackles and smashing breakdowns. He is less of a line-out forward than Brad Shields, which is a concern given England’s struggles, but having Tom Curry back in the team offsets that.

9 Ben Youngs; 10 Owen Farrell ©
Pretty simple here – Ben Youngs is England’s starting nine, more so given Danny Care’s surprise exclusion from the squad, while Owen Farrell will pull the strings from 10 (should he recover in time). While I am a huge Owen Farrell fan, there are a few areas he needs to work on during this tournament. One, his tendency to throw the occasional high/no arms tackle; and two, his relationship with the referee; such an essential part of the captain role, but something that takes time to develop.

12 Manu Tuilagi; 13 Elliot Daly
The centre partnership was perhaps the hardest selection in the team. But no surprise there. It is the perennial problem for England – always lots of great outside centre options, few inside centres – and I have opted for yet another combination here. I went back and forth on whether to pick Manu Tuilagi or Ben Te’o at 12, before settling on the Leicester Tiger.

My original reasoning was the opposite, concerned that, like the selection of Kruis, we were facing Ireland first and I didn’t want anyone playing out of position, especially with the change at outside centre, and Manu’s occasional defensive issues. Then I ignored all that and picked what I think is England’s best option for the World Cup. Manu’s hard running and magnetic ability to fix defenders will open up plenty of space for the rest of the backs. And I would foresee him and Daly interchanging throughout the game anyway.

As for Daly, I moved him to 13 because Mike Brown’s return to form made that an option, and as Henry Slade has as yet failed to fully convince me, but mainly because it is by far Daly’s most natural position. This means we lose our second natural playmaker in the backline, however, so that is an area Daly will have to step up in. It still gives us more creativity than the Te’o/Manu combo I expect Jones to pick.

11 Jonny May; 14 Joe Cokanasiga; 15 Mike Brown
Out wide and Jonny May is an easy first pick on the wing – he has matured into a world class finisher and is one of the few England players who got anywhere near a world XV in 2018. At fullback and Mike Brown returns to the side. The Daly experiment never fully convinced and Brown has been in sterling form for Harlequins – indeed, it seems you agree, with Brown taking over 40% of the vote in our poll. Given the Irish team’s brilliant kicking game, Brown’s security under the high ball and defensive steel will be essential. He also seems to have worked on his playmaking, raising his head and even occasionally passing.

On the other wing, I would play Joe Cokanasiga, should he recover from injury in time. He brings added ballast to the backline, and his raw power will complement May’s pace and Mike Brown’s hard-headed ferocity.

Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie; 17 Ben Moon; 18 Harry Williams; 19 Courtney Lawes; 20 Brad Shields; 21 Dan Robson; 22 George Ford; 23 Jack Nowell
On the bench, and Cowan-Dickie is a case of next cab off the rank given Hartley’s absence. He has an opportunity to show he can be a true international-class hooker, but will be under pressure from the promising Jack Singleton for the 16 shirt. In the rest of the front row replacements, I have opted for Ben Moon and Harry Williams. While Dan Cole has made a very strong case for returning to the team, I think Williams’ carrying ability just edges the bench selection for me. Moon, likewise faced stiff competition from another Tiger, Ellis Genge. However, I thought Moon was fantastic in every aspect of his game during the autumn and deserves his place.

Alongside them I would select Courtney Lawes and Brad Shields. They will bring serious energy and power off the bench, and due to their versatility (and Mark Wilson’s) I didn’t think it essential to have specialist eight cover.

In the backs and Dan Robson (included in the squad at last) will get his debut of the bench. He finally gets the chance to show why England fans have been calling for his inclusion for so long. George Ford is the obvious (and only) back-up at flyhalf, while Jack Nowell edges the 23-shirt.

Who would you pick in the England team to face Ireland?

