Eddie Jones has explained why he has altered half of his starting pack following the shock England loss to Scotland last weekend, adding that the inclusion of George Ford to start this week at out-half is the best approach for his Six Nations team versus Italy.
Eyebrows were raised last week when Jones opted to bench Ford and instead switch captain Owen Farrell into out-half from inside centre, a selection that allowed him to field an experimental Test midfield partnership of Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade.
This gambit failed to fire, England beaten 11-6 in a Six Nations performance that left much to be desired. It sparked calls for Farrell to be dropped but having unequivocally backed his captain at a media appearance on Tuesday, Jones instead opted to switch his leader back to No12 and omit Lawrence.
“Just think that is the right balance for the game,” he said. “We know that George and Owen operate well at ten and twelve. We’d like to get Henry into the game more, so that is the right balance for this game.
“Difficult game for him,” he added about the axed Lawrence, who falls out of the matchday 23 entirely. “He is a young guy learning his trade. This is all part of learning his trade. He is going to be a great player for us.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 11, 2021
England struggled for physical dominance against the Scots and with Mako Vunipola fit again and Kyle Sinckler finished his suspension, Jones has used their availability to go with an all-changed front row as Luke Cowan-Dickie has also come in at hooker for his first Six Nations start.
Cowan-Dickie’s three previous starts in his 27-cap Test career came in two World Cup warm-ups and against the USA at the finals in Japan. “Just a change on roles. He is going to finish,” said Jones about the demotion of George to the bench.
Regarding the props, he added: “They bring a lot of experience, a lot of nous. The scrummaging area is always difficult. Traditionally it has been difficult against Italy and we expect the same on Saturday. They [Vunipola and Sinckler] bring that (experience) plus their aggression and calmness.”
Jones’ other pack alteration will see Courtney Lawes start at blindside in place of Mark Wilson and he believes his rejigged team will now make amends for last weekend’s ambush by the Scots. “We’re only worried about ourselves. We’re not too worried about Italy. As you know we are coming off a disappointing loss against Scotland so we have really focused on ourselves.
“Last week we got the information wrong. We have just tried to get the information right this week which will aid in our thinking and get us back playing front-foot rugby which we are at our best at. We are one of the most damaging teams in the world and that is what we want to get back to.
“We want to be on the front foot the whole game and that pack allows us to do that. Then we have got to be able to take those opportunities and turn them into points. That’s the priority this week.
“I got the information wrong last week. We got our priorities wrong in terms of the game and we have tried to sort that out this week. We want to play good English rugby where we are as close to our best as we can be. That involves having good set-piece, good defence and then being able to take those opportunities to come and attack and turn those opportunities into points.”
Asked if he had considered including uncapped duo Paolo Odogwu and Harry Randall for this Saturday’s game, Jones replied: “Everyone came into consideration. We want to get back on the front foot and we believe this is best 23 to get us back on the front foot.
“All of those guys you have mentioned have all been given strong consideration and they understand what they need to keep working on. Both those guys that you specifically mentioned they are both making inroads, both making progress and each week they get a little bit closer.”
"I can’t think of a better England team to beat Italy and put smiles back on people’s faces than this one"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 10, 2021
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