Clive Woodward and Danny Cipriani join Sportsmail's selection panel to pick an England starting XV

England are entering a new era. Eddie Jones has overhauled his coaching staff and next week will announce a revamped team ahead of autumn Tests against Tonga, Australia and South Africa. There are endless areas of debate. 

So Sportsmail brought together a selection panel of Sir Clive Woodward, new columnist Danny Cipriani and rugby correspondents Chris Foy and Nik Simon – to settle on a starting XV from the squad. 

Needless to say it was not easy – there was a unanimous verdict in just four positions! 


Chris Foy: Hello everyone, thanks for coming. So, there will be a lot of upheaval behind the scrum – let’s start there.

Nik Simon: I don’t think Ben Youngs will be the starting scrum-half in 2023 but we need to make new No 10 Marcus Smith’s transition as easy as possible – and having a scrum-half with 100-plus caps does that.

Sir Clive Woodward (right) and Danny Cipriani (left) put their views across during a lively selection meeting with Sportsmail reporters Chris Foy and Nik Simon

Sir Clive Woodward (right) and Danny Cipriani (left) put their views across during a lively selection meeting with Sportsmail reporters Chris Foy and Nik Simon

CF: Are we all agreed on Smith at 10, before we continue?

Danny Cipriani: It’s tough on Owen Farrell because he has started the season so well but Smith has picked up from where he left off last season.

Sir Clive Woodward: I’m a massive fan of Farrell at 10 but I don’t think he’s an international 12. We have to start Smith in all three Tests to find out what he’s about. Then we will know who plays 10 in the Six Nations. I’m looking forward to seeing Smith playing but the recent Sale game sticks in my head when Quins were on the back foot and Smith looked a bit shell-shocked.

CF: That Lions tour was the first time Farrell has not been the king-pin. He was a peripheral figure.

DC: With England, you spend so much time working on your exits that it becomes easier. On the back foot, Smith will turn slow-ball situations into quick ball by finding space. I’m going for Harry Randall at nine because of the speed he plays at. He reads the game quickly and he’s the most similar option to Danny Care.

CW: Eddie will pick Youngs. I’d like to see the young lad from Leicester – Jack van Poortvliet, but given he’s not in the squad I’ll go with Youngs. Actually, I want Smith to completely control the game and I think Randall will really look after him, so I’m agreeing with Danny on Randall.

CF: They’ve made a pig’s ear of scrum-half succession planning for years. There has been a complete lack of clarity. Youngs has been a great player and provides a nice insurance policy to close out a game but I love seeing a scrum-half with quick ball, leaping over the legs at rucks, playing with tempo. Randall is like Care in that way. If you’re going to let Smith fly, let him fly with a guy like that.


CF: OK, so the midfield.

NS: I’ve ended up going with Farrell at 12 because he’s in form with Saracens.

CW: But he has been playing at 10.

NS: I’d try Farrell and Smith together. But Farrell has to let Smith be in control. Manu Tuilagi is a shoo-in so it’s between Farrell and Henry Slade.

Sportsmail's selection panel found it difficult to reach unanimous decisions on the players

Sportsmail’s selection panel found it difficult to reach unanimous decisions on the players

DC: Henry has started the season on fire too, though. Farrell can play at 12 but is he going to overshadow Marcus? It has to be clear Marcus is running the show as the 10. What he has at Quins with Andre Esterhuizen is someone who is on fire, who can take on the gainline but also ball-play. You want a 12 who can ball-play with Smith. That’s why Manu works well one place wider. When he’s at 13 he is running at outside shoulders. At 12, he’s running at back-rowers and is in front of the biggest tacklers. He still makes yards but one place wider, he’s more devastating.

CW: I’m going with Manu at 12. The best I’ve seen England play under Jones was in Ireland when they were underdogs but smashed the Irish. It was Farrell, Tuilagi, Slade at 10, 12, 13 that day. The one position Tuilagi should play is inside centre and the one position Slade should play is outside centre.

