England head coach Eddie Jones must swallow his pride and select in-form players writes Alistair Stokes.
In the face of disappointment at the hands of Scotland and a 12-month stint winning ugly, it's time for England head coach Eddie Jones to swallow his pride and select in-form players to kick England on to the next level.
At Murrayfield, England struggled to create any real game-breaking threat or the capability to adapt to the issues facing them. Their Scottish counterparts observed the way in which Nigel Owens officiated the breakdown and adapted thusly, something Dylan Hartley and his men failed to replicate.
The impact of Jamie George, Sam Underhill and Harry Williams off the bench served as the biggest swing in momentum ten minutes into the second-half, clearly under strict instructions from the coaching staff.
Last summer, Jones made a point of exclaiming that his side were learning to lead themselves without his instruction during games. If so much effort has gone into this, then why did a side filled with all but one of their star players struggle to read the flow of the game quite so severely? It seems England are not as far up the international ladder as previously thought.
England have been surviving off the pain of a pool stage exit in a home World Cup in 2015, having blasted their way through a 2016 grand slam and 3-0 whitewash in Australia. Throughout 2017, a common theme in England's performances was their ability to 'win ugly'. While this is a crucial aspect of becoming a World Cup winning side, it is not enough on its own to sit atop the much coveted World Rugby rankings.
England are in need of a stimulus, an extra spark that will light the powder keg of talent and solid foundations set over the last two seasons. Jones can no longer continue to exclude in-form players if his side are to prepare in time to win the World Cup in 2019.
There are a handful of names in contention for a squad spot, all of whom have the ability to add their extra 5% to change the face of the national side. The competition alone will help push this England squad to the next level. Ben Curry, Jason Woodward, Don Armand, Dan Robson, Danny Cipriani, Alex Goode and Henry Trinder are all potential squad members that would add that extra something in their own way.
A few new faces are necessary to tip the scales further in England's favour. While many demand wholesale changes to the side, all it will take is the odd two or three fresh squad additions. After all, Eddie has only lost two tests in over two years, seriously impressive stuff. However, the areas in which England are lacking are beginning to tell and if some changes aren't made now, the wheels may come off altogether.
Jones has a history of being stubborn, with issues arising between himself and the Australian Rugby Union in 2005. The 58-year-old must learn from the past and swallow his pride to make the necessary additions to his squad.
As we saw in both of England's losses under Jones against Scotland and Ireland, the breakdown is an area in need of addressing. The Curry twins are two of England's brightest prospects when it comes to rivaling the likes of Hamish Watson and John Barclay for pilfering ball. Of the two, Tom Curry, who is currently sidelined with a fractured wrist, has gained the favour of Jones while brother Ben is left in the wilderness. Arguably, if Tom had not succumbed to a long-term injury layoff earlier this season, he would have been in direct competition with Sam Underhill, Chris Robshaw and James Haskell for the seven jersey this Six Nations.
Jones must bring Ben into the fold while Tom continues to recover, the 19-year-old is currently fit and firing, showing serious promise in the contact area. He also offers a greater threat ball-in-hand to any other option at openside. Even if Jones doesn't decide to select Ben in the match-day 23, the competition at the breakdown at training will spur his competitors on to develop that particular area of their game. After all, who wants to be shown up at training by a teenager.
With the selection of Courtney Lawes at blindside along with Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Nathan Hughes and Dan Cole in the pack, it's clear as day that Jones has been taking a particularly blunt and direct route thus far. Whether this is the appropriate methodology is up for debate, however, Exeter Chiefs backrow Don Armand can handle himself equally well in the tight as he does out wide and could suit any way in which Jones decides to play. The 29-year-old offers a utility role unrivaled by any other in England. The Zimbabwean would have brought a level of mobility and dynamism to the table on Saturday that neither Lawes or Robshaw could match.
Continuing to exclude the in-form Chiefs backrow smacks of Eddie's stubbornness and pride and Armand must be brought into the squad to have his chance at competition directly during training.
The Gloucester centre has spent the majority of his career battling injuries, currently relishing one of his longest periods of fitness for some time. The 28-year-old is the deadliest outside centre in the Premiership when fit and firing, possessing a level of pace and guile unrivaled in Europe. Trinder could be the man to take England's midfield to the next level and is another that should receive a call-up.
The current incumbent to the 13 jersey is Bath centre Jonathan Joseph, whose attacking threat has plummeted over the last year. Trinder can be the man to slot beside Farrell and Ford and offer a true strike attack option and potential flashes of magic that Joseph has failed to recreate as of late.
At the very least, Trinder's involvement in training could be the catalyst that ultimately wakes Joseph from his malaise and sees him return to the threat of 2016.
The former Hartpury college student is well known to have made the move from Super Rugby to the Premiership in an aspiration to earn international recognition. Since joining Gloucester from Bristol at the end of last season when the latter were relegated to the Championship, the fullback has proven to be a serious attacking threat.
Woodward will have to prove he can offer a sufficient level of positional intelligence when fielding an international class kicking game if he is to be selected. If he can show enough promise without the ball, his abilities going forward speak for themselves and could prove a revelation when combining with the likes of Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly in the outside channels.
Mike Brown has wholly warranted his long-standing run at fullback with England under the last two coaches, however, it's time to consider that he may no longer be the right piece of the jigsaw.
The Harlequins stalwart is imperious in his defence, positional and ariel capabilities, but lacks real threat ball-in-hand. His solidarity at the back is no longer enough for a side looking to become the number one team in the world. England's backline is well marshalled by the likes of Ben Youngs, George Ford and Owen Farrell. With their lack of threat as strike runners, the inclusion of Brown no longer adds up.
Although improving, Owen Farrell's threat ball-in-hand does not stand toe to toe with other international standard inside centres, such is the territory of utilising a playmaker at twelve. This must be met with the provision of ample options attacking from deep for the dual playmakers to unleash upon their opponents defensive line. At present, there are simply insufficient threats available to Ford and Farrell. The inclusion of Woodward and/or Trinder would rectify this.
The exclusion of Brown is no reflection of his quality, he is one of the best in the world at what he does, but the dynamic of the backline simply no longer adds up. Jones and England are not in need of every one of these changes, but they are all options available. The inclusion of Trinder at 13 could absolve the need for Woodward and vice versa.
It seems unlikely Jones will make any of these changes given his comments post the Scotland game, I for one will be hoping he can prove me wrong and make the appropriate changes to England's performance to take two wins from the two remaining fixtures in this year's Six Nations.
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