England will take 17 forwards and 13 backs to New Zealand for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, but it’s a back that is expected to play the biggest role in England’s bid.
Martin Johnson’s decision to not take Riki Flutey means England have just the one specialist inside centre in Shontayne Hape.
Hape played every game of England’s successful Six Nations victory but the London Irish centre has failed to convince his critics that he is the man to fill one of the centre spots in New Zealand.
Johnson sees something that the others don’t however and it’s highly likely we’ll see Hape at inside centre to start, however a poor performance would see the centre come under huge pressure for his place in the team.
Which leaves Jonny Wilkinson as the key element to England’s backs set-up, and the 2003 World Cup winner can expect to play a very important role in this England side.
Nobody other than Johnson knows whether or not Wilkinson or Flood will start the tournament at number 10, and a number of ineffectual performances from Flood means Wilkinson may just have the slight edge.
But while those two may be concentrating on the battle for the number 10 spot, we could see them play alongside each other should Hape fail to fire.
Both Wilkinson and Flood have experience at inside centre, and while many are touting Flood for the role should Hape disappoint, Wilkinson may be the dark horse to lead England from the backs.
England open their campaign against Argentina, possibly the toughest game in their group, and Johnson is unlikely to make drastic changes to the side that won the Six Nations.
However, should Argentina win, changes will be made and England fans can expect Wilkinson to be Johnson’s ‘plan B’.
Backs: Delon Armitage (London Irish), Ben Foden (Northampton), Chris Ashton (Northampton), Mark Cueto (Sale), Matt Banahan (Bath), Shontayne Hape (London Irish), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester), Toby Flood (Leicester, 26, 41), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Joe Simpson (Wasps), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Ben Youngs (Leicester).
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Andrew Sheridan (Sale), Matt Stevens (Saracens), David Wilson (Bath), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Lee Mears (Bath), Steve Thompson (Wasps), Louis Deacon (Leicester), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Simon Shaw (unattached), Tom Croft (Leicester), Nick Easter (Harlequins), James Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams), Lewis Moody (Bath), Tom Wood (Northampton)