NS: Farrell did media this week and normally he pours cold water on everything but he was talking up Smith. It’s almost like he realises he has to do that.

CF: Maybe he can just see that Smith is coming and it doesn’t matter what Farrell does, so he might as well work with him.

CW: If England are playing in Auckland or Pretoria with Smith at 10 and Farrell at 12 there’s nothing scary about that. I want to be clear – I love Owen but I want to see him or Smith at 10.

DC: I’ve just got plays in my head that I can see, when you’ve got a ball-playing 12 and a 10 who can shift it, too. You’ve also got a devastating kicking game from all over the field.

CW: You wouldn’t call Manu a ball-playing 12 but Slade is a ball-player, so they can get him in that position, too. He’s as good a passer as anybody.

England are entering a new era and next week Eddie Jones will announce a revamped team

England are entering a new era and next week Eddie Jones will announce a revamped team

CF: If Manu is fit he has to be in that team. Any team preparing to play England see Tuilagi in their nightmares. So I have Tuilagi and Slade. It’s a split vote. Can we reach a consensus?

DC: Well, I wrote down Manu at 12… Yeah, I’ll go with that.

NS: If we have Tuilagi at 12, it has to be Slade at 13.


CF: OK! Now for the back three.

NS: Freddie Steward at full back, Max Malins and Adam Radwan on the wings. Guys at Newcastle say Radwan is a tough, northern version of Louis Rees-Zammit. He’s rapid and does things you don’t expect.

Malins is classy and scoring a load of tries. He’s a full back as well so he can add to that backfield cover, then Freddie is Mr Safe at the back – England haven’t really had that since Mike Brown.

CF: Clive, I sense you’re going to disagree…

CW: Ha ha! My back three included [Louis] Lynagh but he’s not in the squad – which he should be. I think Eddie will go for Steward at full-back and you’re all saying he is Mr Reliable. I don’t want the full back to be Mr Reliable, I want him to be Mr Gas and Mr Wow! In attack, I don’t think Steward is as dangerous as Malins and I want an attacking full back.

DC: I’ve gone for Malins on the left wing because most teams have right-footed kickers, so he can work on the pendulum with Steward, who should start at full back. Radwan on the other wing, but you need to give him licence. He’s that type of explosive athlete who can do something from nothing.

Manu Tuilagi was preferred to Owen Farrell at inside centre in our England starting XV

Manu Tuilagi was preferred to Owen Farrell at inside centre in our England starting XV

CF: Radwan has been one of the most talked-about players. He has X-factor, but is he the guy who won’t be so good under the high ball or won’t be so good chasing kicks or tracking back?

CW: We need to find out. He has to play.

DC: England should be aiming to match the speed and power of opponents, rather than being safe and reliable with who they pick.

CF: We’re not damning Steward by saying he’s just a safe pair of hands. He might not have express pace but he is a graceful, balanced runner, who picks good lines. He is also big and strong. So if you’ve got an all-round game AND you will catch everything – surely that is valuable.

DC: I think Radwan will explode into the international game.

CF: I was going for Jonny May on one wing but I’ve been sold on Radwan! Can we all agree that Malins and Radwan should be in?

CW: Definitely.

DC: Or May, but we can go with Malins if that’s the majority!

CW: OK, I like the balance with Steward, Malins and Radwan.


NS: Now for the front row. Kyle Sinckler is my captain, Joe Marler is having a second wave in his career and Jamie George rarely has a bad game. They’re my trio.

DC: England’s strength is their set-piece and you want people to fear it. Ellis Genge is a leader and has come to the forefront at Leicester, so he starts. Genge and Sinckler have come through the ranks and bring a wow factor. There aren’t too many props you can say that about. Jamie’s lineout is so strong and the driving maul is a huge part of the game now, so he’s in.

CW: I see Genge and Sinckler like Trevor Woodman and Phil Vickery – they can run around, tackle and have real X-factor. I’d always have George in my team. He’s a class act.

