With England scraping past France with one of their most disjointed performances since Eddie Jones took the reins, they move on to the Millennium Stadium with many questions unanswered and supporters wondering whether a second consecutive Grand Slam is beyond them. Jones will have none of these doubts. Despite being disappointed with his team’s performance, he is certain to move forward with the same steadfast attitude which he has carried thus far in his tenure. He will see that this performance is made to look like a one off and that his team, knowing how lucky they were to win, will not fall into similar traps again.
Jones’ selection is unlikely to be radical ahead of the Wales match, many of those who performed poorly on Saturday have had stellar years and should be rewarded by being given another chance. The front five is unlikely to change, especially after the frustrating news of George Kruis’ extended injury layoff. The only possible option would be to move Maro Itoje back into the second-row, but after a solid performance at blindside, Jones is unlikely to move his star charge around too much.
James Haskell would be a positive inclusion after his impressive cameo at the weekend and would add much needed go-forward, with Tom Wood the unlucky victim dropping to the bench while Nathan Hughes keeps his place. Danny Care may be a tempting choice at scrum-half to increase the team’s tempo, but Ben Youngs has enough credit in the bank to start again this week.
This brings us to the most debatable area of selection for the Wales match; the backline and more specifically, the midfield. In the last year, George Ford and Owen Farrell have formed a formidable partnership, offering England the luxury of having two high-quality playmakers in the team and the effect has been evident with England averaging over three tries a match since Jones took over.
They deserve a lot of credit for making a pairing which initially seemed like a stop-gap caused by injuries to Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi into a successful unit, with extra praise going to Farrell, who has managed to change his position while still playing at a world-class level. But, after the impact that Ben Te’o had off the bench against France, giving England’s attack direction and scoring the crucial try. He must be pushing for a starting place in Cardiff, putting pressure on Ford as Farrell has established himself as almost undroppable due to his presence as a leader and goal kicker.
However, the deterrent for this move would be to look back to the First Test against Australia in the summer, where Jones only had to see 30 minutes of his experiment of playing a bigger man, Luther Burrell, at 12 before admitting it was a failure and replacing him with Ford. It is for this reason, as well as Ford’s mercurial potential in attack that the Te’o experiment should be held back and perhaps tried against Italy where physicality will be vital.
This leaves only the outside backs as a position for possible change in the starting XV. Elliot Daly again showed his talents with his booming boot gaining England three, otherwise unattainable, points as well as impressing in both attack and defence. Due to this, a place must be found for him in the team, the only problem is where. His left wing position is being pushed hard by Jack Nowell and will come under even more scrutiny when Anthony Watson returns, while the full-back role which Jones has earmarked him for is filled by the ever-consistent Mike Brown.
Therefore, Jonathan Joseph’s position must be questioned as it is where Daly plays for his club and where he performed so well against South Africa in the autumn. But, like his club mate Ford, Joseph has proven himself consistently on the international stage and to drop him for such a big game would be a risk too far. Due to this, Jones should resist the temptation for wholesale changes to his team and keep Daly on the wing with the possibility of bringing Nowell off the bench as he did against France.
Instead, Jones must focus on accuracy in attack and defence this week in training before a fiery match for which his troops will need no added motivation. Travelling to the hotbed of the Millennium Stadium their hearts will be burning with passion, let’s hope that their performance can back it up and they can march on triumphantly on Saturday.
Image courtesy of Chris Brown