With seven changes to the team that beat Georgia 41-10 last Sunday, all the headlines were on HRH Mike Tindall, who has been targeted by the media following the release of CCTV footage of him talking to a woman. The fact nothing of note actually happened has been overlooked by the papers, and it’s not something I would expect to affect Tindall’s performance as he replaces Shontayne Hape. Martin Johnson is clever enough not to take the risk if he even thought there was a chance. And who would argue with Johnno? Anyone? Exactly…
In what could be considered close to the first choice XV, Mark Cueto makes his return for the unfortunate Delon Artmitage. Manu Tuilagi is given another chance to find his feet at the top level at outside centre, and Jonny Wilkinson slots back in to fly-half after an encouraging performance last week from Toby Flood.
In the pack Alex Corbisero steps into the hefty shoes of the injured Andrew Sheridan for only his ninth cap and Dan Cole continues to be favoured. The second row sees Louis Deacon partnered by Tom Pamer, with Tom Croft returning in the place of Tom Wood, Haskell again for the injured Easter and Lewis Moody to continue his return to full fitness.
Romania make 11 changes to the team that lost against Argentina. The Romanians will be hoping to replicate the way they pushed Scotland for the middle 50 minutes of that match, and the battle of the front rows, with hooker Tincu being particularly impressive so far this tournament, being one to watch.
As I said last week, England should be looking to score 40 points as a minimum on Saturday. I would expect to see an improved Moody who is given a full 80 minutes, and I hope Cueto gets a try. A regular in the backline, it is normally only in the ‘tries scored’ column that his game lacks.
Toby Flood looked a happier player against Georgia than he did during the warm-up games, the weight of public expectations clearly weighing heavily on his shoulders then. Now, on the other side of the world, he has thrown down the gauntlet to Wilkinson to inspire a more fluid attacking game, to go with his exemplary defence and kicking.
Within the pack Shaw is unlucky to miss out after an all action display in the previous game, while Corbisero will be keen to match the standards set by his hero Sheridan. And Haskell continues his battle for the number 8 shirt, something I would expect him to succeed in if he continues his current run of form. However it is the importance of Cole as a scrummager that should not be underestimated.
One thing to watch for is the penalty count. In the World Cup winning side of 2003 the aim was a single digit penalty count. This team surpassed that last week within the first 30 minutes…
England: Ben Foden (Northampton Saints); Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Mike Tindall (Gloucester Rugby), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks); Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Steve Thompson (London Wasps), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), Lewis Moody (Bath Rugby, capt), James Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams).
Replacements: Lee Mears (Bath Rugby), David Wilson (Bath Rugby), Simon Shaw (Unattached), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Delon Armitage (London Irish).
Romania: Florin Adrian Vlaicu, Stefan Eugen Ciuntu, Ionel Cazan, Iulian Dumitras, Adrian Marian Apostol, Marin Danut Dumbrava, Lucian Mihai Sirbu; Nicolae Nere, Bogdan Zebega Suman, Silviu Florea, Valentin Poparlan, Cristian Constantin Petre (capt), Sandu Stelian Burcea, Cosmin Aurel Ratiu, Ovidiu Tonita.
Replacements: Marius Tincu, Paulica Ion, Mihai Macovei, Daniel Gabriel Ianus, Valentin Nicolae Calafeteanu, Csaba Minya Gal, Catalin Marius Nicolae.