By Henry Ker

35 thoughts on “Six Nations 2019: An England team to take on Ireland

  1. I find myself agreeing with most of your selections, if not all.

    I initially would have brought Launchbury in but I take your comments on Kruis as a lineout unit with Itoje and George, maybe Kritoje is the best bet.

    The centre partnership is what I think most England fans would dream of, but whether it works in practice is another matter. I thought Te’o had a good Autumn so wouldn’t be surprised if Tuilagi starts as a finisher.

    I also initially would have had Nowell over Cokanasiga, however maybe Nowell’s versatility could be a better bench option, with Joe’s power to start.

  2. I like the team and would make just one change. For me Daly is not a centre until he plays there regularly for club. He’ll get found out in defence. I’d move him out on to the wing (replacing Cokanasiga) and bring Slade into the centre. Tough on Cokanasiga but I want experience in the back three against Ireland. Nowell still edges him for the 23 spot for his versatility

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      1. He plays wherever they need him whether wing, centre or fullback. outside centre is a tricky position to cover defensively, made all the harder if you’re not playing there week in week out. There’s a reason EJ hasn’t picked him there in any games yet

  3. Team selected above almost matches the one I reckon EJ will pick. I put in Launchbury as EJ’s lock however. Although Jones may go for Kruis, he may also believe that when when it comes down to it, Kruis has just involved in missing too many important lineouts. I’d also have had Daly @ centre, but as Jones has NEVER picked him there before, will he do so v Ireland? Again, EJ’s Teo & Slade (with personal misgivings) for me. The rest make ‘Jones’ sense.

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    1. hey Don. Yeh, agree with you – I don’t expect EJ to pick this backline at all. Tbh I expect him to go route one power in the centres against Ireland; I am pretty certain Te’o will start at 12 and think he may go for Tuilagi at 13, with Daly and May on the wings and Brown at 15.

      1. Might go for that pair in the centre Henry, although with Tui along side Teo, England will be easier to read. Schmidt will plan his ‘D’ accordingly. He’ll also likely ensure that his loose fwds go all out to win the breakdown, potentially further blunting the England attack. So Eddie will have to think pretty carefully about securing his own pill & then how his team are going to score points with it.. against a tight Irish ‘D’. Don’t foresee bosh doing this, so he may stick with Slade, but we’ll see.

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  4. Whatever team runs out in Dublin they will need to have the game of their lives to beat Ireland (without stating the obvious). From what I have witnessed of the Irish lads, for both club and country, there is very little weakness and their commitment, sixth sense with each other and just excellent collectiveness and will to not be beaten creates a big green tank that not many can penetrate or halt in its tracks.

    As a knarly old Jim Telfer once said..out scrum them, out ruck them, out jump them, out drive them out tackle them until they are f….king sick of it. Thats how England can beat the Boys in Green.

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    1. PS DM, you’d better hope that Joe Schmidt hasn’t read yr knarled Telfer remarks, because he might deploy the same tactics for Ireland against England.. & then some!

  5. Hard to argue with this team. He pack looks the strongest and most balanced it has in a long time, with genuine backups in all positions. Similarly the backline has a lot of talent. It’s a real shame we don’t have a proper 12. Personally I would have Slade there, Manu at 13 and Daly on the wing but however you shift it around someone is always out of position.

    Also what’s with all the unnecessary “and”’s in this article? “In the backs, and” “On the bench, and” “At Fullback, and”?

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  6. Kyle Sinckler got schooled in the scrum by Genge when Quins played Tigers. I think after the AIs (and 3rd Test in SA) we discovered that the balance of props is critical: selecting two ball players isn’t great. So if Mako has the 1 jersey, I would be tempted to reinstate Cole at 3.

    Additionally, Wilson and Cockanasiga have been injured and haven’t played a game recently. How important is it that players are in form and match fit before facing Ireland?

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    1. Sinckler did well in the autumn as a starter but i take your point. Cole has been excellent for Tigers and I think Eddie did him a favour by dropping him for the AI’s. I’d have him back for his nous and ballast. We aren’t going to be on the front foot too often against Ireland so Williams would be my replacement 3. Sinckler’s talents will be more useful later on in the tournament.

