A somewhat weird suggestion that England are going in effect to play an “A” team and a “B” team in the Six Nations. It came in something of a throw-away line deep in a Daily Mail column. Part of a slightly confused media response to Eddie Jones’ first squad selection.
Confused about the dropping of Tom Youngs at hooker in particular.
His Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill described himself as “gobsmacked, amazed, stunned”. And he took a sideswipe at the ill-disciplined Dylan Hartley getting the nod describing Youngs thus – “his moral compass is very finely-tuned; he knows what is right and what is wrong”.
Confusion too about the back row where it is suggested that James Haskell will play open side.
According to the Daily Mail the starting side to play Scotland in the RBS Six Nations might be something along these lines – Brown; Ashton, Joseph, Farrell, Watson; Ford, Care; M Vunipola, Hartley (capt), Cole; Launchbury, Kruis; Robshaw, B Vunipola, Haskell.
It is then suggested that the plan is to try out newcomers the following week in Rome, with an experimental line-up against Italy which could look like – Goode; Yarde, Daly, Devoto, Nowell; Ford, B Youngs (capt); Mullan, George, P Hill; Lawes, Itoje; Beaumont, Clifford, Kvesic.
Two points here – first, for me, the “B” team might well beat the “A” team.
The former has balance, youth and a terrific-looking back row. The latter is kind of more of the old. OK, a few changes. Danny Care back – as good as Ben Youngs. Robshaw on the blind – right move. But we are stuck with the conservative and predictable Farrell while in the pack it is back to big lumps, head down, trying to make ground – the Vunipolas and Haskell.
Could Haskell start at seven in the Six Nations?
Haskell hasn’t started for England on the open side for nearly four years. He has many strengths but he is not a specialist in the position which is what we need.
To be fair to Jones the Haskell selection seems to be more a short term stop-gap until what he describes as some real No 7s, red hot over the ball, are identified.
But surely we have had enough of stop-gaps. Why not give Kvesic a proper chance instead of showing doubts in him – what does that do for the player’s confidence?
Alternatively, play Clifford there even if you see him long term as a No 8 – both his legs and his speed of thought are quicker than Haskell’s.
Overall the “B” team’s forwards look much more mobile and mobility round the park matters.
But, apart from the merits or otherwise of individuals, what sort of message is this sending out to the opposition?
Playing at Murrayfield the Scots will be up for it anyway, happy to scrap up front and determined to send England’s “old guard” back across the border, tails between their legs.
As for the Italians, wouldn’t you be angry and insulted at being expected to play the second string.
My blood would be boiling. I’d be going out there determined to teach the English a lesson they will never forget.
I think the England newcomers might still win if they don’t freeze and prove totally over-whelmed. There is sufficient mental toughness, confidence in themselves and desire to do well that they would prove victorious … just. But it would be a great opportunity for the Italians to put one on us.
You could even get a scenario whereby England find themselves two losses out of two at the start of the competition. Not a great start to the Jones reign. If Jones believes in the Itojes, Beaumonts, Cliffords and Kvesics he should blood them first up, not dither about their abilities.
Play them and even if England get beaten, keep playing them. We need to find out what they are made of – the World Cup is after all four years away. There will be a bit of media flack if England get turned over, but so what.
Stuart Lancaster drifted into playing the percentages and afraid of flair. We’ve had a bellyful of that approach.
Jones has made a brave squad selection which, apart from the absence of Youngs and to some extent Danny Cipriani, has been largely welcomed by all. Now he needs to be brave about his starting XV for the Six Nations.
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