England head coach Eddie Jones has hinted at a change in team selection ahead of round four of the 2018 Six Nations in Paris.
Jones yesterday revealed that the forecast for heavy rain in Paris on Saturday could result in an adapted selection policy for his side to face Jacques Brunel's France.
“We all know Stade de France is a heavy pitch anyway and with heavy rain it will be even heavier, so it will be a slogathon,” Jones said. “We could pick a team to play a slogathon.”
This may well result in the break up of the tried and trusted George Ford-Owen Farrell axis in midfield and the inclusion of a fit-again Elliot Daly on the wing. The tactic of deploying two playmakers in the midfield used is in effort of releasing a side's danger men upon their opponents. However, with heavy turf underfoot and a loss against Scotland a fortnight ago, we may finally see Farrell and Te'o reunited at ten and twelve for the first time since the British and Irish Lions opening test in New Zealand.
This would be Te'o's starting debut at inside-centre for England, despite spending the majority of his test career in this position as one of Jones famed 'finishers'.
Two starts for Northampton Saints centre Luther Burrell in Australia in 2016 are outliers in Jones selection policy, preferring the dual playmaker strategy of Ford and Farrell for 24 out of 26 tests to date. Te'o's inclusion would also go some way to filling the sizable gap left by the injured Saracens backrow Billy Vunipola. Nathan Hughes is a handy replacement for Vunipola at eight, but lacks fitness following a return from injury and simply can't match up to Vunipola's world-class tackle busting expertise.
Daly's ability to slot penalties from 50 metres plus could prove an influential factor in Jones' predicted 'slogathan'. Daly's boot would allow England to penalise an indisciplined French side and slowly distance themselves on the scoreboard.
The Wasps centre\wing looks likely to replace Tigers' Jonny May in the eleven jersey, reuniting the Lions test pairing of Daly and Anthony Watson on either end of England's backline. Commenting on Daly's return to fitness, Jones said: “He trained very well, he’s definitely in contention for selection,”
Jones' expressed desire to pick a side suited to such miserable conditions could see Courtney Lawes retained in the backrow despite much talk of a possible return of Bath openside Sam Underhill to the starting lineup. A selection that would further indicate Jones' intentions to stick with a physical and direct approach to his pack, unconvinced his selection policy was wrong despite being thoroughly outplayed at the breakdown in their loss at Murrayfield.
The Australian head coach is preparing his side for a French backlash following two defeats from three so far in the tournament.
“You have just got to look at their motivation,” Jones said. “[Bernard] Laporte, who is a fairly influential figure in French rugby, said it is never over until you play the English. Their mindset is that this is their Grand Final. They can have a great Six Nations or a poor Six Nations depending on this game. Again, this is what we have to embrace, even more so having been successful.
“They will come, will be very physical, aggressive. [Jacques] Brunel picks big teams, very big teams. It is more of a traditional French selection where you have two large locks, athletic back- rowers, squat, short, scrummaging front-rowers and then a mixture in the backs.”
Jones has spent hours on end mulling over the nature of England's loss to Scotland, admitting to having woken up at 4 am yesterday with the matter on his mind. Two losses from 26 are numbers most international coaches would dream of, however, Jones is clearly still plagued by the defeat and is set on rectifying the issue immediately with a convincing victory in France. A chance not afforded England after their anti-climactic loss in the final round of last year's tournament in Dublin.
We can expect as many as three changes to Jones' side and significant ones at that. Should the Ford-Farrell axis be broken up in favour of a Farrell-Te'o pairing, we can expect to see an attacking performance far narrower than we have come to expect from Jones' side thus far.
Te'o could well become the star of the day in the same manner that saw the league convert parachuted from surprise squad inclusion to test starter for the Lions at Eden Park over the summer. A loss in Paris could end England's ambitions of a third successive Six Nations trophy and would further the questions raised over Jones' selection policies.
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