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    2. CH, what you state regarding the England props makes sense. If England expect to dominate the scrum v Ireland, then Sinkler might be the better starting choice. If not, as seems likely, then yr view that Cole should start seems sound. However, why was Cole ever dropped in the 1st place? Dropping, then bringing someone back, smacks of oscillation, indecision & irrationally. Unless Cole suddenly began playing really badly. Did he? Echoe’s of Mike Brown? EJ may need you to whisper in his ear.

    3. Acee, I wasn’t too impressed with Williams in the AIs. Although he has been doing well for Exeter, isn’t he usually on the bench for them?

      Don P, Cole was definitely off form last season, but as you say he’s been ripping up trees recently.

      I’d go for Mako, George, Cole; with Genge, LCD, Sinckler on the bench – plenty of impact there, and a couple of club combinations.

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  7. Hi Henry.

    After a difficult decision, I would definitely pick Kritoje. I loved reading this incredible article, by the way; definitely enjoyable!

    All the best,

    David at Hamilton Billiards.

  8. Not a chance of having Daly in the Centre. I’ll be honest, he attacks very well from 13, but I do share Jones (assumed) concerns over his 13 defence – not a popular view i’m sure but he is a concern in this aspect for me.

    Take your point on Kruis over Launchbury. Ireland are the most attacking line-out team around, and because of this, the pack is a very difficult selection.

    Curry is an option. Shields is better than Wilson in the line. Lawes is a definite option at 6.

    For me, against Ireland, I would go with Itoje and Launchbury, Lawes at 6, with Wilson on the bench.

    1. The last time we played Ireland with Lawes at six, during the reign of “bomber” we got comprehensively stuffed at the break down. Wilson has to be in for me. Our relative lack of height in the second and back rows is partly due to Ed’s continued omission of certain players ( Ewers) and some that have been selected not being up to par. Forgive my beer induced amnesia but is Hill in the among the locks and if not, why not?

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      1. You are right. I think the lack of mobility when we play Lawes at 6 and Billy at 8 (and then possibly Robshaw at 7) is evident. Arguably you should only go for one lump in the back row.

        But on the flip side, the line out might suffer if we don’t have a strong 3rd jumper in the back row. A la O’Mahony or Faletau. I must admit that I don’t know much about the ability of Wilson or Curry (or Underhill) in that department.

        We know that Billy probably won’t be a world class jumper. Ted Hill will probably bring some ability, and that’s why I recommended Jack Willis brush up on that during his lay off. Does anyone know if Dombrandt (my shout for backup 8) can jump?

        When Itoje burst in the scene he was stealing lineouts for fun, has he gone off the boil a bit in that department? I do highly rate Lawes, for his lineout and maul work. And when he came on against Australia I think he won three turnovers, so there’s not much more he can do to put his hand up!

        Choosing two from Itoje, Launchbury, and Lawes is a difficult one!

        1. CH, prev stated that Billy V can’t jump. Also not much cop in the open trying to defend. Can’t suss the concept of man marking. His telegraphed bosh game seems to trump all other considerations for England though. Papers over cracks. Not stating that BV shouldn’t play, but he may be better deployed in tandem with another such as the experienced Ben Morgan, who might jump a bit higher than 6”!

    1. I can’t see us causing an upset but i think we can make life hard for them if the tactics are spot on and every player puts in an “eight”. Tbh , we need a stern test like this. I don’t think we learned a huge amount during the autumn. The biggest plus was unearthing gems such as Wilson,Moon and big Joe.

