Hartley in race to prove fitness ahead of England squad announcement

England head to the cauldron of the Stade de France on Saturday targeting a swift reaction following their Round Three defeat to Scotland almost a fortnight ago.

England head to the cauldron of the Stade de France on Saturday targeting a swift reaction following their Round Three defeat to Scotland almost a fortnight ago.

Eddie Jones’ men had been shaping up well in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations with victories over Italy and Wales, but now require a win to get their title-defence campaign back on track.

Ahead of Jones’ squad announcement on Thursday, we take a look at a few things to look out for when he names his 23.

Click here for the complete 2018 NatWest 6 Nations fixture list


As well as perhaps considering shuffling his pack after the defeat in Edinburgh, Jones has some injury concerns this week also – chief among them over captain Dylan Hartley.

Jones has only once omitted hooker Hartley from a Test starting line-up, against Samoa in the autumn, and talked up his skipper following the Round Three defeat.

England forwards coach Steve Borthwick reported on Tuesday that Hartley had some tightness in his calf, with Exeter Chiefs’ Luke Cowan-Dickie called up as injury cover.

Fortunately for England, should Hartley fail to make it, they have strong options in line to replace him with Jamie George bringing his British & Irish Lions experience and Cowan-Dickie in superb form for his club.


One of the areas in which Scotland seemed to get the advantage over England at BT Murrayfield was in the battle for the breakdown, with flankers Hamish Watson and John Barclay securing several key turnovers and Barclay going on to win man of the match.

There has been much speculation as to whether Jones will make changes in this area or retain his selection of Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw and Nathan Hughes.

The bad news for Jones is that possible alternatives Sam Underhill and Zach Mercer have been ruled out due to injury, but the good news is that Sam Simmonds is fit to return having starred in Round One against Italy.

Wasps man James Haskell is another alternative and was retained in the 27-man squad named on Tuesday afternoon, having been one of Jones’ key men in previous campaigns.


No.8 Nathan Hughes stated this week that England are targeting a fast start in France and are looking to play an expansive game, even amidst the expected rain in Paris.

Looking at the Championship table England will no doubt have in mind that any bonus points available would be extremely useful as they look to chase down pace-setters Ireland, and could look to attack more than in previous weeks.

With that in mind, will Jones stick with the more defensive full-back Mike Brown? Or could he perhaps opt to give fit-again Elliot Daly or Anthony Watson an opportunity in the No.15 shirt?

Another back-three option would be the in-form Denny Solomona, who has been retained in the squad this week fresh from scoring a hat-trick at the weekend for Sale Sharks.

However, Jack Nowell will not be selected after being ruled out for the remainder of the Championship with an ankle injury.


Another area where Jones has options is in the midfield, where he has occasionally tinkered with selection at outside centre – Ben Te’o starting against Italy and Jonathan Joseph getting the nod against Wales and Scotland.

There is speculation that fly-half George Ford could make way, with Owen Farrell moving to No.10 as happened in the final quarter in Edinburgh.

But Jones has so far put faith in a team with both Ford and Farrell in it and that selection would be a big change to make mid-Championship.