Eddie Jones has been guilty of picking square pegs in round holes many times before but he has taken things to a new level with his team selection to face Ireland this weekend.
Putting Jonathan Joseph on the wing for his 50th cap when all of his previous Test starts have come at centre grabs the headlines but the fact that he has picked five second rows in the matchday 23 is even more baffling.
Add to that a six-two split on the bench with Henry Slade covering every position in the backs apart from scrum half and the ongoing selection of one of the world’s best fly-halves at centre and it really is difficult to see the thinking behind Eddie’s calls.
We know he loves to play games with the media, and he overstepped the mark again this week, and he isn’t likely to back down when criticised in the press as we’ve seen with Tom Curry’s selection at number eight as well but does he really think this is the best team he can pick?
If I was Ollie Thorley, I’d be wondering why he’s chosen me in his squad when he’s picking a centre who last played on the wing over seven years ago ahead of me and it’d be interesting to know if questions have been asked behind the scenes.
No player is going to come out and say anything publicly, least of all an uncapped one, because that would damage their chances of selection moving forwards but and it’s a very difficult situation for them but someone should be challenging him.
We know an aerial bombardment is going to come from Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray and Joseph won’t have had to take too many high balls in his career and Elliot Daly has come in for some criticism for his handling of them as well.
If you’re asking a full back to play on the wing, that’s understandable but the defensive reads from the wing compared to outside centre are completely different so it’s a major gamble.
I’d like to think that Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi would be partnering one another in the centres, with Owen Farrell at flyhalf, had they both not just returned from injury but having only Slade and Willi Heinz as backs cover on the bench seems a big risk.
Enough has been written and spoken about the absence of a big ball carrier at number eight and what playing there takes away from Curry’s game but that was never going to change for this game, with Ben Earl the only other option in the squad really.
However, including five second rows is a massive surprise. There can’t be many international sides that have picked two locks on the bench and it’s surely unprecedented to do so when you’ve got one starting in the back row as well!
He obviously wouldn’t admit it at all but some of his selections do look like they’re influenced by his contract situation as well.
Whilst France and to a lesser extent Wales and Ireland are building towards the next World Cup in 2023 and haven’t been afraid to throw new players in, Jones has just two years left on his contract and is unwilling to give a winger starring in the Premiership his Test debut.
I’ve said before that the RFU should have given him a four-year deal until after the next World Cup if he was staying on but they haven’t and I believe that has become an issue.
It seems daft to say it after England reached a World Cup final less than four months ago but this is a massive game for Jones. England’s Six Nations chances go up in smoke if they lose this one and there will definitely be question marks over the coach’s selections if they do.
At the start of the week I was confident of an England victory because of the Twickenham factor but I’m not so sure now the teams have been announced. I sincerely hope I’m mistaken but I think Eddie’s got this one badly wrong.
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