Eddie Jones’ latest England squad announcement has been met with ridicule, surprise and in some quarters a whiff of welcoming change. Regardless of the opinions, these are undoubtedly difficult times for everyone associated with English rugby, let alone Eddie Jones, who along with his radical viewpoints on selection has an injury list as long as his arm.
England ring the changes
Jones has dropped one of his favourites Mike Brown and picked an entirely green back row and front row, except for the returning Dylan Hartley. They will be expected to take on the might of one of the world best forward units with a vastly inexperienced pack. Either a masterstroke or a colossal blunder by Eddie, and on Saturday afternoon we will find out.
Issues around England’s leadership
Having two co-leaders in the form of Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley muddies the waters of having a leader to follow. This merely confirms that Hartley will more than likely be hooked, again, after 50-60 minutes. Surely it would be better to have one captain like most teams and have co-leaders to add to the leadership group? One way or the other, Dylan Hartley, Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs must have big games given the experience they have all had at the coal face of international rugby.
England’s front row facing a baptism of fire
Alec Hepburn and Kyle Sinckler will pack down between the shoulders of Dylan Hartley against probably the best front row in world rugby. It is a formidable task with memories of Steven Kitshoff’s decimation of Sinckler in the second Test in Bloemfontein still fresh.
In Malcolm Marx, South Africa have the best hooker on the planet, no mean feat considering the talents of New Zealand’s Codie Taylor and Dane Coles. Marx is simply exceptional at all the dark arts of a hooker but can run in tries like a centre and pilfer turnover ball at the breakdown like no other. We have not mentioned the equally impressive Eben Etzebeth and the massive Duane Vermeulen, both of whom fall into the world class category. All in all England will do well to gain parity up front.
Jones has picked a workhorse back row to counter Springbok power
This is England’s lightest back row in many a year and is either a masterstroke or a bad mistake. Nobody can begrudge Tom Curry’s selection, who was heroic in a losing back row cause during the summer. Neither the Falcons captain Mark Wilson, who was immense against Toulon and Montpellier in Europe.
Brad Shields’ selection is controversial, given that he has barely had any time in a Wasps jersey and has not convinced the Coventry faithful that he is the player Jones thinks he is. It is a back row that will be industrious and potentially competitive at the all important breakdown, but can they outlast and fight fire with fire against their huge South African counterparts?
England have the finishing ability out wide
So much will depend on the quality of ball the England backs will get out wide. There is no questioning how important Elliot Daly’s inclusion at full back is for England’s attack. He may not have the stability of Mike Brown when the Harlequins man was at his 2015 best, but his footwork, pace and booming boot are priceless assets.
Jonny May is now world class, scoring ordinary as well as extraordinary tries and Jack Nowell is a bundle of enthusiastic energy who invariably beats the first man. It is a thrilling back three if they get decent possession. Henry Slade will have a big role to play in creating space and opportunities for England’s flyers to take advantage.
Ben Te’o’s fitness a huge call
It is a massive call by Eddie Jones to include Ben Te’o instead of Manu Tuilagi given that Te’o has had virtually no game time to show off his credentials. The British and Irish Lions saw the best of Te’o in the New Zealand series. Te’o was excellent at times, cutting up Sonny Bill Williams, making breaks and giving deft offloads as befitting his accomplishments as an ex-NRL player of the very highest quality.
Since that tour, Te’o has been beset by injuries and perhaps Jones should have reversed the roles by having a fit again Tuilagi to punch the holes and give Te’o the last twenty minutes? Either way, this is the right kind of combination for the 10/12/13 channels as Farrell, Slade and Te’o/Tuilagi offer that mix of pace, power and skill.
Farrell rightfully restored in the No.10 jersey
Owen Farrell is deservedly back in the fly half role which sees England’s back line nicely balanced with a strong running centre like Te’o to complement the trickery of Henry Slade. Crucially for England George Ford is back to something like his best for the Tigers this season and can offer England another attacking edge should he enter the fray in the last quarter.
England can shade their Springbok counterparts here with both Faf de Klerk and Willie Le Roux not considered for selection. Stating the obvious, England must take advantage of their respective absences.
Intensity and controlled aggression the keys for England
From an English viewpoint, it would be wonderful to see England come out with genuine intent, ferocity and direction. There can be no more excuses despite the horrible run of injuries as Jones has elected not to pick in form players like Danny Cipriani, Dave Attwood and Alex Goode. If England have serious ambitions of going far in the World Cup next year, they need to beat the Springboks on Saturday so that they can generate some momentum as well as look forward to the visit of the All Blacks the following week.
Lose and the doom merchants, of which there are many, will be onto Jones one week into a brutally tough month’s rugby. It needs England’s experienced players to stand up and for the next generation and that means the likes of Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler to give England a much needed boost and win on Saturday.
It feels like a classic is coming and it might be Owen Farrell’s unerring accuracy from the tee that get’s England, just, over the line.
South Africa team to face England
D Willemse; S Nkosi, J Kriel, D de Allende, A Dyantyi; H Pollard, I van Zyl; S Kitshoff, M Marx, F Malherbe, E Etzebeth, PS du Toit, S Kolisi (capt), D Vermeulen, W Whitelely.
Replacements: B Mbonambi, T du Toit, W Louw, RG Snyman, L de Jager, E Papier, E Jantjies, A Esterhuizen.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images