It’s strange to say it but two of the biggest question marks over England’s selection to face South Africa on Saturday surround Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell and Eddie Jones has to pick them in their best positions.
The situations around Itoje and Farrell are very similar for me. They are two of the biggest names in this squad and they should be played where they operate best at lock and fly half respectively.
George Ford is in the final 25 players preparing for the match but it’s time for Farrell to take charge, run everything and start at 10 and I think Eddie Jones knows that now too. He’s named him in the squad as a fly half and only picked two players in that position so he has to start there now.
England have lost six of their last seven games and Ford has started at 10 in five of those. He’s not the only reason for the defeats by any means but, if Danny Cipriani isn’t going to be considered, it’s time for Farrell to be given the keys to the England bus and told to drive it in the right direction with the World Cup on the horizon.
However, I think he’s going to pick Maro Itoje at blindside and that allows him to select Brad Shields at the back of the scrum, who’s played there before for the Hurricanes. I don’t agree with that I think you significantly weaken the forward pack by picking Itoje out of position but I can see Eddie going down that route.
Bringing Ben Morgan back into the squad, everyone expected him to go straight in and start at number eight in the absence of Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Sam Simmonds because of his experience but I think it comes down to the balance that Eddie Jones wants from his back row.
Personally, I’d love to see Zach Mercer get a run at number eight. I think he’s played exceptionally well for Bath this season so far and at 21 he’s the future. He might not have the bulk of Vunipola but he’s explosive and that’s a point of difference for him.
England Squad to face South Africa on Saturday
|Andy Goode’s Match Day 23||Eddie Jones’ Match Day 23|
|15 Daly||15 Daly|
|14 Nowell||14 Ashton|
|13 Tuilagi||13 Tuilagi|
|12 Slade||12 Slade|
|11 May||11 May|
|10 Farrell||10 Farrell|
|9 Youngs||9 Youngs|
|1 Hepburn||1 Moon|
|2 George||2 Hartley|
|3 Williams||3 Sinckler|
|4 Kruis||4 Kruis|
|5 Itoje||5 Ewels|
|6 Wilson||6 Itoje|
|7 Curry||7 Curry|
|8 Mercer||8 Shields|
|16 Hartley||16 George|
|17 Moon||17 Hepburn|
|18 Sinckler||18 Williams|
|19 Ewels||19 Wilson|
|20 Shields||20 Mercer|
|21 Care||21 Care|
|22 Ford||22 Ford|
|23 Ashton||23 Nowell|
Elsewhere, Ben Te’o’s only played half an hour of rugby this season off the bench for Worcester in the Challenge Cup so I can’t see him starting and I think that means we’re going to see a Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi combination in midfield, which is really exciting.
It’s so good to see Manu back and he deserves to be starting at 13 now on form. He’s an x-factor player and is a huge factor in why I think Eddie Jones will now pick Farrell at fly half.
Henry Slade is a fantastic ball player and he can interchange with Tuilagi off first phase or phase play. They offer different strengths and there are some game-breaking finishers outside them as well so there’s real potential there.
It’s a surprise not to see Mike Brown in the match day 23 because he’s the only one in the 36-man squad who plays full back week in, week out.
I’m really glad Elliot Daly is starting at full back again after being picked there for all three Tests against South Africa in the summer but Chris Ashton or Jack Nowell will have to cover there in Brown’s absence if he goes down.
I said to Elliot years ago that I thought his best position would be 15 and it’s great to see him lining up there for England as he could be so dangerous from there with his line-breaking ability, even if he doesn’t see it as his best position.
And, I still believe that Jamie George is the best hooker in England and now Farrell is co-captain it’s opened things up for him to start but I have a feeling Jones will stick with Dylan Hartley.
We’re not settled on a team at all, which isn’t want you want with a World Cup less than a year away, but injuries have presented some players with opportunities.
South Africa are missing the likes of Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux as the match falls outside of the international window so they’re hamstrung a little bit by that but Rassie Erasmus has done wonders with them since taking over and they’re going to pose a massive physical test.
England need to match them in that department and be confrontational and then manage the game the way they want to play it. This South Africa side is a completely different proposition to the ones that have visited England in recent years.
It’s a tough one to call but the Twickenham factor will have a big part to play and you have to hope that it’ll get England over the line for a confidence-boosting win first up because it doesn’t get any easier next week!
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