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England greats Kay and Robinson give verdicts on Lancaster's selection calls

Two of England's World Cup winners have given their verdicts on the marginal selection calls facing Stuart Lancaster at lock and on the wing for Friday's World Cup opener against Fiji.

Geoff Parling, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury are competing to start in the second row at Twickenham, while Lancaster must overlook one of Anthony Watson, Jonny May and Jack Nowell when announcing his starting XV late on Monday afternoon.

It was hard to envisage an engine-room combination other than Lawes and Launchbury when the series of three warm-up games opened in mid-August, but the line-out malfunction over two Tests against France has made Parling indispensible.

The return of the Exeter-bound 31-year-old against Ireland last weekend resulted in an improvement and former England lock Ben Kay believes it is now merely a question of who he starts alongside, with Courtney Lawes his preferred choice.

"Three weeks ago Lancaster would have been thinking about starting with Lawes and Launchbury but that had to change because they needed to sort out the line-out and Geoff did that," Kay said.

"They'll definitely start with Geoff Parling and I'd also go for Lawes, purely because of his style of play. He's a defensive hitter and if you speak to players from other nations, he's someone they fear.

"But also I believe Launchbury will deal better with coming off the bench. There's a danger with Courtney that if he sits there stewing he will be desperate to come on and make a big hit.

"Joe would be a little more placid, but also when the game opens up he's a more attacking player. And his work-rate would be excellent when players are tiring."

An easier call will be the make-up of the wings with May and Watson almost certain to gain Lancaster's favour after their try-scoring exploits in the first Test against France and then Ireland two weeks later.

Nowell repeatedly broke tackles in Paris, but Jason Robinson believes May has now edged ahead, although he retains misgivings over his concentration levels.

"Before the Ireland game I'd say Watson was my first choice winger and the way May played against Ireland means he has sneaked in front of Nowell," Robinson said.

"May has done some good things and then he has gone missing in games. There are only so many times you can go back to that try he scored against New Zealand in the autumn. You have to build on that.

"The key point for me is whether he can do that continually. It's not a physical thing with him, it's a mental thing. If he can do that then he can cause problems."

The final conundrum lies at number eight where Lancaster must decide whether to start Ben Morgan or Billy Vunipola, with the other confined to the role of impact replacement.

Morgan has proved his fitness over two of the three warm-up matches after seven months out with a broken ankle and Lancaster expressed his admiration for the Gloucester back row after the 21-13 victory over Ireland.

"I thought Ben Morgan was excellent. Billy Vunipola was disappointed with his performance against France but I thought he had a positive impact when he came on," Lancaster said.

"Ben's such a smart rugby player. It's a good position to be in to have two number eights. I can see it going one way and changing the next."

Sam Burgess is likely to continue on the bench after hinting during his final-quarter cameo at Twickenham last weekend that he could be a destructive force when defences have become more ragged.


From Belfast Telegraph