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The 78 per cent Test stat that has England aiming for a fast start

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Eddie Jones has placed his faith in Harry Randall quickening the England tempo from the kick-off on Saturday in the hope that the rookie’s presence can help them score what the coach believes will be the crucial first try. The three-cap 24-year-old half-back was chosen to start against Wales in the Guinness Six Nations rather than Ben Youngs, who equalled his country’s all-time caps record of 114 when he appeared off the bench in the round two win over Italy. 

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England managed just a single try, a 53rd-minute score from Marcus Smith 35 minutes after Scotland scored their lone try, when Youngs played the full 80 minutes of their round one defeat at Murrayfield. 

With Randall starting at Stadio Olimpico in round two, Jones’ England side had the four-try bonus point bagged as early as the 45th minute versus Italy and the difference which scoring early made helped convince the head coach not to flip back his scrum-half selection and to instead stick with the inexperienced Bristol half-back as his starter rather than the seasoned centurion from Leicester. 

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“You generally find if you can get some good quality ball early the defence isn’t as quickly set and also they haven’t found out how the referee is going to slow the ball down, so you tend to get some quicker ball,” explained Jones about why he has stuck by Randall ahead of Youngs in a team that now doesn’t have the originally selected Manu Tuilagi available to play.  

“The first 20 minutes of a match is always the quickest. I think the stat is that 78 per cent of the teams that score the first try win the Test, so it is really important for us to get a fast start on Saturday. Now obviously Wales will be trying to do the same thing. We have to get out of the blocks quickly… that’s our aim.  

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“We don’t have an exact measure for it but the general rule is if you can get it under three seconds you are doing well,” continued Jones, referencing the quick ruck ball speed he desires for England. “Some of the ball now is down to two seconds. Harry is lighter, faster and can get to the ball quicker in the early part of the game than when the game is more of an even pace. That is not say Ben can’t do it – we just believe that Harry will give us something a little bit different at the start of the game.”

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Until it was confirmed on Thursday that Randall was the starting scrum-half, Saturday had been built up as a truly special day for Youngs. It still will – he will surely come off the bench to earn his record-breaking 115th cap. But it can’t have been easy to accept a place amongst the replacements when you have for so long been the number one England No9. 

“Look, everyone is disappointed who is not starting. We had 35 players in camp and I had to make 20 one-on-one conversations with guys who aren’t happy and he [Youngs] is one of them. He is not happy about it.

“He wants to start, he wants to start every game as the other 34 blokes do but they have got to understand for each game there is a role to play and you have got to accept that role. That is part of the deal of being in the national squad, that you accept the role the coach gives to you and then you get on with it.”

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