Eddie Jones raised eyebrows with his team selection to face Ireland - then claimed England are back to their World Cup best.
Jones named a side containing three locks, three outside-centres, two opensides and no number eight for tomorrow’s Triple Crown eliminator at Twickenham.
He picked centre Jonathan Joseph for his 50th cap - but told him he would start on the wing for the first time in his Test career.
He omitted a specialist No.8, again preferring to start openside flanker Tom Curry out of position.
He said injury to George Furbank had forced Elliot Daly’s return to fullback, only for a team spokesperson to later confirm the Northampton star is actually fit to play.
And when asked why Ben Earl had been chosen ahead of Lewis Ludlam on a bench which contains a further two locks and just two backs, he claimed the rookie Saracens flanker was able to play in the back line.
Yet Jones said: “This is a good strong team, one we are really happy with. We’re getting back to our World Cup level. Or even above the World Cup level whereas at the start of the Six Nations we were 20 per cent below that.
“We’ve had a really good preparation. It was a little bit edgy on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday was probably our best session of the Six Nations, by far the most intense we’ve done.”
His view won support from Daly who said: “The prep for the last two weeks has been really good, up to where we’ve been in the last two years and during the World Cup as well.”
The proof will be in the performance of course and having Manu Tuilagi back does give England the hard-yard merchant they lacked in Scotland and for all but the first 15 minutes in France.
Also Ben Youngs, on his 100th England and Lions cap, should be sharper for playing just the last quarter at Murrayfield in a contest where box kicking will be critical.
But in the week that the squad paid a visit to Cirque du Soleil , some might still wonder if selection has become a bit of a circus.
Jones has made a career out of trusting his own judgement and insists the feeling he is getting from training is that his squad are returning to the levels they reached in Japan.
Gone are his extravagant boasts that England can be the oval ball version of Liverpool football club and “the greatest team that ever played rugby”.
But rescaling the heights of the night in Yokohama when New Zealand were put to the sword would certainly do for now.
“Coming back from the World Cup where I thought we played some really good rugby, we got caught in the first game probably assuming that was going to continue,” he admitted.
“But we deliberately built into the tournament because we felt we needed to get the players right first. We’ve done that and we feel we’re close to our best now.”
ENGLAND: Daly; May, Tuilagi, Farrell (capt), Joseph; Ford, Youngs; Marler, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Kruis, Lawes, Underhill, Curry.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Genge, Stuart, Launchbury, Ewels, Earl, Heinz, Slade.
IRELAND: Larmour; Conway, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Herring, Furlong, Toner, Ryan, O'Mahony, van der Flier, Stander.
Replacements: Kelleher, Kilcoyne, Porter, Dillame, Doris, Cooney, Byrne, Earls.