England rushed flanker Tom Croft back into their starting team yesterday as one of four changes for the Six Nations title decider against Wales tomorrow.
Prop Joe Marler, and halves Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs, were the other players to be recalled by coach Stuart Lancaster.
Joe Launchbury was passed fit to start at lock after hyperextending his elbow in last Sunday’s 18-11 win over Italy, England’s fourth victory in a row, which sets the team up for a shot at the Grand Slam.
“We have come a long way through the [autumn] series and the Six Nations, and we want to finish the job on what will be a fantastic occasion in Cardiff,” Lancaster said.
Croft came on as a substitute against Italy for his first international appearance in a year after breaking his neck — an injury that almost left him paralyzed — and has now been promoted to the starting lineup as a replacement for James Haskell.
His inclusion will add a strong lineout option, as well as more athleticism and mobility, to challenge Wales’ impressive back row.
Flyhalf Farrell replaces Toby Flood, who booted all of England’s points against Italy in a flawless kicking display, in a move that should bring more authority and control to England’s backline. Youngs comes in for Danny Care at scrumhalf.
Mako Vunipola was expected to retain his place at loosehead after a good showing against Italy, but was dropped for Marler, who started the opening three games.
A win will seal a first Grand Slam for England since 2003 — the year they won the World Cup. Even if England lose by six points or less, they will win the title.
However, second-placed Wales can steal the title by winning by eight points or more. If Wales’ winning margin is seven points, it will go to tries scored — and Wales have the edge by two.