Having made five changes to the side that lost to Wales, Jones has selected some serious muscle mass to take on Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri, starting with the selection of Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler together in the front row.
Jones said: “We’re really pleased with the development of those two boys. We took them to Australia in 2016 where between the two of them they’d played less than 20 Premiership games, so we took a bit of a punt on them. They’ve matured considerably and we’re delighted for both of them that they’re progressing at such a rate.”
Jones has also beefed up his midfield, pairing the recalled Ben Te’o alongside Manu Tuilagi. “It’s just a good opportunity for us. We’ve been really happy with Manu and Henry Slade, but it’s another opportunity for us to have a look at a different way of playing and we want to be adaptable and we want to be flexible. We just don’t want to play one way, we want to be able to a number of ways.”
It’s an interesting remark given England came under fire after their loss to Wales for not having come up with a Plan B in terms of their attacking style. Asked if he heard the criticism in the last two weeks, Jones replied in his deliberately obtuse fashion, “I know a lot of people have a lot of good opinions and I’m sure that whatever opinion they have there was relevance in their opinion.”
(Continue reading below…)
On the one hand, Jones talked of the opportunity to look at positional combinations but this seemed to contradict his use of Wasps scrum-half Dan Robson, who has only played a handful of minutes since he was taken to South Africa last summer. While plenty of England fans thought this weekend’s match against Italy would be a chance to start Robson, Jones has stuck with Ben Youngs.
“There’s an old saying, if you listen to the fans you end up in the grandstand with them. So I’m certainly conscious of the fact that we need to have two half-backs and I’ll find the appropriate time to make sure that we do. He’s our second best half back at the moment. We know what Richard (Wigglesworth) can do and Danny (Care) is a very good player but at the moment we’re bringing Dan on. And I know how to bring a young player on.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) March 7, 2019
With Brad Shields also into the starting line up, Mark Wilson is on the bench alongside Nathan Hughes with no second row specialist named. Jones clarified: “Nathan’s a guy we’ve been slowly developing as a standby lock. We just feel we could get a lot of value having the ability to have a back rower that can play lock. We had that with Courtney Lawes, but now that Courtney is injured we don’t have that so we’re trying another like for like with Courtney.”
England struggled against Italy two years ago due to the “ruck-gate” tricks employed by O’Shea. Jones seemed keener this time to show a little more respect to the Azzurri.
— Italrugby (@Federugby) March 7, 2019
“If you look at their team, they’ve got a number of highly credited players. (Sergio) Parisse’s a 136-capped player, (Braam) Steyn and (Sebastian) Negri are very combative, strong second rowers.
“Steyn’s probably been one of the players of the tournament. In the centres, they’ve got (Michele) Campagnaro who’s coming back to his best form. (Luca) Morisi is seen as a good strong centre with an outside break.
“They have got plenty of firepower. They have been moving the ball quite a lot and been quite aggressive in their approach to attack, so we’re going to be delighted to defend against them.”
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.