Stuart Lancaster has entrusted the most important game of his career to the most inexperienced team in Six Nations history.
Lancaster’s chosen XV for a showdown with Wales that will go a long way to determining their grand slam destiny has just 182 caps between them.
It is also a Twickenham debut for Lancaster that could have a significant impact on his chances of landing the head coach’s job on a full-time basis.
Yet in-keeping with the first two months of his reign, Lancaster has thrown caution to the wind and placed his faith in youth.
He has made four changes, three of them tactical and one enforced, with Halifax-born Charlie Hodgson sidelined with a finger injury sustained in training.
Hodgson has been England’s only try-scorer in their two wins to date but typical of his chequered international career, injury has again cut him short in his prime.
“We had a fitness test this morning and it was clear Charlie wasn’t going to be able to catch, pass and grip so it made the decision to rule him out relatively straightforward,” said Lancaster, who has opted to move Owen Farrell from inside centre to fly-half instead of recalling the now fully fit and more experienced Toby Flood.
Farrell will line-up alongside scrum-half Lee Dickson, whose only experience is two substitute appearances against Scotland and Italy.
Ben Morgan at No 8 and Geoff Parling – in for former Leeds lock Tom Palmer in the second row – are the other two changes, both of whom make their first starts.Indeed, seven of Lancaster’s first-choice XV have never started a game for England at Twickenham.
Lancaster said: “If you look at the experience of the two sides, people would say Wales have a lot more consistency in terms of playing together under the same coaching team and their evolution is further down the line.
“I would like to think we are pretty confident internally and have the confidence of the English public and certainly the crowd at Twickenham will be a huge factor for us.
“We are not getting caught up in who is favourite or not, what we are going to be concentrating on is ourselves and trying to get the crowd behind us early in the game. We want to play a brand of rugby that excites the crowd.
“We’ve had a good start with two wins but we’ve got real competition for places and Lee, Ben and Geoff deserve an opportunity to start this game.
“It means that Phil (Dowson) and Ben (Youngs) will provide a different role from the bench and it’s great to have Courtney (Lawes) and Toby (Flood), who can also give us options in what I am sure will be a full-on encounter.
“Charlie’s injury obviously creates a great opportunity to put Owen at 10, Brad (Barritt) at 12 and Manu at 13 which is an exciting combination.
“Part of the decision-making was about time spent together. Fly-half is a key decision-making role and in order to come into the side, you have to have a good knowledge of the systems and structures and the dynamics of how we are trying to operate.
“Not just in terms of attack but defence and our set-piece starter plays. The reality is Toby has been coming back from an injury, has had two comeback games for Leicester. Part of that trade-off is that you release him from England training sessions early because he needs the game time. That was part of it in terms of Toby getting up to speed, but it is also an opportunity to look at Owen at 10.
“He has been with us from the start and before Charlie arrived at Saracens he played for three-quarters of the season which resulted in a Premiership final win.
“Owen has trained throughout and knows our patterns and plays so we are fully confident in his ability to run the game from 10.”
England: B Foden (Northampton); C Ashton (Northampton), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), D Strettle (Saracens), O Farrell (Saracens), L Dickson (Northampton; A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), M Botha (Saracens), G Parling (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Scarlets). Replacements: R Webber (Wasps), M Stevens (Saracens), C Lawes (Northampton), P Dowson (Northampton), B Youngs (Leicester), T Flood (Leicester), M Brown (Harlequins).