England’s Six Nations campaign got off to a miserable start in Paris and Eddie Jones has to take responsibility because of his team selection, as well as the preparation.
England went into the half-time interval without having scored a single point for the first time in the Six or Five Nations for 32 years since 1988 and Jones acknowledged that his side might have been underprepared.
He says that is because club rugby has taken it out of his players and they deliberately came in late but the word coming out of the camp again is that they’ve been flogged once more in training and, in reality, it is the make-up of the team that is the real issue.
Eddie insists the result of the game won’t affect his selection for the Calcutta Cup next week but it should do and he should be straight on the phone to Alex Dombrandt or Sam Simmonds.
There’s no way Tom Curry would’ve been starting at number eight if Billy Vunipola was fit. He’d never started a game there in his life and now Eddie’s talking about him as a long-term project in that position.
He’s an unbelievable openside and it’s not like he had a bad game but you take away a lot of his strengths by playing him at number eight and not having a big ball carrier in there.
I questioned the lack of specialist number eights in the squad when it was named and it was a clear weakness at the Stade de France. It’s a specialist position and, while we had a dominant scrum, there wasn’t the necessary control at the base.
Ben Earl is the one player in the initial squad who can play there because he often packs down at number eight for Saracens, so I’ve named him in my team to face Scotland below but I’d have Dombrandt or Simmonds in there in a heartbeat.
They may not be in the squad and it may be a six-day turnaround before the next game in Edinburgh but let’s make no bones about it, if he wants to pick them, he can.
The midfield is the other major area of concern, especially after Manu Tuilagi went off early on with a groin injury. England looked seriously underpowered without him and Mako and Billy Vunipola in the side.
I don’t think the selection was right there anyway though. Eddie said he should’ve dropped George Ford for the World Cup final but he picked him again for the next game. It’s nothing against Ford but Owen Farrell is your captain and arguably best player, he has to be picked in his preferred position.
We all know he can do a job at inside centre but he doesn’t look comfortable there and, again, you’re taking so much away from his game by putting him there. Jones has to stop putting square pegs in round holes.
Devoto only got six minutes at the end to show what he has to offer but he’s impressed for Exeter this season and is a decent carrier as well as a distributor. Most importantly, he is a number 12 and plays there regularly.
I would make one further change to the backline, though, and that would be at scrum half. Ben Youngs has a lot of credit in the bank from his 96 caps but he just isn’t in form and Willi Heinz doesn’t offer the impact you really want from the bench.
Care has been in good form for Harlequins but his face doesn’t seem to fit any more, Robson offers more pace and dynamism as well but I’d have Spencer in there from the start if it was up to me.
Ellis Genge put himself about a bit when he came on and Joe Marler held up his end of the bargain at scrum time but Mako Vunipola will come back in for the Calcutta Cup clash to offer another big ball-carrying option, something that was badly missing.
England’s two tries came from moments of magic from Jonny May but I couldn’t tell how they wanted to attack for the most part and there was a lot of aimless kicking again. A combination of all of the above contributes to that but I think Farrell not being at 10 is still the biggest factor.
Whether it’s the captain’s role, Curry at number eight or Courtney Lawes at blindside as well, there is a clear lesson to be learned. Pick players in their correct positions.
You have to give France a lot of credit. A hugely inexperienced side really fronted up and put in a hell of a performance in defence, while showing glimpses of star quality in attack as well.
They certainly responded to the England head coach’s words about brutal physicality ahead of the match and they deserved the win. Now Eddie has to hold his hands up and say he got his selection wrong before putting it right for Scotland.
My England Team v Scotland
15 George Furbank
14 Elliot Daly
13 Jonathan Joseph
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Jonny May
10 Owen Farrell
9 Willi Heinz/Ben Spencer
1 Mako Vunipola
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Kyle Sinckler
4 Maro Itoje
5 Courtney Lawes
6 Sam Underhill
7 Tom Curry
8 Ben Earl/Alex Dombrandt
16 Jamie George
17 Ellis Genge
18 Will Stuart
19 George Kruis
20 Lewis Ludlam
21 Ben Youngs
22 George Ford
23 Ollie Thorley
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now