Rugby Union

Rugby World Cup: England's predicted XV

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If England coach Stuart Lancaster has brought anything to the England rugby team since he started over six years ago, it is consistency.

Regularly sticking with the same XV throughout an overseas tour or tournament, clearly he is a strong believer of "if it's not broken, don't fix it". 

With that in mind; this is my predicted England starting line up for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, taking into account their successful RBS Six Nations tournament and of course the fiercely fought play off semi-finals that perfectly summed up the 2014/15 season - a record breaking amount of points and several yellow cards to match.

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15 - Mike Brown (Harlequins)

Despite missing two months with concussion, after he was knocked out whilst playing against Italy in the 2015 Six Nations, Mike Brown has been one of England's most consistent players over the last three years.

Reassuring under the high ball, dangerous in attack and solid as a rock in defense. Brown holds every characteristic that you want in a fullback, and he never fails to disappoint when representing his country. A patriotic talent who leads on and off the pitch.

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14 - Anthony Watson (Bath)

Anthony Watson has been in prolific form this year, scoring tries and gelling week in, week out with the other England internationals in a highly successful Bath team, who are in the Premiership play-offs again this year.

Watson represented England U20's when he was just 17, and has been paying at a level above and beyond his age ever since. A 2015 Six Nations scorer, and nominee for England's Player of the Tournament, he has almost guaranteed his starting spot.

13 - Jonathan Joseph (Bath)

Charismatic center, Jonathan Joseph, burst onto the international rugby scene in this year's 2015 Six Nations, winning the top try scorer award with four scores in four games. His game winning try in the opening fixture against Wales, was the starting point of a tournament that was capped when he was voted as England's Player of the Tournament.

His form in the English Premiership has been frighteningly good, making him a regular in the 'try of the month' nominations and near the top of nearly every statistic. A strong ball carrier with fantastic feet, Joseph has a very bright couple of years ahead of him, starting with the Rugby World Cup.

12 - Brad Barritt (Saracens)

Probably the toughest position to predict; England have a wealth of talented inside centers, all with individual selling points. Barritt just gets the nod from me, as he is immovable in defense and willing to put his neck on the line for his team mates. His strength will unlock his speedy outside center and create overlaps, as it takes three men to stop him.

Close contenders included Kyle Eastmond, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees and Sam Burgess, all of whom will definitely get some World Cup game time, but when it comes down to the crunch games, you can rely on Barritt's defense to hold the back line together. Also able to finish tries strongly, he is a threat in all components of the game. 

11 - Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)

Jack Nowell has been in great form this season, swapping between full-back and wing for the Chiefs, where his try scoring and solid defense has helped drag them to fifth in the league. Nowell enjoyed a strong 2015 Six Nations, scoring three tries and gaining recognition from Stuart Lancaster for his performances.

His selection will be challenged by the likes of Marland Yarde, Chris Asthon, David Strettle and Jonny May, however, I think he will be the top choice come game day.

10 - George Ford (Bath)

Young Fly-half, George Ford, has really excelled when the pressure has been on this season, starting every Six Nation's Game and scoring 75 points along the way. He was not only the top point scorer for the tournament, he was also nominated for England's Player of the tournament Award and was recently crowned the 2014/15 Premiership Player of the Season award.

Given the England number ten jersey due to an injury to Owen Farrell, he has flourished at international level becoming one of the top young stand off's in the world. He represented England U18's at the age of 15, the U20's at 17 and had his full England debut aged 20.

He still holds the record for the youngest ever player to play in the Premiership, when he represented Leicester Tigers at the age of 16 years and 237 days and he is the only English person in history to be awarded the young IRB Player of the Year Award. Always destined for the top, he is a shoe-in for the top point scorer award at this year's Rugby World Cup. 

9 - Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Another fantastically consistent player, Ben Youngs has always played well at international level, collaborating seamlessly with George Ford creating the vital link between the forwards and the backs. Favored to Danny Care in this years Six Nations, I believe he will be the starting scrum half when the Rugby World Cup Starts.

A capped British and Irish Lion, he possess a threat in attack and has proved time and time again he can unlock the wingers in flowing games. The 25-year-old is only two games shy of playing 50 times for England, and his experience will bring yet another layer to his playing performance.

