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The eight England changes I want to see versus Ireland – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
England's Fin Smith, George Furbank and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick has to roll the dice with his selection and game plan for Ireland on March 9 or he is in danger of going through the whole Guinness Six Nations having learned next to nothing.

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Of course, a new defensive system is bedding in under Felix Jones and there are teething problems but we are still not seeing anywhere near enough in attack and some players seem to be hanging on just to win a few more caps.

Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Elliot Daly and George Ford all have a huge number of caps and have had long international careers, but I’m not sure they are offering outstanding leadership and you can’t just wait for them to exit stage left on their own terms.

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Cole is 37 in May, Marler is unlikely to be around at the next World Cup and might decide this summer’s tour to Japan and New Zealand isn’t for him, and the same question marks that have always surrounded Ford are still there.

There are wingers in better form than Daly at the moment and I’m not sure what we are learning by picking him for these last two games of this Six Nations. The 37-year-old Danny Care will also win his 100th cap against Ireland but he isn’t going to be around much longer.

Fixture
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England
23 - 22
Full-time
Ireland
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England have lost three of their five games in the last three straight tournaments and nobody wants that to happen again, but I’d rather suffer that fate while learning something and blooding a few new faces than stick with the status quo and possibly lose narrowly to Ireland and France anyway.

I’m not advocating chucking the ball around against the Irish; that would be suicide. But you have to put your money where your mouth is if you are going to talk about playing an exciting brand of rugby, that starts with the selection and I would be making eight changes to the XV from round three.

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The George Furbank call didn’t pay off completely against Scotland but he scored a try and what he can offer in attack means he deserves a bit of a run in the side, but I would be changing the rest of the back three.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso showed what he can do off the bench in Edinburgh. He has that bit of X-factor that others don’t have so he deserves to start, and it’s about time that Cadan Murley got a look in.

The Harlequins player is a natural-born finisher. I wouldn’t be picking him because he scored a hat-trick against Portugal reserves but I just think a chance at Test level is long overdue and now is as good a time as any.

If you are picking that back three, then Tommy Freeman has to start at outside centre. Henry Slade hasn’t done too much wrong but Freeman has played in the midfield a fair bit for Northampton this season and I’d start him alongside Ollie Lawrence.

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That is a backline that would offer a lot of attacking threat and the key to unleashing it is the return to fitness of Marcus Smith and Alex Mitchell, hopefully both in time to face the reigning Grand Slam champions.

In fairness to Borthwick, I’m sure Smith would have been picked for round one if he had been fit but the pace and creativity that pairing offer is badly needed right now. If Smith isn’t fit, I’d start his namesake Fin.

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Clearly, it’s tough for any of those half-backs to effect the game too much if they are going backwards and George Martin has to start as he has that point of difference in terms of the aggression and the big impacts he can have on the game.

I’m sure Maro Itoje isn’t going to be dropped but I’d start Martin together with his Leicester teammate Ollie Chessum in the second row, and picking Chandler Cunningham-South, Ben Earl and Zach Mercer in the back row would give England more big ball carriers.

Earl has been England’s standout player and is the top carrier in this Six Nations, but he is even better at openside than at No8. I know Mercer isn’t in the squad but he is the best we have got in that position.

You don’t win the Top 14 player of the year in a league that is the land of the giants unless you are some player. He isn’t the same type of player as Caelan Doris but if you look at what the Ireland forwards do in terms of their footwork and work in contact, Mercer is probably about as close as England have to that.

Dan Sheehan is pretty big and Joe McCarthy is an absolute monster in terms of the way he plays as well as his size but apart from them, Ireland’s forwards aren’t all massive humans compared to others in their position but they all punch above their weight.

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England can play the last two games of this Six Nations with the same players and maybe get a result but most likely just lose and not be embarrassed as they are going to be second favourites going into both games. That would be an opportunity missed.

I honestly don’t see what you stand to lose from giving an additional few players a taste of the action, exposure against two of the best teams in the world in recent years, and a chance to impress ahead of a pivotal summer tour in terms of building for the future.

England’s chance of winning the Six Nations, if you thought they had one, has realistically gone even if they do pull off an upset and beat Ireland at Twickenham. A perfect opportunity to learn a lot more has presented itself and Borthwick has to grasp that with both hands.

My England XV to face Ireland
15. George Furbank
14. Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
13. Tommy Freeman
12. Ollie Lawrence
11. Cadan Murley
10. Marcus Smith
9. Alex Mitchell
1. Ellis Genge
2. Jamie George (capt)
3. Will Stuart
4. Ollie Chessum
5. George Martin
6. Chandler Cunningham-South
7. Ben Earl
8. Zach Mercer

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