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'I'm just shaking my head' - Woodward rubbishes England's biggest selection call

By Chris Jones
Freddie Steward (Getty Images)

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Sir Clive Woodward has slammed Eddie Jones’s decision to pick Northampton’s George Furbank at full-back and switch Freddie Steward to wing against Grand Slam chasing France insisting it has only a “10 per cent” chance of being a success.

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World Cup winning England coach Woodward also questions the ability of Freddie Steward to have the “gas” to play on the wing while he is “mystified” that captain Courtney Lawes is picked at No6 against the French rather than lock where he combined so effectively with Maro Itoje in the loss the Ireland.

Writing in his Daily Mail column, Woodward said: “If this goes badly wrong — and I reckon there is about a 10 per cent chance of it coming off gloriously and a 90 per cent chance of it backfiring horribly — Jones will be very exposed indeed after a tournament in which he has constantly tampered with the outside backs and mystified with some of his selections.

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“I get the logic but Test rugby is about picking a team to play your style, not a team based on an opponents’ perceived weakness which I’m not sure is a weakness at all. There is no question that France displayed a slight vulnerability against Wales last week when wing Gabin Villiere and full-back Melvyn Jaminet didn’t look secure dealing with the kicking game.

“Steward is brilliant under the high ball — certainly in defence — and we will now see if that translates to chasing and taking the ball when his own team kick, which is a slightly different skill. To that end, box-kicking king Ben Youngs is in for Harry Randall, although Youngs can have games when his box kicks aren’t always accurate. He cannot afford an off-night tomorrow. So England chase, Steward jumps high to win the aerial battle and England wreak havoc on a panicky France defence.

“There is a kernel of an idea there, but it’s the wrong mindset once again. I’m just shaking my head. The selection comes at a cost. George Furbank is competent at Premiership level but I have seen nothing to suggest he is a Test full-back.

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“I sincerely hope I’m wrong. Equally, I have seen nothing to suggest Steward is a Test wing — I wonder if he has ever even started there. I like Steward defensively but I have concerns about his attacking prowess and pace. Now, England have put him out wide where he needs even more gas.

“Elsewhere, I am mystified that Courtney Lawes has again been asked to start at six when his move to lock against Ireland improved the scrum. I’d have gone with Sam Simmonds at six and Alex Dombrandt at No 8. For me, it’s another big risk but Eddie seems to be in that kind of mood and I would love to know if there is anybody in the higher echelons of the RFU willing to put their hands up before kick-off and insist they agree with Eddie’s punt. It seems a crazy selection to me. “

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