  9. I agree with Charlie H about our props. I don´t think Sinkler is as solid in the tight as some seem to think and would definitely start with Cole given the strength of the Irish pack. Whereas the Irish seem to have props who can scrummage superbly, run around the park and are comfortable in open play, we seem to have players who can do one or the other but not both together. If we start with Mako, George and Sinkler I think we will get hammered in the tight, especially if Ireland pick Cronin as a starter in front of Best. Would definitely have Launchbury in front of Kruis. He´s a big game player, makes his tackles and wins turnovers. Ben Youngs has been way off form this season and I think Care´s omission is a real mistake. Given that he is not there I would start with Robson. Daly has looked out of sorts for weeks and I would not have him anywhere near the squad in current form, and I am a long way from convinced that Manu has had enough game time to recover either his fairly limited pace or his instinctive running lines. Back three looks ok but I would prefer to start with Nowell who is more consistently abrasive than Cokonasiga. I also have a nasty feeling that Curry will get a real lesson in the darker arts from the Irish back row. Not a bad side, but you could pick a team from those omitted that would run it close, and I expect the Irish to win by about 12 points.

    1. Andy, agreed Ben Youngs has struggled in recent years (and I am not his biggest fan, despite supporting Tigers!) but to start Robson in Dublin would be a pretty big ask. Not least as his box kicking is not as strong as Youngs’ and he hasn’t quite hit the highs he was hitting before his recent injury lay-off.

      Agreed that Daly is off form, and that Tuilagi is the victim of his former glories. I just really don’t rate Slade as he’s made too many errors at International level. I would go for Daly at 13, on the basis that he has played there most of his career, he has bags of pace, and he is class.

      Can’t argue with Nowell over Cockanasiga, as the latter hasn’t played since returning from injury, and Jack has looked pretty sharp in his last few games. One of Tuilagi or Cockanasiga on the bench to bring something different in the last 20.

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      1. Two years ago I would have agreed Charlie, and as a Leicester supporter you see more of him than I do, but my perception this year is that Young s’ box kicking has been too long and too predictable. I also think that his tendency to crab sideways before passing cramps his outside backs. My 9’s would be Care and Wigglesworth but in their absence I would chuck Robson in at the deep end. Young s has been moderate for too long, and Ford always looks a better player when Harrison is inside him. But then, my centres would be Barritt and Marchant, so what do I know?

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        1. I think the fact that his box kicking can be too long is actually a strength. This can potentially be adjusted to give extra hang time. The other scrum halves can’t kick it as far and are less effective at relieving pressure when we’re deep in our 22. You’re right that his passing game can be poor, although it is important to note that his performances were affected by the lack of quick ball when we were dominated at the breakdown by Scotland and France.

          Interesting shouts for centre, I haven’t forgiven Barritt for losing to the Brumbies in a Lions shirt in 2013. One try assist off the post aside, has Marchant been on form? I think of him as a bit of a lesser Joseph, although Joseph hasn’t been at the heights of 2017 for a while now.

          1. Yes Charlie, Marchant has been looking really good this year. Maybe too late for him this year but he will definitely be an England regular within a couple of years I think. He is both quicker and more aggressive than Joseph.You have a long memory not to have forgiven Barritt for one aberration given the consistency of his form for Sarries. Re Youngs I would accept your argument more readily if he was showing some form at club level, but he’s not.

            1. Thanks for the insight on Marchant.

              There’s not many people (Cole, Evans, Ford aside) that are in form for Leicester. That’s the problem!

  10. It’s worrying that we are just 9 months from the World cup and we all still have big reservations about problem positions that just won’t lie down.
    What is our best centre pairing? Are our half backs good enough or consistent enough? Has EJ really exhausted his selection options or are certain players still being over looked? Can we manage a game properly? Is Farrell just a huge ticking time bomb? My head hurts!

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  11. Like the thought of an Exeter front row bench coming on as a unit. They will be very comfortable scrummaging together which has to be a plus against the Irish pack. Have to say that I am more inclined to go for Cole just for his reinvigorated scrummaging. If we lose the front row battle in the first 50 minutes or so at the Aviva, we will definitely lose the war.

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