Jones has gone heavy in the second row, with Courtney Lawes starting at six alongside Maro Itoje and George Kruis in the engine room. They are supported from the bench by Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels in a 6-2 split.
The Australian has also opted for Jonathan Joseph on the wing, with Manu Tuilagi resuming his role in the midfield and Henry Slade taking up the final spot on the bench. With Elliot Daly at full-back and the bench back options consisting of just Slade and Willi Heinz, Jonny May is the only recognised wing in the 23, albeit with Daly providing cover should Slade be able to fill in at 15.
It’s a bold selection and one which does not leave England much wriggle room, should the wheels show signs of coming off at Twickenham. Ben Earl offers another back row option should the combination of Lawes, Sam Underhill and Tom Curry not prove to be fruitful, though with Launchbury and Ewels also taking up two spots, England are built for fresh legs and like-for-like replacements in the second row, rather than adding new dimensions to their back row.
If England don’t win the physical battle up front and the chess match at the set-piece, something that their selection is admittedly built to do, their ability to adapt and counter is limited. There will be a big onus on Itoje, Kruis and Lawes to establish that dominance from the get-go, with Launchbury and Ewels then able to spell them from a position of strength. On a side note, after the monsoon in Edinburgh, Jamie George must feel like all his set-piece Christmases have come at once.
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England’s options in the back line are similarly limited, with Joseph, Tuilagi and Slade, all outside centres at their clubs, in place in the 23. If Joseph struggles on the wing, something which could occur despite his undeniable ability in the midfield, Jones would likely have to move Daly to the wing and then deploy Slade at full-back, a position which he is relatively unaccustomed to playing at outside of training sessions.
There is no doubt that Jones is comfortable with the selection and he has faith in the players and their ability to take on irregular roles if necessary, though that doesn’t take away from what a very specifically tailored selection this is. If Jones and the players have got it right, they will hit Ireland with a ferocious one-two punch. If they’ve got it wrong, it will be a challenge to alter events at Twickenham against a fired-up Irish side chasing a Grand Slam.
Andy Farrell forced into a change https://t.co/zwk1P65zYm
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 21, 2020
A penny for the thoughts of Gloucester wing Ollie Thorley, where long-time centre Joseph has been preferred to him, as well as physically-dynamic back rower Lewis Ludlam, whose violent ball-carrying could yet be missed at Twickenham on Sunday. With three players capable of playing lock in the starting XV alone and two outside centres on the pitch, both Thorley and Ludlam are unlucky to miss out on bench spots at the very least.
It’s hard to imagine that Ireland won’t attempt to target Joseph on the wing with their kicking game. At outside centre, he is frequently required to make one-on-one tackles and excel with his decision-making, though that does not mean he will similarly flourish with his defensive positioning and attempts to win the contested aerial battles. They might not be specialist positions in the same way the front row are, but the muscle memory, feel for the position and comfort executing game plans from unusual spots on the pitch all may as well make them so.
One thing Jones will be hoping doesn’t manifest itself once again is a lack of front-foot ball, something which plagued England against France, when his side was built around a similar composition to this one. With the Vunipola brothers missing, a lot will be asked of Itoje, George and Kyle Sinckler as ball-carriers, not to mention the timing of the introductions of Earl and Ellis Genge also being particularly key. If the pack carries strongly and over the gain-line, England inevitably win. The back line is built to be running on to quick ball and if Ireland stymie that, they stymie England.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 21, 2020
It’s a boom or bust selection, with little in the way of contingency plans. There’s a simplicity and faith from the coaching staff in that that England fans should find encouraging, as Jones does not fear that his approach to this game will fail. We can critique the selection, but only that coaching staff will have seen them throughout the two weeks of preparation building up to this game.
And this is a game for England to re-establish themselves and show that there are a number of reasons why they made it to the Rugby World Cup final last year. The loss to France was highly disappointing and the win over Scotland was tenacious, if not emphatic in part due to the inclement conditions, and this game, their first at Twickenham since before the Rugby World Cup, is an opportunity to rebuild that feel good factor that English rugby has recently frittered away on and off the pitch.
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