It was thought that the return of these two players would force a positional reshuffle in the squad, with Elliot Daly moving to the wing and Tom Curry moving to his preferred position at the side of the scrum.
The debate as to who should start at fullback for England between Daly and Watson is one that has simmered for the past 18 months, with the Saracens man being Eddie Jones’ preferred option. This is despite many fans feeling Watson as better suited to the 15 shirt, albeit England did reach the RWC with this back three combination, and Daly perhaps receives undue criticism.
However, the debate regarding the back row is a fresh one, as Curry has only been trialled at No8 this Six Nations. This despite being nominated for World Rugby player of the year in 2019 primarily as a flanker, and there being an apparent abundance of natural No8s in the Gallagher Premiership.
Wilson has deputised for Billy Vunipola at No8 well in the past, and is a slightly more imposing ball carrier. Curry is growing into the role though, and his performances in his new position have improved week on week, which shows Jones’ plan is coming to fruition.
However, while his decisions have been questioned, this is the coach that many have grown accustomed to, and it would be out of character for the Australian to make such changes.
In fairness to Jones, whilst the merits of putting Curry at 8 at the start of the tournament are questionable, now he’s done it, he has to stick with him for the tournament so he has an opportunity to develop in the role. And I really love the way Daly attacks from fullback…?
— Charlie Rhodes (@charlierhodes18) March 5, 2020
Some have called this stubbornness, but it is equally about the coach backing his players. Reversing decisions that he has stuck by throughout the Six Nations Championship at the first opportunity would show a profound lack of trust in certain players, regardless of whether they are better suited to the role.
He has backed Curry at the base of the scrum, and abandoning that approach when the first chance arises would not fill the player or England supporters with a lot of confidence.
Of course, not as much trust was shown in Jonathan Joseph on the wing, who Jones singled out for a standout performance against the Irish, but Watson was always going to return to the team when fit.
Had Underhill not been injured, the back row may have taken a different complexion, but even then it is more likely that Courtney Lawes would have been moved elsewhere than deposing Curry from holding the eight shirt.
It will be interesting to see the roles assigned to Curry and Wilson this weekend at Twickenham, as No8 is one of the most distinguishable roles to identify in the loose, particularly as to who will drop into the back field.
Ultimately, Jones is always going to back his players, and England fans are used to that by now.
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