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Jones explains an England team that includes Marchant back at No13

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Eddie Jones has explained his logic behind this week’s latest midfield reshuffle, the England coach opting to promote Joe Marchant from the bench to start against Ireland on Saturday and demote Elliot Daly to the replacements. The pair have been exchanging the No13 jersey between them all through the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.

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Daly wore that outside centre England shirt in the opening round loss to Scotland, Marchant took it for the round two win versus Italy and then after Manu Tuilagi was a late injury withdrawal from the midfield with Henry Slade set to start at No13 against Wales in round three, Daly stepped up from the bench to play in that role with Slade moving one positon in to No12.  

However, Jones has now flipped the starting selection once more, reverting to the 12/13 combination of Slade and Marchant that ran out to start for England in the February 13 match in Rome. “Joe is a specialist 13 who can play on the wing, he is very good under the high ball,” explained the England coach at his Thursday media briefing.

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“I just think he might give us a bit more direct carry. Elliot likes to play more out the back and against Ireland the carriers are going to be through so he [Marchant] gives is that bit more of a carry through than Elliot does.”  

Marchant replacing Daly in the England midfield was one of three changes Jones announced to his starting XV from the win over Wales. Jamie George takes over at hooker in place of Luke Cowan-Dickie, who had his operation on Monday to mend a significant knee injury, while Sam Simmonds is back at the starting No8 in place of Alex Dombrandt for the first time since the tournament opener away to Scotland on February 5. 

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Dombrant tested positive for covid last Friday at the England training camp in Bristol and this Thursday was the first time he training with the squad since then. “He [Dombrandt] is in good shape. He trained well today so he is ready to finish for us. He has been doing training by himself that we have been able to monitor but team training is a different kettle of fish and he got through that okay so we are pleased that he is available for selection. 

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“He [Simmonds] is a powerful character, he is a carrier, he is a very aggressive defender and particularly the way Ireland attack, he is going to be important around that ten area.”

Jones placed no significance on Maro Itoje this week being picked in the No4 jersey that he last wore against the Scots – he was at blindside in Rome and at No5 against the Welsh. Usually, wearing No4 suggests a player will be scrummaging on the loosehead side of the scrum rather than behind the tighthead in the No5 jersey. 

The coach, though, made mention of the impact Joe Launcbury could potentially make from the bench. Not since the December 2020 Autumn Nations Cup final extra-time win over France has the lock been involved in an England matchday 23.  

“Really pleased with his progress. He has had a tough time, suffered a serious leg injury, came back and then had another serious leg injury and particularly his work around the maul, I don’t think there is a better player in the UK than him so he gives us a particular advantage in that area.” 

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Having originally named a 36-man squad last Sunday night, Jones cut that to 26 on Tuesday evening and his matchday 23 announcement on Thursday meant that the uncapped Alfie Barbeary, Ollie Chessum and Joe Heyes have missed out. Heyes had been providing tighthead cover with Kyle Sinckler’s training time limited this week. 

The general narrative leading into Saturday’s match is how the visiting Ireland are supposedly favourites, a consensus that Jones helped fuel himself with remarks on Monday about how he viewed Andy Farrell’s squad as the more cohesive team. 

Farrell named an Ireland team on Thursday containing six changes from their win over Italy and an “explosive” bench containing four 2021 Lions. Asked about that selection, Jones replied: “We are more concerned about ourselves, but what I do know is they [Ireland] are red-hot favourites. 

“I went into a coffee shop yesterday [Wednesday] and the girl says that Irish team must be good, all their ex-players think they are going to win the game, all the ex-England players think they are going to win the game so they must be a pretty good team. How are you feeling? I said just give me the coffee, please.”

Both England and Ireland have two wins and a loss apiece as they try to challenge unbeaten France for the title, a situation that left Jones describing Saturday’s game as akin to a cup semi-final. “It’s a semi-final, one of the two teams will progress to the final which is the last game (on March 19), so both teams know what is at stake but if you read the papers there is only one team that has got any chance of winning it.  

“Our attack has been progressing really well,” he added. “We have increased our run metres by 40 per cent. What we haven’t been good at is finishing those attack raids into the opposition 22 so we have been doing a little bit of work on that, just a little bit more cohesion, a little bit more understanding of each other’s play.”

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