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Centres of attention - the big selection dilemmas in Paris
England boss Stuart Lancaster heads to Paris on Saturday still searching for the missing pieces of his rugby jigsaw.
Coaches are an odd breed, many claim to love a headache – as long as it’s selection-based.
For England boss Stuart Lancaster, the time is fast approaching when he may well be reaching for extra-strong painkillers as he searches for the 31 best rugby players in the land for global domination.
England travel to Paris to face RBS 6 Six Nations rivals France on Saturday night, with only winger Jonny May retaining his place from the side which beat the same opposition 19-14 at Twickenham last week. This is where things get serious. Really serious.
A scan of names on the team-sheet suggests this week’s XV is getting very close to Lancaster’s first-choice line-up with captain Chris Robshaw, fly-half George Ford and lock Courtney Lawes among 12 of the players who also started the 55-35 Six Nations win over France in March. You might remember that one.
The thousands of England fans heading across the Channel to roar on their side at the Stade de France might just be keen to remind their French counterparts of that remarkable day at Twickenham, given half the chance.
Much of the focus will be in midfield with Jonathan Joseph and Luther Burrell renewing their partnership in the centres. The limelight will be firmly on the duo after last week’s impressive performances by Sam Burgess – the ex-rugby league star who has shaken things up (in more ways than one) – and Henry Slade.
With Brad Barritt temporarily out of action with a minor calf injury and Billy Twelvetrees itching to start from the bench, the battle for the 12 and 13 shirts is an intriguing sub-plot to an already heavyweight fixture.
Slade’s silky handling skills or Burgess’s battering ram physicality? Barritt’s excellence in defence or Burrell’s barnstorming power? These are the debates occupying Lancaster and his coaching team – not to mention millions of England fans.
Elsewhere, uncapped Saracens hooker Jamie George will look to make the most of his opportunity off the bench, lock Joe Launchbury is seeking to prove his fitness after a lengthy absence and Danny Cipriani is also desperate to get in the mix.
Decisions, decisions, decisions…