England will be looking for redemption after their dire Guinness Six Nations opener against Scotland when they host Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.
One of the conundrums facing Eddie Jones is who to pick at fly-half after George Ford made way to accommodate Owen Farrell for the Calcutta Cup, only for England’s captain to struggle behind an outmuscled pack.
Here the PA news agency analyses both players ahead of Thursday’s team announcement.
Owen Farrell – Saracens
Position: Fly-half, centre
Debut: v Scotland, 2012
Weight: 15st 3lbs
Points: 975 (Tries 10, conversions 161, penalties 198, drop goals 3)
Win percentage: 77.78
For the first time in his nine-year international career, Farrell’s place in the team is under scrutiny. At his best, the Lions star is a proven match-winner and ferocious competitor who drives England forward. But perhaps due to the inactivity caused by Saracens’ relegation from the Gallagher Premiership and the shunting between fly-half and inside centre, he is struggling for form. Jones has invested heavily in Farrell and despite his waning influence on the field he is highly unlikely to be dropped, but England’s head coach must induce a resurgence from his talisman as quickly as possible.
George Ford – Leicester
Debut: v Wales, 2014
Weight: 13st 7lbs
Points: 308 (Tries 10, conversions 54, penalties 48, drop goals 2)
Win percentage: 76.02
A more instinctive player than Farrell, Ford stands flatter to the gainline and has the vision to release his backs into space. He lacks his rival’s physical presence and can be overpowered in defence, but he is also calmer and his communication with referees is more measured. Picking Ford as chief conductor would not be a panacea for England’s ills, however, as the attack failed to ignite when he started against Wales and France in the autumn. Farrell has been criticised for kicking too much against Scotland, but it is also a claim levelled against Leicester’s general.