Eddie Jones is putting his neck on the line with his No8 policy in this Six Nations and is not going to back down after saying he wants to turn Tom Curry into a specialist in that position.
The decision to play the 20-cap forward at No8 in the absence of Billy Vunipola was questioned before the game – and many doubters felt vindicated after the loss.
Jones has now opted to retain the same 35-man squad for the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield this weekend, which has surprised even more people as there is still no specialist No8 in the squad.
Former England loose forwards have weighed in on this debate with differing opinions. James Haskell told RugbyPass that supports Jones’ idea.
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However, World Cup winners Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back have highlighted some concerns, not only as it needs the backing of Sale, who would need to play Curry regularly at eight, but the Six Nations is not the place to try such an experiment out.
Curry did not actually have a bad game in Paris and he certainly improved as the match progressed, although his control at the base of the scrum may have been shaky.
However, whenever a player is played out of position, they are often the first one to be blamed alongside the coach.
‘There is a nice balance to that back row and the issue that Eddie left out Dombrandt… that is causing a difference of opinion’
– @jameshaskell tells @chrisjonespress what he makes of the backlash Eddie Jones has faced over the @EnglandRugby back row
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 4, 2020
I wonder if @SaleSharksRugby coach Steve Diamond agrees? It would appear he prefers Jonno Ross there. In NZ the national team coach can dictate positional changes in Super Rugby for the benefit of the national team. Not so much in England.
— Lawrence Dallaglio (@dallaglio8) February 4, 2020
If it’s a long term project that’s fine but it appeared ludicrous, pre-match, to expose a great young @EnglandRugby player at no.8 for the first time in his senior playing career, and even more so now…especially away against @FranceRugby in a #6Nations opener ?
— Neil Back MBE (@NeilBack) February 4, 2020
Curry was perhaps a victim in this match of England lacking any penetrating ball carriers, particularly once Manu Tuilagi went off.
The No8 is usually the man to do this, but Jones wants to persist with this idea, using Rodney So’oialo as the prototype that Curry can copy.
The ex-All Black started as a seven but was moulded into a world-class No8. However, he was a ferocious ball-carrier and better suited to No8 than Curry, whose strengths lie elsewhere.
Don’t buy the Eddie Jones line on Tom Curry being a No. 8 long-term. Feels like he is just sticking to his guns. Partly because the comparison he used with Rodney So’oialo today is one he has recycled from 2016 when talking about Jack Clifford https://t.co/CPyUPHrOb0
— Jake Goodwill (@jakegoodwill1) February 3, 2020
I personally have no idea why Eddie Jones is persevering with Tom Curry out-of-position at Number 8, especially when you have the likes of Dombrant, Hughes and Simmonds who are out-and-out 8’s. Square pegs in round holes and all that. #SCOvENG #SixNations
— James Tennant (@_jameslt) February 4, 2020
There is nothing to say that all No8s need to be the size of Vunipola or Duane Vermeulen, as Australia even reached a World Cup final with David Pocock at No8. This shows that such a move can be executed with success, although they were slightly different circumstances.
But England seem to have a wealth of No8s at the moment who are equally in-form. Alex Dombrandt’s name was bandied about the past week as was Sam Simmonds in light of their respective recent performances for Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs.
Did Rodney So'oialo and Jack Clifford have potential to be perhaps the best 7 in world rugby at the time?
— Alex G (@gibgibgib1) February 4, 2020
I agree that Tom Curry can be a world-class 8. But at the moment he isn’t. And forcing him to work out the difference between 7 and 8 during the Six Nations is risky and will expose both him and England.
— Oh lawd he comin (@StefanRautnbach) February 4, 2020
Nathan Hughes and Teimana Harrison have also been in the conversation, although both have fallen out of favour with Jones in recent seasons.
Even in England’s current squad currently, Ben Earl has more experience of playing in that position having been used there a lot for Saracens.
Moreover, what seems most peculiar is that it was only three months ago that Curry was nominated for World Rugby player of the year as a flanker.
Many see him as a natural openside, although he has also been played at six, and he is already one of the best players in the world.
Sandwiching him into a position where there are many more natural alternatives is what the English public find so preposterous, regardless of how well he may adapt to the role.
Why?? Earle is perfectly good enough to play 8. A bit bigger than Curry. Plus it means Curry can go back to his natural game. How do you expect England to get any go forward ball?
— Michael Gilbank (@ThyGilly) February 4, 2020
I just can’t understand how International Test Match rugby, especially when playing away, is the right environment for such experimental position changes
— Julian Kerslake (@cobhamjulian) February 4, 2020
Curry is a dynamic carrier in open space with great hands for a loose forward, but as shown on Sunday he is not necessarily built for gaining the hard yards in the middle of the field like Vunipola is.
Although this is Jones’ criticism of Simmonds as well, nobody would want to see either player compromise their mobility or speed by bulking up to play like a stereotypical No8.
Not only that, it will create a confusing dilemma as to where Curry plays when Vunipola does return.
The problem with Curry at 8 is that we have finally found a world class 7 who is young and will only get better, playing him at 8 is stopping his growth as a 7. Just pick an 8 at 8.
— Benjamin Rawson (@BenjaminJRawson) February 4, 2020
World class 7 to average 8 makes no sense at all. Another EJ folly…zzzzz
— Paul Hutton (@stroyd_hutton) February 4, 2020
The idea of having a mobile back row is something that appealed to Jones at the RWC where Curry was part of the ‘Kamikazee Kids’ alongside Sam Underhill. Those two on the flank allowed England to play at a frenetic intensity, but they were also supplemented by such a physical presence as Vunipola.
Moving Curry to the back of the scrum opens up the possibility of playing an even more mobile back row, but that is counteracted by playing a lock as a blindside flanker, Courtney Lawes.
— Sam Roberts (@samrobertsrugby) February 4, 2020
This is not the first machination of Jones’ that has been rebuked and it means he needs results to back such ideas up.
Although it is still not wholly popular, the decision to move Owen Farrell to inside centre is one of his plans that has brought England success.
Be that as it may, this is perhaps his most radical move of his tenure, and therefore faces the most scrutiny.
WATCH: The Rugby Pod reflects on England’s loss in Paris and looks ahead to the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland
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