England unchanged for pivotal French clash
Published 19/02/2013 | 19:05
ENGLAND head coach Stuart Lancaster has named an unchanged 23-man squad for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations game against France at Twickenham.
Wasps number eight Billy Vunipola was pressing hard for selection until he suffered an ankle injury in training today at England's Surrey headquarters.
As a result, Lancaster will select his starting side from the same matchday 23 that defeated Ireland 12-6 in Dublin, a result which left England top of the Six Nations table.
"We had to make some close calls but the team did very well in Ireland so we've gone with the same squad against France," Lancaster said.
"We are looking forward to getting back to Twickenham against what I am sure will be a highly motivated French team."
France have lost their opening two matches for the first time in Six Nations history. The last time they made such a bad start to the championship was in 1982.
Despite naming an unchanged squad, Lancaster has a number of tight selection decisions to make as he homes in on his starting XV for 'Le Crunch'.
Danny Care has intensified the pressure on incumbent scrum-half Ben Youngs with his match-winning performance for Harlequins against Leicester on Saturday.
Saracens prop Mako Vunipola, who rivalling Joe Marler to be England's loosehead, was similarly impressive against Exeter to stake a claim for his first Test start.
Vunipola has so far used by England as a high-impact replacement but he has impressed forwards coach Graham Rowntree.
"He played well (against Exeter), didn't he? He has been one of the real breakthrough players of the season so far," Rowntree said.
"I am delighted with his progress. He demonstrates the strength we have got in many positions.
"I remember myself as a prop coming on and trying to get up to the pace of the game, trying to make an impact on the game and he does it better than I ever did.
"Who we start, it's no bad thing for a person like him to sit on the bench. What I mean by that is he could start, I'm quite comfortable with him starting. It is horses for courses."
Lancaster has a call to make between Tom Youngs and Dylan Hartley at hooker and he must decide whether to bring Manu Tuilagi back into the midfield or continue with the partnership of Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt.