Wouldn’t Stuart Lancaster love the thought of an entire injury free England squad to choose from for the upcoming World Cup?
Unfortunately that has not been the case for the England head coach during his time in the international set up since being made permanent in 2012.
So if Stuart and his England coaches had the dream of being able to choose from an injury free roster for the opening game at HQ in this year’s World Cup, who would they choose to represent the red rose?
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1. Joe Marler
Even with the return of Alex Corbisero, the Harlequins captain has proved to become one of the best loose head props in the northern hemisphere with a solid scrummage technique, the ability to get around the park and brilliant defensive displays.
Joe keeps his head down and works hard looking for work in both attack and defence with strong runs and hard hits, his most improved asset in recent times has been his discipline.
He beats the likes of Mako Vunipola and Matt Mullan ,who have proved to be useful substitutions but do not show the scrummaging ability of Marler, which is why he earns the shirt.
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2. Dylan Hartley
The Northampton captain is lucky to still be involved with the England set up due to his poor discipline while on club duty, but Stuart Lancaster has shown faith.
His throwing accuracy in the lineout tops the stats in the Aviva Premiership which has been a useful weapon, while his scrummaging ability proves to be a consistent tool for Hartley. With his hard running and a strong rucking game, Dylan pips Tom Youngs and Rob Webber for the England number 2 shirt.
3. Dan Cole
The Leicester prop has become the cornerstone of the England pack in recent years with solid scrummaging displays and a brilliant all round game, most noticeably Cole’s best asset has been his ability to get his big frame over the ball and win countless penalties which have led to three points on the score board or field position for attack.
Dan earns the shirt from the likes of David Wilson and Kieran Brookes who have proved useful during his absence but who wouldn’t pick the Leicester tight head when he is fit?
4. Courtney Lawes
The hard hitting Northampton second row has become a fans' favourite recently for his trademark big hits, but there is more to the 6ft 7in lock which attracts the eye of the international coaches. A brilliant lineout option with impressive stat lists in both catches and steals, he's an important weapon in the set piece.
In the loose, Lawes has proved himself with impressive carries, strong rucking and exciting defensive displays. Lawes was made the leader of the lineout in the absence of Parling, which proves he become an important selection for Stuart Lancaster. He beats the likes of George Kruis and powerhouse Dave Attwood for the starting role.
5. Geoff Parling
The soon to be Exeter man has been an essential part of the England team in recent years, which led to his Lions call up on the tour to Australia in 2013.
As a reliable lineout option, Parling has become a weapon for both Leicester and England providing the starting base for an attack.
Parling’s defensive displays have not gone unnoticed with hard hits all around the field, his natural leading ability will surely help England throughout the tournament. Geoff beats the injury struck Joe Launchbury who recently made his return to the field.
6. James Haskell
The inclusion of Haskell is sure to raise a few eyebrows with folk who believe Northampton’s Tom Wood Is England's first choice blindside with his tireless work ethic and countless man of the match performances for club and country.
But I believe Haskell offers what England miss with the inclusion of Wood, a six who can get over the gain line. Come this year’s World Cup England need to be going forward rather than backwards to be successful in their pool against the likes of Wales and Australia, which is certainly what the Wasps' captain can offer.
Top of the stats for tackles made and carries, Haskell’s engine never stops for the entire eighty minutes.
7. Chris Robshaw
Robshaw has been at the front of many discussions between pundits and fans since his appointment as captain in 2013, but his performances have certainly silenced them.
He's not known for his ability over the ball such as other sevens like Sam Warburton and David Pocock, but more for his inspiring displays for the entire eighty minutes.
Consistently at the top of the charts for tackles made and rucks hit, Robshaw’s tireless efforts will be essential for the success of England. He beats Matt Kvesic for the seven shirt as the Gloucester man has struggled to display successive, consistent displays.
8. Billy Vunipola
I don’t believe if you asked anyone who has an interest in Rugby Union who they would start at number eight for England, they would not say Billy Vunipola. The Saracens battering ram has been England’s most attacking threat with his barnstorming runs and frightening defensive displays.
He has most noticeably worked hard on his fitness, which has allowed him to dominate teams for the entire eighty minutes. He beats the injury struck Ben Morgan and Exeter Thomas Waldrom.
9. Ben Youngs
This one was probably the hardest to choose as the likes of Joe Simpson, Danny Care and even Will Chudley of Exeter have all been in form for their respective clubs, but I believe Youngs offers England more than a pass from the base of the ruck.
The Leicester man has proved time and time again to make defences think twice around the base of the ruck with his ability to snipe at any given opportunity, and his accurate passing and solid kicking game make him an all-round danger man for opposing teams.
What impresses me most about Youngs is his displays in defence where he is not afraid to put his head where most nines wouldn’t.
10. George Ford
The young fly half pips Saracens Owen Farrell for the ten shirt which some may think is strange. But the Bath ten has a roster of skills to break teams down.
Unlike Farrell, Ford plays right to the gain line with the knowledge to either throw a pass or make a break at any given time which makes him a nightmare to defend.
Despite his size, Ford defends well and has proved this on the international stage. A clever kicker both out of hand and with the tee, Ford surely must start come this year’s World Cup.
11. Jack Nowell
The Exeter man surprised many with his slender frame by being able to break the line with dazzling foot work or brute like strength, in the blink of an eye Nowell can turn a game on his head from a standing start.
Most famous for his odd haircut, the Cornish man has not always been in the England set up as often as people thought. His aerial ability from his time spent at full back as a youngster has allowed the England under-20 World Cup winner to become a threat in both attack and defence, and with a monster right foot Nowell surely must start on the wing.
He beats the inconsistent Jonny May for the left wing spot
12. Manu Tuilagi
Remember that this is only if Lancaster could choose from an injury free squad. The Leicester man has been struck with injury since late October and has a small chance of making the World Cup squad.
He usually wears the thirteen shirt but I believe a shift to inside centre could be what England have been missing even though Lancaster has always preferred another kicking option in the midfield.
A strong runner with the ability to shrug off numerous defenders at will, he would be best suited with twelve on his shirt to allow the twinkle toes of Jonathan Joseph to accompany him in midfield. Tuilagi beats Saracens injury struck Brad Barritt and Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetree’s.
13. Jonathan Joseph
In the 2015 Six Nations, Jonathan Joseph proved to rugby lovers all over the world why he should pull on the thirteen shirt for the red rose. The ability to show a blistering turn of pace from a standing start teared teams apart during the tournament and despite his size, his defensive displays were impressive against the likes of Wales Jonathan Davies and France’s Mathieu Bastareaud.
The Bath man also has a clever kicking game, which is what Lancaster has been looking for in the twelve shirt. Joseph beats Exeter’s Henry Slade and Northampton’s Luther Burrell.
14. Anthony Watson
The young Bath speedster has had a brilliant season so far for both club and country, showing consistent displays at both full back and on the wing.
Watson shows frightening pace from a standing start accompanied with an impressive aerial ability and smart kicking game, he has proved to Lancaster that he should be included in the England squad.
15. Mike Brown
The Harlequins stalwart should be back in time for the World Cup after his concussion against Italy in the 2015 RBS Six Nations, which for both coaches and fans is a big relief.
Brown has proved to be one of the best full backs in world rugby with consistent displays of high quality. His most noticeable asset is his ability to beat the first defender in almost any attacking situation, which has given England the advantage time and time again.
Reliable under the high ball and not afraid to kick and chase or punt into touch, Brown attacking threat is crucial come this year’s competition. Brown beats Saracens Alex Goode and Worcester’s Chris Pennel.
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