Joe Marler and Will Stuart recalled as England shuffle front row for All Blacks

Bevan Rodd and Dan Cole are the men to make way for Saturday’s first Test in Dunedin.

Joe Marler and Will Stuart have been promoted to England’s starting front row
Joe Marler and Will Stuart have been promoted to England’s starting front row (Andrew Matthews/PA)

England have revamped their front row for Saturday’s first Test against New Zealand by giving starts to props Joe Marler and Will Stuart.

Marler replaces Bevan Rodd at loosehead while Stuart is preferred ahead of Dan Cole in the number three jersey as head coach Steve Borthwick makes only two changes for the clash in Dunedin.

Rodd played 44 minutes in the 52-17 victory over Japan that opened the tour on June 22 but is left out of the 23 altogether against the All Blacks with uncapped Fin Baxter preferred as bench cover.

If Baxter makes his debut at Forsyth Barr Stadium it will continue the 22-year-old rookie’s stellar season that has featured standout performances for Harlequins in Europe.

At the other end of the experience spectrum is 37-year-old Cole, Baxter’s front-row colleague among the replacements who is poised to make his 114th Test appearance to become England’s second most capped player alongside Jason Leonard.

While the starting XV remains largely intact, the bench has undergone significant change with only hooker Theo Dan, flanker Tom Curry and fly-half Fin Smith still present following the eight-try rout of Japan.

Alex Coles replaces Charlie Ewels after the Bath lock’s tour started and ended in Tokyo because of the red card and subsequent two-match ban received for a dangerous clear-out.

Ben Spencer provides scrum-half cover for Alex Mitchell at the expense of Harry Randall and wing Ollie Sleightholme could make his debut after being preferred ahead of Tom Roebuck, who won his first cap against Japan.

Fin Baxter could make his England debut off the bench
Fin Baxter could make his England debut off the bench (Adam Davy/PA)

England’s starting XV – particularly the backline – has a settled look and attack coach Richard Wigglesworth has revealed it is part of a long-term policy to prioritise familiarity in selection.

“We know the only way of getting experience is getting out there and playing,” Wigglesworth told Sky Sport NZ.

“Hopefully the core of this team can stay together for a long time. You don’t want to be chopping and changing the whole time otherwise the shared experiences we get in places like New Zealand aren’t going to be worth much.

“We want to get these guys to grow over the next few years and hopefully they’ll become really good Test match players.”

Marcus Smith inspired England to a 25-25 comeback draw with the All Blacks the last time the rivals met in 2022 by producing a thrilling cameo off the bench at Twickenham.

Now the Harlequins fly-half is the team’s playmaker in chief after taking the number 10 jersey ahead of the injured George Ford and inexperienced Fin Smith.

“We’re blessed in the position and Marcus has some different skills that he brings to fly-half – the boy can run,” Wigglesworth said.

“You don’t have to rein him in because he wants to be well rounded and not just do the flashy stuff.

“He wants to put his head in the spokes and make the tackles, he wants to be a brilliant tactician. As with all good fly-halves, he wants to lead the team.

“We want to play good English rugby. We need a strong set-piece and a strong kicking game. And we want to use the ball really well.”

England team: G Furbank (Northampton Saints); I Feyi-Waboso (Exeter Chiefs), H Slade (Exeter Chiefs), O Lawrence (Bath Rugby), T Freeman (Northampton Saints); M Smith (Harlequins), A Mitchell (Northampton Saint), J Marler (Harlequins), J George (Saracens, capt), W Stuart (Bath Rugby), M Itoje (Saracens), G Martin (Leicester Tigers), C Cunningham-South (Harlequins), S Underhill (Bath Rugby), B Earl (Saracens).

Replacements: T Dan (Saracens), F Baxter (Harlequins), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), A Coles (Northampton Saints), T Curry (Sale Sharks), B Spencer (Bath Rugby), F Smith (Northampton Saints), O Sleightholme (Northampton Saints).