England have shown heart, fight and dogged defence but now it’s time to unleash the attack and stick rather than twist in terms of selection.
If Sam Underhill’s try hadn’t been disallowed and England had beaten the All Blacks last week, I think more front line players would’ve got a rest this week but momentum is huge in sport and Eddie Jones wants to make a statement so I don’t think there’ll be as many changes as people might have been expecting.
There will be some players rested because four high intensity Test matches in as many weeks is a tough ask but I don’t think there’ll be as many changes as there might have been in previous years for a game such as this one because of the injury list and where England are at right now.
I’d like to see Alex Lozowski come straight back in and start now that he’s available again. He might have been banned for the past four weeks but if Ben Te’o can start against South Africa after half an hour of Premiership rugby this season, he’s more than ready to go from the first whistle.
I think having a second ball player at inside centre, as well as Henry Slade at outside centre, would really help the fluency of England’s attack and Lozowski’s relationship with Owen Farrell at club level counts in his favour as well so I hope he’s given an opportunity.
Jamie George got some stick after losing five lineouts last week but there’s more to that than meets the eye. Most were more to do with the calls than his accuracy, so it’d be good to see him given the chance to show what he can do again from the start.
Starting four weeks in a row at tighthead is tough and Nick Schonert has been called into the 30-man squad named earlier in the week, so I’d give Kyle Sinckler the week off. His bank manager might not be too happy about it but that’s a different story.
I think Maro Itoje would’ve been rested if it hadn’t been for George Kruis’ injury but there needs to be some consistency in the engine room so I think he’ll be rolled out again alongside Courtney Lawes and then maybe brought off early.
Sam Underhill was phenomenal last week and Mark Wilson has been a standout performer in both of the first two games so they should continue and it was strange to see Zach Mercer left out completely against the All Blacks after such a good debut so I think he comes back in at number eight.
There are some players who can afford to be rested, such as Jonny May, who has been brilliant recently and can be wrapped up in cotton wool for next week. However, other front line players need to start in order to ensure that England keep progressing and building on what they’ve done in the past couple of weeks.
Eddie Jones is a big fan of Joe Cokanasiga and he could make a big impact with his size and speed between now and the World Cup, so I’d like to see him given a chance but probably from the bench because Jack Nowell and Chris Ashton deserve starting places.
Andy Goode’s England team to face Japan
15 Elliot Daly
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Alex Lozowski
11 Chris Ashton
10 Owen Farrell
9 Danny Care
1 Ben Moon
2 Jamie George
3 Harry Williams
4 Maro Itoje
5 Courtney Lawes
6 Mark Wilson
7 Sam Underhill
8 Zach Mercer
16 Dylan Hartley
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Nick Schonert
19 Charlie Ewels
20 Brad Shields
21 Ben Youngs
22 George Ford
23 Joe Cokanasiga
There’s no getting away from it, 2018 has been a poor year for England but the performances of the past couple of weeks against two of the best teams in the world have shown real heart, bottle and a return to the intensity that the side was showing when they won 18 games in a row.
John Mitchell’s come in and we’ve defended with aggression, line speed and intensity. He deserves credit for that but raising your game to face the top two teams in the world has something to do with it as well.
From what I hear from speaking to those around the camp, the level of intensity at training has dropped at times so that the players have a bit more energy and bite when it comes to Saturday afternoon.
In the Six Nations earlier in the year England players looked low on energy and it almost appeared like they were struggling with the physicality because they’d clearly been overtrained. That’s changed this autumn and it’s showing in the ability to repeat intense defensive sets against the best teams in the world.
Clearly, it’ll be a different prospect against Japan but it’s often tricky when you’re expected to rack up a load of points against a team so England need to keep their heads, not force things, focus on performance and put their plans into action. The tries and the result will come.
The foundations have been laid with defence and intensity and now It’s time for England’s attack to shine. They scored some great tries under Scott Wisemantel on tour in South Africa in the summer and they managed a couple against the number one team in the world last week but they also failed to score a point after the 25th minute.
Everyone’s craving a performance in attack that sees the shackles taken off and players able to go and express themselves, the kind of display we haven’t really seen from England since they put 61 points on Scotland in 2017. Saturday should provide the perfect opportunity to show they still have that ability in their locker.
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