One defeat away from home against a team that raises their game for that match above all others doesn’t make England a bad team but it did highlight a few areas of weakness that have been a concern for a while and the time has come for a few personnel changes.
What I think Eddie Jones should do and what I think he will do are two completely different things and I believe he’ll have a short term approach to the game this weekend and pick a team with the sole focus of beating France because we’re still in the tournament after all.
However, he has spoken from the very start about reaching number one in the world and winning a World Cup. Are we going to win a World Cup playing the way we are at the moment? I don’t think so and that means you have to look at making changes to work out how we can beat the All Blacks.
If the England players and coaches are being honest, they would say that they haven’t played well since they thrashed Scotland at Twickenham a year ago. For me, there are a few players who are hanging on in there and leaning on the credit they have in the bank from Jones’ first couple of years in charge.
As a coach, you have got to look to evolve all the time and if you don’t try different things now, when are you going to?
You’re picking Dylan Hartley as a leader but there was no leadership at all in that England side against Scotland, so now is as good a time as there’s ever going to be to make a couple of changes and roll the dice a bit.
Jamie George has been the form hooker in the country for a long time now and he was good enough to start for the British and Irish Lions, so I would start him and I think you’ve got a ready made captain in Owen Farrell waiting to step up and replace him.
I’d move him to fly half as well and pick Ben Te’o at inside centre. I think he deserves a run in the side now and the France game is the perfect time to start that run so that he can help to combat Mathieu Bastareaud as well.
I don’t see there being as many changes as I’d be inclined to make but I do think those alterations to the midfield might happen because we got opened up there a couple of times against Scotland and Jones has spoken about the physicality of the French in that department.
In my opinion, it’s time for Mike Brown to make way and for Anthony Watson to start at full back with Elliot Daly and Jonny May on the wings now that Jack Nowell is out injured but Eddie Jones has been pretty forthright when speaking about Brown recently and might just favour the solidity he brings for this game specifically in Paris.
Sam Underhill would surely have started at openside had it not been for his untimely injury, so the temptation will be to continue with Chris Robshaw there or even bring in James Haskell but he hasn’t played for two months.
Robshaw’s standout feature is his work rate but you need more than that at the very top level. He made a lot of carries and tackles against Scotland but it wasn’t effective work. He puts his hand up time after time but you know what you’re going to get from him and I think, after the complete pasting we took at the breakdown last time out, it’s time to be bold.
Even without Underhill as an option, I would leave Robshaw out and go for Sam Simmonds at number seven with Nathan Hughes continuing at the base of the scrum now that he’s had another couple of weeks of training under his belt.
Eddie Jones has said he expects it to be a “slogathon” but I think that might be something of an attempt to hoodwink the French and he’ll come out and play attacking rugby.
You have got to match France physically but the way to beat them is to move them around and play at a pace that they can’t live with. Jones will know that and I think the selections I’ve outlined give England the best chance of playing that fast, attacking style that will win them the game.
The team hasn’t changed or evolved much over the last couple of years and I think we’ve plateaued. We’ve been getting wins but the Scotland game has highlighted that we’re not quite riding the crest of the wave that we were a year ago and some tweaks are necessary.
I’m certainly not advocating chucking the baby out with the bath water because 24 wins from 26 games under this regime is still a hell of a record but it’s clear that some change is needed and I expect that to start this weekend.
My England XV to face France on Saturday
15 Anthony Watson
14 Elliot Daly
13 Jonathan Joseph
12 Ben Te’o
11 Jonny May
10 Owen Farrell
9 Danny Care
1 Mako Vunipola
2 Jamie George
3 Dan Cole
4 Joe Launchbury
5 Maro Itoje
6 Courtney Lawes
7 Sam Simmonds
8 Nathan Hughes
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.