If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Keeping the faith can see England - and Tuilagi - end on a high

The selection of Manu Tuilagi - for what could be his last international appearance - might be a clever one by Borthwick
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If Steve Borthwick could have kept the same starting XV who clinched the stunning win over Ireland for their final Six Nations match against France, the England boss would likely have kept the faith.

Instead, he has been forced into one change with Elliot Daly coming in for the impressive Immanuel Feyi-Waboso who has been ruled out with concussion.

Feyi-Waboso will be a loss for England in Lyon but with Daly coming off the bench, his spot amongst the replacements has been filled by Manu Tuilagi, who could well make his final international appearance.

Given the physical challenge that France will pose on Saturday evening, Tuilagi’s recall will hopefully fill a void left by back-row starlet Chandler Cunningham-South who is out with a calf injury.

If we think of players with power over the last decade, when fit, England have often turned to Tuilagi and his inclusion could offer a way for Borthwick’s side to cope with the giants that will step off the French bench.

A tiring Les Bleus backline will not want him running at tired shoulders going into the last quarter of the match, especially if England up the tempo with both Harlequins halfbacks Danny Care and Marcus Smith coming off the bench.

If Tuilagi were to come on at 12, it could give Ollie Lawrence the chance to slide out to 13 and attack those outside defenders like we know he can do.

For Tuilagi, he is set for a possible England swansong - with the 32-year-old expected to exit Sale Sharks in the summer - but his selection does leave the back three a little light of cover.

However, we have seen Henry Slade slot in at full-back and Smith play there at the World Cup so perhaps that is also behind Borthwick’s decision-making.

As referenced earlier, the absence of 21-year-old Feyi-Waboso is a big one as we saw how brilliant he was last week on his first start, but Daly - when he has played so far in this tournament - has been no slouch, and his kicking game could be valuable.

With the French usually opting to kick longer, Daly and George Furbank’s kicking ability should cope with that very well.

For Furbank, this is his third consecutive start and this fixture away in France will mean a lot to him.

After an uncomfortable debut away in Paris in 2020 to being thrown into the last game of the 2022 Six Nations at the Stade de France, they are perhaps not the fondest memories for the Northampton Saints man but having scored in the last two rounds and seemingly in the form of his life, Furbank will be desperate to leave his stamp on this latest clash against Les Bleus.

Lastly, the selection of George Ford may have surprised a few but it is probably the clearest indication of Borthwick showing trust in those who have garnered success.

Marcus Smith’s heroics off the bench last week might have earned him a start at No.10 but I believe it is another smart selection from Borthwick as Ford was impressive in phase play against Ireland.

His goal-kicking is something that will have to improve, but his experience of running the game at Test level against opposite number Thomas Ramos could be pivotal.

England will be aiming for their first Six Nations victory in France since 2016 and whilst they do have an outside chance of actually winning the championships on Saturday, the squad Borthwick has picked gives his side a great chance to sign off on a high and leave their fans with a sense of optimism for what is to come.

France: Barre; Penaud, Fickou, Depoortere, Bielle-Biarrey; Ramos, Le Garrec; Baille, Marchand, Atonio, Flament, Meafou, Cros, Ollivon, Alldritt (capt).

Replacements: Mauvaka, S Taofifenua, Colombe, R Taofifenua, Roumat, Boudehent, Lucu, Moefana.

England: Furbank; Freeman, Slade, Lawrence, Daly; Ford, Mitchell; Genge, George (capt), Cole, Itoje, Martin, Chessum, Underhill, Earl.

Replacements: Dan, Marler, Stuart, Roots, Dombrandt, Care, M Smith, Tuilagi.