England headcoach Eddie Jones has hinted at unleashing a super-sized centre partnership as he debuted his latest position swapping theory to reporters.
The suggestion comes after the outstanding performance of England’s Pacific island contingent against Ireland.
Driving England on in the finest performance of Jones’ 36 Tests at the helm was the return from injury of the rampaging Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, and centre Manu Tuilagi.
All three are of Pacific island descent and their power in the carry overwhelmed Joe Schmidt’s Grand Slam holders. Most effective of all was the unstoppable Mako Vunipola, who was named man of the match.
“We had a few top players out there – they all seem to come from one part of the world, so we shopped pretty well. We definitely went to Waitrose and not Lidl!” Jones said.
“I’d like to get Billy fit enough to play at inside centre. Imagine him at 12 and Manu at 13!
“What Mako Vunipola did….he’s 125 kilograms so that’s a big guy, big enough to be a sumo wrestler.
“He’s making 23 tackles, carrying the ball 10 times, he’s scrummaging and lifting in the line-out.
“The intensity in the game is such now that you’ve got to work out when you’re going to peak and when you want to take it off a bit.
“But now we have that ability to dent the line and that creates space, which makes it a far easier game to play. When you have to fiddle around to dent the line it’s much harder.”
Other pleasing aspects of the game were Owen Farrell’s composure as captain and the work-rate of wings Jonny May and Jack Nowell, while the 2019 Six Nations could yet emerge as the turning point in Henry Slade’s career.
A player of vast talent, he has shown only flashes of his class in 17 previous Test appearances, but his two-try haul in Dublin was tangible reward for an outstanding afternoon.
“You build players mentally by picking them because then they know you love them and we’ve done that with him,” Jones said,
“Slade’s played eight of our last nine Tests at outside centre for us, so he knows I love him and that helps.
“He’s a guy that maybe at first didn’t think he was good enough for England and now he’s thinking about how good he can be.”
Elsewhere Jones insists England have the resources to cover for the loss of Maro Itoje.
Itoje suffered suspected knee ligament damage in the 54th minute of Saturday’s remarkable 32-20 victory over Ireland in Dublin with referee Jerome Garces, who could be heard over the ref mic, initially fearing he had broken his leg.
A scan will reveal the extent of the damage with an update expected on Tuesday morning, but England will be praying that their British and Irish Lions talisman has escaped serious damage.
"I think the intensity in which we played!"
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 3, 2019
Itoje was an integral part of a dominant pack performance until he limped off and is a player they dare not lose as the countdown to the World Cup continues.
“Maro’s going to be the best lock in the world so it’s a big loss, but we’ve got good depth,” Jones said.
“We’ll have to fill his spot and guys will just have to work that bit harder to cover his gap for how long he is out for.”
Press Association Sport
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