Monday, 4 February 2013
Fullback: Although Alex Goode was rather excellent in the November internationals, against Scotland on Saturday he was unusually hesitant, indecisive and off-the-pace. Mike Brown’s quality is far better served at fullback than on the wing so he gets the shirt, with Goode going back to Sarries to get match fit.
Wings: Chris Ashton played well enough to keep the 14 shirt, but with Brown moving to fullback there’s a vacancy at 11. If David’s Strettle’s the answer then I don't know what the question is. Manu Tuilagi is an option but with the expectation of it raining Garryowen’s in Dublin a second fullback might be handy so in comes Ben Foden.
Centres: this is the biggest call of all. A fit Tuilagi is our biggest ball-in-hand threat, but Billy Twelvetrees was excellence personified at Twickenham. The question is do we go with the best attacking option - a Twelvetrees-Tuilagi combo - or do we focus on the vital defensive organisation that Brad Barritt brings? So…deep breath…forget pragmatism, it's time for a statement of intent - let’s be relentlessly positive and start with Billy Twelvetrees and Manu Tuilagi.
Fly half: Owen Farrell, the most obvious of no-brainers, at least this week.
Scrum half: another easy one - Ben Youngs, with Danny Care providing back up.
Props: Dan Cole’s a shoe-in, with Joe Marler doing just enough to hold off Mako Vunipola.
Hooker: Tom Youngs has taken to international rugby brilliantly, but it’s time to bring back Dylan Hartley for his nous and aggressive scrummaging.
Locks: a Launchbury-Lawes combo is undoubtedly the future, but for now Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling will do just fine.
Flankers: in Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw we are blessed with two Richard Hills – and praise doesn’t come much higher than that. When Tom Croft gets back up to speed he may have to consider switching to lock or number 8 just to get a look in.
Number 8: With Ben Morgan looking unlikely to recover from his ankle injury this is another huge call. Tom Wood switched to 8 against Scotland with James Haskell coming onto the blindside, but I don’t want to start against Ireland without a specialist 8. So, Thomas the Tank Engine? No, I don’t think so. Let’s be bold again here and give Billy Vunipola his debut.
And the bench? Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, David Wilson, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Danny Care, Toby Flood, Brad Barritt.