He will be pushed hard by Danny Care and Joe Simpson, but right now there is no better choice. 

8 - Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Saracens' Player of the Year has been in impervious form recently, scoring in the play off semi finals and terrorising players all year. The 20 stone, 6 foot 2 giant, is so difficult to stop close to the line, and has shown a great turn of pace when given a whiff of space. At 22 he has already represented England 17 times, and always brings something to the table. He hits hard, and wont shy away from tackling anyone. With Steffon Armitage overlooked due to him playing abroad, a lot of people will be looking at Vunipola Jr to step up and prove he is just as good. A big game player, he is set to have a storming World Cup. 

7 - Chris Robshaw (C) (Harlequins)

'Captain Fantastic' has been, and will always be, as solid as rock in the England defense and a sheer leader to all who play with him. His tackle count in this years Six Nations was ridiculously high, and his selection is never in doubt. A true patriot, you can really tell he believes in his players. Harlequins have had an off season, yet Robshaw has continued to impress and will be the first name on the team sheet. 

6 - James Haskell (Wasps)

With 58 caps, Haskell is one of the most experienced players in the England squad and this experience was clear in the 2015 Six Nations. He played every game, hitting hard and running fast. His defense was questioned in the early games when he was easily palmed off by Faletau that led to a try in the game against Wales, however his form towards the end of the season for Wasps would earn him a call up alone. A natural born leader who has earned his spot on the team sheet. He will be pushed hard by returning Tom Wood, however I think Haskell gets the nod to start the opening game. 

5 - Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)

6'7" lock Courtney Lawes has proved time and time again he is a valuable asset. His line out skills helped Northampton to a second successive play off place, and his defense is scarily good - just ask France's Jules Plisson, who he smashed with a perfectly executed tackle in their Six Nations clash.

When he is completely injury free, he is one of the most talented players in this England squad and deserves his place in the starting line up. A beast in defense, he will be pushed by Dave Attwood all the way. 

4 - Joe Launchbury (Wasps)

Joe Launchbury missed out on this year's Six Nations tournament, but his form since returning from injury is second to none. He is one of the most secure line out receivers, and will ruck all day long. Launchbury has been in the England set up since he was 17, and has 22 full England elite caps to prove it.

A prolific work horse, if you are ever wondering where he is on the pitch - just look inside the ruck. George Kruis and Geoff Parling will be contenders to start at second row, but I believe Launchbury has got it.

3 - Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)

A solid 'scrummer' and fearless tackler, its hard to think that Dan Cole is only 28 years old. He has built up 50 solid caps, in a career that feels like it has gone on forever. With lots of young front row talent coming through the ranks, with the likes of Kieran Brookes and Luke Cowan-Dickie, this could be Cole's last big tournament; meaning he will fight tooth and nail for that starting spot. Another furious work horse, his pure scum technique alone will be the difference when it comes down to selection day. 

2 - Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

With Dylan Hartley receiving yet another ban for a headbutt, this could be Tom Youngs' time to push through and claim the number 2 jersey for his own. Tom always delivers when he plays, much like his brother Ben, and has an accurate line out throw. The England coaches risk a backlash if they pick Hartley, who has now spent 50 weeks of his career suspended, meaning this is the time for Youngs to bat off his competitors and start the World Cup campaign. Rob Webber will be on his heels throughout, but this could be the time for him to shine. His experience scrumming next to Cole will be invaluable. 

1 - Joe Marler (Harlequins)

Another extremely tough decision, Joe Marler just manages to squeeze his way onto my starting line up ahead of Mako Vunipola. Both very talented loose head's, Marler's experience at the top level gives him the edge.

As with all of the forwards; there will be a certain amount of rotation as the tournament goes on, but I believe Marler will be the first choice when the tournament starts. Always a fierce competitor, he puts his best foot forwards and will never shy away from the contact area. 

A team dominated by those who played in the 2015 Six Nations, it oozes class and a considerable depth of youthful players. The hard working pack have played together many times before and know how to churn out results, whereas the back line have a chance to run some quick, interesting rugby and score plenty of tries. With so many good players knocking on the door, this starting 15 will have to start with a bang against Fiji on September 18th, or they could find themselves replaced for the rest of the tournament. An exciting selection with a genuine chance of winning the World Cup.

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