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'A loss to Italy does not seem completely ridiculous'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Chris Ricco/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Former England international Austin Healey is giving Italy a sporting chance of causing a Guinness Six Nations upset this Sunday in Rome due to the confusion over the style of play that Eddie Jones’ team is supposed to be playing. The Italians have not won a championship match since 2015 and go into this weekend’s encounter on a run of 33 straight losses following last Sunday’s defeat to France.    

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Healey has become a vocal critic of the methods that Jones has been using in charge of England and writing in his latest Telegraph column before the Australian unveiled a starting XV for Rome that shows six changes following last weekend’s Six Nations loss to Scotland, he used the now benched Ben Youngs as an example of what is currently going wrong.

Youngs is one of five starters from Murrayfield to drop to the replacements, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Sam Simmonds and Elliot Daly the other four, and the centurion No9’s jersey has gone to Harry Randall, who will be starting a Six Nations match for the first time in his England career.

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You have to wonder will these changes now pacify Healey, who didn’t hold back in his criticisms of Jones’ England in his pre-team announcement newspaper column. “When I see someone like Ben Youngs, England’s most-capped scrum-half of all time, you start to wonder whether Eddie has turned off people’s instincts,”  wrote Healey.

“Has he made them so stringent in the patterns they follow, that they actually forget the nature of opportunity?

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“What we are seeing is players are staying blindly loyal to the framework, but the framework keeps changing. Players are getting tens of caps because they are obedient and are following exactly what the coach wants them to do. 

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“Youngs is a prime example. He is the best of all the scrum-halves put together when he is allowed to play by instinct. What I saw from him last weekend against Scotland was that he stopped at every ruck to make a decision, rather than feel a decision.

Youngs has 100-odd caps, but look at how much he has needed to change his style in order to fit in. How many times recently have we seen him pick up from the base and increase the tempo, like when he scored against Wales in last year’s Six Nations? That is Youngs at his best.

“Youngs is a better running scrum-half than Harry Randall. People will read that and go ‘no way’, but I am telling you that he is. Box-kicking – Youngs is nearly as good as Richard Wigglesworth. Danny Care’s ability to spot space from tapped penalties? Youngs at his best does that too. He has 100 caps for a reason. Allow the players to be the best versions of themselves rather than fitting them into who you want them to be, Eddie.”

The benching of Youngs at Friday morning’s team announcement will give Marcus Smith a fresh scrum-half to play off in Randall, whom he previously linked up with during the summer series wins last July over the USA and Canada.

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“The worry, looking at Youngs, is how Marcus Smith might be affected in the long run,” continued Healey. “He is a proven match-winner in the final quarter. Yet you take him off for someone in George Ford who you had not selected in your original squad two weeks beforehand.

“That is a coaching mistake. As is constantly chopping and changing your style. How many of those mistakes does it take until you run out of coaching lives? I’m not saying it will happen, but a loss to Italy does not seem completely ridiculous. There is that much uncertainty and confusion in the way England are playing.”

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