After England’s first ever loss to Fiji at Twickenham, confidence has plummeted ahead of the World Cup. Now with fears of a Group Stage exit ever-present, the England v Argentina fixture sparks great anxiety for English fans.
Below is a playing XV which offers a different approach. There is definitely some controversial calls enclosed, yet there is no reward without risk.
England v Argentina – team selection key to success
When comparing England’s attack to Argentina’s, it’s a real worry. However, the scrum is definitely an area England can gain ascendancy. Thankfully, for England fans, they should edge Samoa and Japan in this area as well. For all the brave performances of Argentina, their scrum has looked fragile in recent games. England should target this area to rack up penalties. It means Joe Marler starts over the more mobile Ellis Genge. It may seem harsh on the vice-captain, but him and Kyle Sinckler provide good impact off the bench.
Second Row: Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum
For all the talk of Itoje’s decline from four years ago, he is still an obvious name on the team sheet. Various contenders have been trialled to partner him, and Chessum has edged the competition.
Back Row: Courtney Lawes, Ben Earl, Lewis Ludlam
This back row is designed for bulk against a tenacious Argentinian defence. Earl has been one of England’s best players over the last few games, whilst Courtney Lawes provides the obvious size and experience. Ludlam’s selection over the much-fancied Jack Willis may raise some eyebrows. However, in an England shirt, Ludlam has played consistently well. Willis hasn’t had the same impact that he has for Toulouse, and Ludlam will hopefully provide a much needed ballast in terms of ball-carrying.
Half Backs: Alex Mitchell, George Ford
Mitchell added some much needed tempo in the Fiji game. The Northampton Saint is a very instinctive player and could provide the spark England need. Ford was heavily criticised for over-kicking against Fiji, but has a proven track-record at international level.
Centres: Manu Tuilagi, Ollie Lawrence
In the first 20 minutes against Fiji, this partnership looked to cause real damage. Both can bust holes in a defence and make post-contact metres. Having both means they can be great decoy runners for each other. Their size is also valuable in patching up what has been a shoddy England defence in recent times.
Back Three: Marchant, Smith, Steward
Probably the most controversial pick with Smith being moved to full-back, and Steward moving to the wing. Borthwick has played with this tactic in the warm-up games, and it should be given a proper opportunity. Much has been spoken about how England have hardly managed to get the ball wide. Two playmakers adds much-needed creativity to the backline, and will get the ball wider far quicker. Beauden Barrett shifting to 15 is currently paying dividends for the All Blacks, and it is worth seeing if Smith can do the same for England.
Steward could still operate at fullback in defence, with Smith moving elsewhere for phases without the ball. But with the ball, this shift could utilise Steward’s qualities more effectively. Rather than leading a counterattack, which Smith’s vision and acceleration is more suited to, Steward can focus on using his skills to finish tries. He is elite under the high ball and his frame could help him be England’s version of Duhan van der Merwe.
Fans will be slamming their keyboards, citing the failures of the Smith and Farrell partnership. These fans should remember the successes of two playmakers (Ford and Farrell) in the 2019 World Cup. Additionally, what didn’t help the Smith-Farrell combination was they were often joined by another creative but slim centre, such as Henry Slade. With Tuilagi and Lawrence there to exploit the holes Ford and Smith can create, the two playmaker-tactic could thrive.
This is no easy game with Argentina in fine form. This year, they have beaten Australia, come close against the Springboks, and put over 60 points on Spain in Madrid. Let’s not forget, they beat England at Twickenham when these sides last met.
Regardless of who England pick, the team will need to have more initiative, creativity, and defensive awareness. There are some ballsy decisions in this XV, but that might be just what Borthwick’s England need.
Connor Dickins has been writing for LWOS Rugby since September 2021, covering a wide variety of topics. His main focus has been on English domestic rugby, as well as interviews with players from across the world. Connor has also written articles for the World Rugby Museum blog 'From the Vaults'. He graduated with a History BA from Essex University in 2016.