CF: We’re all 100 per cent on George and Sinckler. I was shocked George wasn’t picked initially. There’s no way he isn’t one of the top two hookers in the country, alongside Luke Cowan-Dickie.

DC: But Eddie doesn’t pick on form.

Harlequins protege Marcus Smith is expected to wear the No 10 jersey for the autumn Tests

Harlequins protege Marcus Smith is expected to wear the No 10 jersey for the autumn Tests

CW: What do you mean?

DC: Christian Wade, Sam Simmonds. It takes a lot for him to make changes. It isn’t until his back is against the wall that he makes changes. A year ago he could have made changes but was too stubborn.

CF: We all agree on George. He would be my captain. He’s a good leader and communicator. I’d say Marler for his set-piece work. Do the hard yards early on then allow Genge to erupt off the bench. But as we have a dead heat at loosehead, I’d say Genge has more personal momentum from leading Leicester on their winning run, so let’s go with it.


NS: First lock is easy. Maro Itoje. He is a World XV player.

CF: That’s a gimme.

CW: He’s my captain.

DC: Mine, too.

NS: Courtney Lawes can play six but there are so many options in the back row. He has played most of his career at lock. He hits hard and sets the tone. And if you want to speed up the tempo, he’s a real athlete. There’s no way you leave him out of the XV.

DC: I’d go Jonny Hill with Courtney at six. Lineout is a huge part of the game and you want a big pack. Jonny is lethal from five yards out. He scores a lot of tries and is a smart footballer.

CW: Lawes for me. I like people playing in their best positions and Lawes is a superb second row. As soon as you start picking him at six, you’re trying to match the South Africans. We’ve got to play different to the South Africans. We’ve got to play faster. I want my back row to be lightning quick and we’re too slow with Lawes at six.

CF: I’m in the Lawes camp. His carrying is outstanding, while his handling at close quarters is brilliant, too. He and Itoje can both call the lineout and they’ve played together before. It’s three votes for that option, so that’s the verdict.


NS: Back row, and Tom Curry and Sam Underhill are on the flanks. The Kamikaze Kids. They were immense at the 2019 World Cup and work so well in tandem. We’ve not seen much of Underhill since the World Cup but he has won 17 of the 20 Tests he’s started. They do all the gritty work in the collision area and that will free up Alex Dombrandt to make things happen in attack. If we’ve got Smith, let’s pick Dombrandt. The way they play together is almost telepathic.

DC: I’d pick Curry or Underhill. I want more attacking prowess. I’ve gone with Lawes, Curry and Dombrandt, but Underhill has been on fire. You’ve just got to give the ball to Dombrandt and let things happen because his confidence is sky-high. Simmonds is so fast and dynamic as a bench option.

CW: I’m very clear on my back row. Underhill and Curry, with Simmonds at 8. Simmonds is the most explosive and the fastest. I don’t care who wears which number. You start with your best team. I like Dombrandt but he would be on the bench.

DC: You need a carrier in your back row. If you had Simmonds and Dombrandt in your back row in the last 20 minutes you could cause havoc.

CF: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so why split up Curry and Underhill? It works in Dombrandt’s favour that he’s established with Smith. Lawes is one of our locks so we’ve got Curry and Underhill – and Dombrandt gets in on a majority vote ahead of Simmonds.


CF: Right, without Farrell in our side, we need a leader. The nominations are Itoje, George and Sinckler. Who should it be?

CW: Itoje.

DC: I’m going with Itoje, too.

NS: Sinckler. The role of captain has changed. We talk about selling the game and the captain is the face of the team. Who do you want to be the face of your team? Kyle is the guy. People love listening to him and he represents the diversity of the squad. He can be the public face and then you build the leadership group around him.

CF: I’m saying George, so the majority verdict is Itoje.

DC: It should be Itoje because he’ll definitely start.

CW: A captain has to be the first name on the team sheet. For me, the only certain starters are Curry, Itoje and probably Sinckler. Itoje ticks most of the boxes but he is not captaining his club.

CF: Right, we’ve done it! Not a bad team! Thanks all.