England’s summer tour to South Africa has signified a change in the winds under Australian Head Coach Eddie Jones, with England’s old guard being phased out of the starting team in favour of far more expansive and highly skilled individuals.
Whether by hook or by crook, the likes of captain Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Mike Brown have all been ousted from their starting roles. Mike Brown remains the only one of the quintet to retain a place in England team, but has been shifted to wing as temporary injury cover for Lions duo Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell.
Owen Farrell has been receiving glowing reports from coaches, teammates and Jones himself, questioning whether Hartley will be able to re-establish himself in the starting lineup once he returns from a concussion enforced layoff this summer.
Another former captain, Chris Robshaw, has also been ousted from a starting berth, with Hurricanes skipper and soon-to-be Wasps flanker Brad Shields stepping into the starting lineup for his second cap in Bloemfontein this weekend. Shields’ extra mobility and threat as a ball runner as well as his role at the lineout may have finally usurped Robshaw from a backrow he has held a firm grip on since 2012.
Sale Sharks youngster Tom Curry has also deposed a 65+ capped international backrow, with James Haskell looking unlikely to retain his spot on the openside if Curry continues impressing for England. With Sam Underhill, Jack Willis and Ben Curry (twin brother of Tom) all showing extreme promise, Haskell will have to stay on his toes to compete for a regular feature in England’s match day 23.
Stalwart tighthead prop Dan Cole has been rested this summer after an inordinate workload this season, but the dynamism that both Kyle Sinckler and Harry Williams are offering this summer may see the Tigers prop left competing for a bench role or even a spot on the plane to Japan next year.
A fact evidently clear to see this summer is that Eddie Jones is making big changes to England in an attempt to improve their attacking options. With Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Brad Shields, Tom Curry and Elliot Daly (moved to fullback) finally earning starting roles and with Danny Cipriani added to England’s bench, the Red Rose’s attacking outlook is fast becoming a far more promising prospect.
While it is true that Jones could well decide to bring Hartley, Cole, Robshaw, Haskell and Brown back into their starting roles, it seems unlikely that all of these players being rested or dropped at the same time is merely a coincidence.
Jones has cleverly put himself in the position that would allow him to bring all these players back into the 23 next season if the changes made this summer prove to be duds. With Cole and Haskell back and available for selection in November after being left at home and with Brown and Robshaw still in or around the squad this June, Jones has left plenty of cover to bring his ‘safe options’ back into the frame if the more dynamic counterparts prove to lack an acceptable amount of stability.
The 58-year-old is a smarter operator than most fans are giving him credit for of late, in light of England’s losing streak. There are very promising signs coming from the England camp this month and by the time the Six Nations, or perhaps even the November Internationals come around, England should have taken a significant step in their evolution. Jones must stick with these changes and avoid returning to his tried and trusted players that offer solidarity, but little else.
If England are truly serious about their ambitions to win the Rugby World Cup in Japan next season, they will continue on this path.
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