Although we face into what will be another weekend of top quality Champions Cup action, Eddie Jones, as he so often does, stole the headlines on Friday when he announced England’s Six Nations squad.
Despite there being no glaring omissions, Jones once gain left us with quite a few talking points following his press conference. There was talk of possible changes at fullback, and it looks as though he is beginning the process of replacing Dylan Hartley as captain.
Given the form of Jamie George, such a transition may occur quicker than most of us anticipated. Hartley hasn’t played much rugby this season, and he needs to hold his place in the team on merit.
While I very much doubt Dylan will be ousted during the Six Nations, England’s tour of Argentina should provide Eddie with the opportunity of appointing a tour captain, before he makes a decision on who will lead England into the 2019 World Cup.
Although Dylan might retain both his place and the captaincy, the omens don’t look good, particularly given the competition he now faces from George.
A similar situation hangs over Mike Brown. Despite being one of England’s most consistent performers over recent seasons, he hasn’t been able to reach the same heights with Harlequins. Even though this isn’t a vintage Quins team, the fullback has not been able to rise above the receding tide at the Stoop.
In any event, time isn’t on Mike’s side as a number of young pretenders lay claim to the number 15 shirt. Alex Lozowski played really well for Saracens against the Scarlets last weekend, and might yet prove to be an attacking option from fullback.
Lozowski certainly has the footballing skills and the vision to play there, but he must first take the jersey off Alex Goode at Saracens if he wants to break into the England team at fullback.
Elliot Daly faces a similar problem. When I played with him at Wasps, I remembering telling Elliot that he would make a terrific fullback, despite his favoured position being at outside centre. Like Lozowski though, Elliot might struggle to get enough game time in the 15 jersey with Kurtley Beale and Willie le Roux standing in his way.
Saying that, with Italy at home in round three, I do believe Eddie has the scope to make some changes and rotate his squad mid-Championship. If England were to overcome both France and Wales in their opening two games, then there wouldn’t be as much pressure ahead of the Italian game.
Why not give Daly or Lozowski a run at fullback against the Italians with Jamie George at hooker and Owen Farrell as captain? It would certainly shake things up going into the final two games, and provide those players additional international experience.
With Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola ruled out of the opening games against France and Wales, Eddie can’t really make too many changes at the beginning of the tournament. The French will smell blood at the sight of Nathan Catt or Matt Mullan starting in the front row against a tight-head like Rabah Slimani.
Wales too will try and move the ball in order to expose James Haskell’s limited game time, while Nathan Hughes has never experienced the intense pace of a Six Nations encounter. Yes, England’s summer tour of Argentina will allow Eddie introduce some squad players into his side, but why not start the process a little earlier?
Andy Goode, Pundit Arena
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