Tuilagi to make debut as Stevens and Armitage return to England fold
He may not have endeared himself to England teammate Chris Ashton last season but Manu Tuilagi will be a popular choice when named as an England centre later today.
Mike Tindall may have put off his honeymoon with Zara Philips to return to the England fold but he looks set to miss out on England’s first World Cup warm-up match with Tuilagi and Riki Flutely expected to partner each other in the England midfield.
Lewis Moody returns as captain so with Tindall having no captain duties to fulfil, England coach Martin Johnson is expected to experiment with a bold attacking partnership at inside and outside centre.
Delon Armitage is also expected to return to the fold and with Ben Foden already expecting a strong challenge at full-back from the London Irish player, we could see Armitage taking the place of Foden.
However it’s more likely that Armitage will be handed a place on the wing with Foden at full-back and Chris Ashton on the opposite wing.
With Ben Youngs and Toby Flood expected to play in the half-back positions, this makes for a very exciting and attacking England backline – if Flood can get the distribution out quickly.
Up front Matt Stevens makes his long awaited comeback from a two-year drugs ban at prop and should line-up in the front row alongside Dylan Hartley and Dan Coles.
All eyes will be on who Johnson picks in the second row with Tom Palmer, Courtney Lawes, David Attwood, Dan Ward-Smith and even Tom Croft vying for a spot.
Croft would prefer to play in the back row but with Moody returning and James Haskell likely to move to number eight and Tom Wood, Nick Easter and Hendre Fourie all vying for the other flanker spot, Croft is likely to become a utility player.
It’s a very strong squad and if Martin Johnson goes with youth over established players, it’s a very exciting team and England can start their World Cup preparations on a high.