During the first two years of Eddie Jones’ time in charge of England, the scrum-half position was one of many strengths. Fast-forward a couple of years and it is now the area of most concern for so many.
In 2016 and 2017, England would get 60 minutes from Ben Youngs before Danny Care was unleashed on the opposition, upping the tempo and causing havoc. In fact, Care’s name is one of the first that spring to mind when thinking of Jones’ ‘finishers’.
The rivalry between those two scrum-halves seemed to spur them on and the fact that they were so stylistically different was integral to the coach’s game plan. Such competition is often the bedrock upon which great teams are formed, but England have lost out in that department at No9.
Over the past year, Jones hasn’t shown trust in another scrum-half other than Youngs. Wasps’ Dan Robson was sparingly used during the 2019 Six Nations and was subsequently overlooked for the World Cup where Jones went for just two nines.
Gloucester’s Willi Heinz was used as Youngs’ deputy in Japan, with Ben Spencer joining late on in the tournament after an injury to the New Zealand-born player.
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There have been calls for other nines to be selected over the past few weeks, as many feel Leicester Tigers’ Youngs’ form has dipped. Although it looks as though Care’s Test career may have come to an end, he still is a popular option for many fans.
Why are England going to do about their scrum half? Youngs was terrible yesterday Great player, but woefully out of form
— Andy baker (@Bakes_1) February 3, 2020
Joe Simpson, Dan Robson and Ben Spencer must be confused. I am.
— Tom Wright (@twright1989) February 6, 2020
Heinz starts in Scotland this weekend after Youngs’ tricky afternoon in Paris, but few see him as the long term solution at scrum-half. After all, he is three years the elder of the 98-cap international. However, he did look more impressive at the Stade de France, posing a greater threat at the fringes of the breakdown.
Even so, Heinz is fairly similar in style to Youngs, or certainly compared to Care, which is why Jones has probably opted for him. But there has been a move away from the ‘finisher’ style which was once endorsed.
Also get Heinz and Youngs in the bin. If England want to go one step further in 2023, this needs to happen immediately. Currently I’d start Spencer with Robson bench
— Jamie (@RegistaJL) February 6, 2020
So many talented 9’s to choose from – Spencer, Randall, Chudley and Robson… Why a has-been Kiwi? ?????
— Werner Hefer (@OvalBrain) February 6, 2020
Youngs has performed best for England where there has been a high level of competition for his place, but Jones has drained that out of the team over the past twelve months.
While there are younger players coming through, namely Alex Mitchell and Harry Randall, the Australian has been reluctant to trust younger players, which is in stark contrast to most other positions on the field where many emerging players have been backed.
The No8 position is maybe the only position other than scrum-half where the coach is perhaps not creating a rivalry for places.
Why no Spencer or Robson?
— Tom (@NewnhamTom) February 6, 2020
Anyone only needs to look how Jones has managed his locks – Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis and Joe Launchbury – to see how to get the best out of players when there is competition for places.
Youngs will bounce back from being dropped, but at no point over the past year would he have felt under the illusion that he would lose his place if he performed badly.
A decent showing from Heinz at Murrayfield would force him to try and regain the standard which has made him one of England’s great scrum-halves.
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