Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Who will remain out in the cold when Eddie Jones names his England Six Nations squad?

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Monday’s announcement could effectively confirm the end of the road for several internationals for whom Jones appears to have partially blamed England’s disastrous 2021 Six Nations

i understands the England head coach is working on a theme of “moving forwards, not back” – so does that mean a continuing snub to the likes of Mako and Billy Vunipola, and George Ford, who were omitted from the squad who won all three autumn internationals, and will Jones double down on the fresh look to personnel and tactics he brought to that November line-up?

Eddie Jones is expected to name 36 players for in his Six Nations squad announcement on Tuesday, a similar number to those he used in the autumn, but significantly up from the 28 he was permitted for last year’s Six Nations.

In his recent book “Leadership”, Jones reviewed last year’s woeful fifth place in the Six Nations, and castigated unnamed players for not getting off the ground to work hard enough in the away loss to Ireland.

He wrote: “At this stage it is hard to know if any of those who have lost their hunger will turn it around and emerge revitalized in a new season. They might be voracious again and persuade me to give them another chance but, at the end of the [2021] Six Nations, there were five players who I thought were unlikely to play Test rugby again.”

Who were those five? Looking at the 23 who faced Ireland last March, the following were left out of Jones’s initial squad when November came around: Elliot Daly (who was injured), Ollie Lawrence, Ford, Dan Robson, the two Vunipolas, Mark Wilson (also injured) and Ben Earl.

In addition, Jamie George and Joe Marchant were omitted at first, but recalled as injury cover and both picked to play.

As England get ready now to take on Scotland on 5 February, followed by Italy, Wales, Ireland and France, the most obvious positive reaction has come from Ford, the Leicester fly-half named twice by a media panel as the Premiership’s player of the month.

Billy Vunipola has turned in some impressive moments this season but the big No 8 has also been dogged by injuries, at the same time as Jones placed a new premium on running meters over territory gained from kicks, which points to the more mobile tom curry, Sam Simmonds other Alex Dombrandt holding sway.

Owen Farrell is another of the Saracens players Jones eventually conceded were undercooked in 2021, and the captain has been injured since mid-November and only due back from an ankle operation next week – which leaves MarcusSmith in pole position as fly-half against the Scots, whether or not Ford is recalled.

Meanwhile, there are form players in the uncapped Harlequins centre Luke Northmore and the fit-again Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall, who deserves a chance after he missed the autumn with an injury sustained while in the England camp.

Up front, Jones admits to worries about England’s set-piece, noting that half the team’s penalties conceded are occurring there, which means they are being overpowered. So while new front-rowers in Bevan Rodd, Nick Dolly, Jamie Blamire other Trevor Davison have added to England’s depth, Jones is pondering the best permutation of loosehead props from Mako Vunipola, Ellis Genge, Joe Marler and Rodd, tighthead props from Will Stuart, Kyle Sinckler, Davison and Joe Heyes, and hookers from Luke Cowan Dickie, JamieGeorge, Blamire and Dolly.

Manu Tuilagi is not yet fit after his hamstring injury, but the center who is England’s gainline king will surely be picked when ready.

Overall, Jones is treading a fine line of wanting an aggressive approach – he says 70 per cent of tries are scored within the first four phases – married with the solidity of set-piece and defence.

Dombrandt and Simmonds were effective as hybrid-style second-half substitutes in the autumn, and Jones has likened them to the high-energy former South Africa captain Bobby Skinstad.

But will he trust either man to operate in the heavy traffic from minute one?

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