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A shaken-up England explain their half-dozen changes for Italian job

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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England boss Eddie Jones has explained why he has made six changes to his starting team to face Italy this Sunday in the Guinness Six Nations, dropping five of his starters from last Saturday’s loss to Scotland to his bench for Rome while also rejigging his engine room to accommodate the loss to a rib cartilage injury of Lewis Ludlam. 

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Elliot Daly, Ben Youngs, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler and Sam Simmonds have all been benched for this weekend’s round two encounter while the absence of Ludlam has seen Maro Itoje switch back from the second row to No6 to allow Charlie Ewels to start at lock. 

Ewels is one of a half-dozen players promoted from the Murrayfield bench as Jamie George, Will Stuart, Alex Dombrandt, Harry Randall and Jack Nowell all make the step up into a starting team where there is also one further positional switch as Joe Marchant will start this weekend at outside centre having been chosen on the wing in Edinburgh.   

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“Joe is a good strong runner,” explained Jones when asked why he has yet again tweaked his England midfield. “He can hit the front line really well which maybe we missed a little bit last week but given that he had such a restricted training time (due to isolation), it was difficult for him to play 13 last week so Elliot moves back as a finisher.

“And Jack Nowell has had three solid weeks of training with us now. We believe he is fully fit and ready to play. He has got that work rate, that bounce in his step. I haven’t seen him this sharp since probably 2016.” 

Sticking with the backs, where Jones described his approach as a “100 per cent” numberless backline with positional variation, the England coach added his reasons why Randall had been backed to start his first-ever Six Nations match following a round one misadventure where he was an unused sub versus Scotland due to Youngs playing the entire match.  

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“We have been really pleased with Harry Randall. Benny started for us last week and we have just reversed the roles there. He is a livewire half-back, he is very good in broken play, he has got a good solid pass on him and his kicking game is improving.”   

Switching to the forwards, Jones outlined his back row thinking while also insisting that Cowan-Dickie wasn’t benched because of his Murrayfield yellow card which gave Scotland their game-levelling penalty try. “No, not at all,” he said when asked if Cowan-Dickie was being punished for his error. “He hasn’t been able to train this week. He did a little bit today [Friday] and we have got two very good hookers there. One starts and one finishes.

“When we look at the team we try to maximise our resources,” he continued, shifting to the make-up of the back row. “Sam Simmonds played very well at No8 but we are going to finish with him this week. We want to see Alex Dombrandt playing a game we think will really suit him. 

“Against Italy, they tend to be more open, unstructured type games so we feel it is a great game for him to start at No8. (Tom) Curry picks himself at seven and then we have gone for a big six. We want to get a bit more running out of Maro in terms of his attack and it is a great opportunity for him.”

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Named as replacements for the second successive Six Nations game were George Ford and Joe Marler and they will take their places there along with the demoted five Scotland starters and a rookie, 21-year-old Ollie Chessum from Leicester who will make his Test debut if called on in Rome. “He is a workhorse,” reckoned Jones about his new forward. “He is a traditional six-stroke-four hard worker, has good basics, likes doing the tough stuff.   

“It’s the best 23 for this game. We have a few knocks and bruises from the last game and this 23 is the right 23 to play against Italy. A very young team but a very good team, a great opportunity for some players to start the game instead of finishing the game and we are looking forward to this combination lighting up Rome.” 

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