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'He hits hard, carries hard, sort of a no-nonsense player similar to the George Kruis mould'

By Liam Heagney

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Eddie Jones has given a short and sweet assessment as to why he has chosen uncapped Jonny Hill to make a debut start for England in Saturday’s Six Nations finale against Italy in Rome. One point behind Ireland on the table, England are travelling in the hope of running up a big score that will put pressure on the Irish for their late Saturday night match in Paris against France.  


Ireland beat Italy 50-17 last weekend in Dublin, but Jones will want an England XV showing seven changes from their last outing – the March home win over Wales – to do better than the seven-try Irish, who conceded two soft tries.

With George Kruis no longer available to England following his decision to leave Saracens and move to the Top League in Japan, Jones has been on the lookout in recent months for a second row enforcer and his search has ended with 26-year-old Hill, the menacing lock who lifted Champions Cup and Premiership titles in recent weeks with Exeter. 

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Ex-England skipper Dylan Hartley is in full flow as co-host of episode four of the RugbyPass Offload show

“He’s a big, tall guy, hits hard, carries hard, sort of a no-nonsense player similar to the George Kruis mould,” said Jones at his media conference on Thursday prior to England’s departure for Italy.

We feel like we have got a good balance between experienced players and some young guys coming into the squad. There has been some great competition during the couple of days’ training we have had. We have maximised our training time and this is the best squad we have at the moment.”

Ireland will be guaranteed the title if they defeat France with a bonus-point win. That type of victory is unlikely, however, meaning the title destination could come down to points difference. The Irish are currently on +38 with England +15, a gap the back-to-back 2016 and 2017 champions will look to close and surpass with a flourish in Rome.    


Jones, though, sidestepped talk about the winning margin that might be required to win the title. “It doesn’t (come into our thinking) at all. As soon as we got the full squad in we have focused on maximising our performance,” he said.  

“We know Italy will present a challenge and we have just got to be as disciplined and focused on playing to our absolute best. Every minute presents an opportunity to play at our best and we intend to optimise every minute we have got in Rome.”

Aside from Hill’s inclusion, the other pack changes see Mako Vunipola at loosehead for Joe Marler, and Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola coming in for Mark Wilson and Courtney Lawes at back row.

There are three changes to the backs, George Furbank for Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph for Manu Tuilagi while Henry Slade starts at No12 with Owen Farrell switching to out-half in the absence of George Ford. Scrum-half Ben Youngs will also become only the second England player to ever won 100 caps. 


“Look, I can only speak with great admiration about Ben,” added Jones. “He had a difficult World Cup in 2015 and since then has worked extremely hard on his game. At his best, he is one of the best half-backs in the world. He has got a great running game, a good kicking game, and he is an important, infectious character in our squad.”

Jones has chosen three uncapped players on the England bench – Tom Dunn, Ollie Lawrence and Ollie Thorley – and he delivered his verdict on all three. “All good young players,” he said. 

“Tom Dunn has been knocking around the squad for a while now, has kept improving his game. A good, tough hooker, complements Jamie’s ability to organise the scrum and throw accurately in the lineout. It’s a great achievement for Jamie (George) to be playing his 50th cap as an England hooker. He had a long apprenticeship under Dylan (Hartley) and is now fully established as our starting hooker and Tom will support him well. 

“We have got Ollie Lawrence, again a young guy we have a had look at over the last couple of years. He has got good power, runs good lines and certainly adds to the squad. Ollie is just full of enthusiasm, full of beans, engaging character. He has got power and pace and has worked exceptionally hard on his work off the ball which has impressed us greatly.” 

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'He hits hard, carries hard, sort of a no-nonsense player similar to the George Kruis mould'