Eddie Jones made three changes to his staring XV.
Despite talk of Eddie Jones selecting more athletic players and adopting an expansive game plan against Italy, it looks as if England will instead approach the game in a similar vein to that seen in Murrayfield last weekend.
Indeed the three changes made by Jones do not suggest that England will look to move Italy around the field, with Mako Vunipola, Courtney Lawes and Ben Youngs coming in for Joe Marler, Joe Launchbury and Danny Care respectively.
Nevertheless, anything other than an England win in Rome would be classified as a massive upset.
1. Consistent Selection or Conservative Approach
In the aftermath of the World Cup, not only were fans demanding that Stuart Lancaster be sacked, but that the RFU appoint a coach who would inculcate a southern hemisphere philosophy into English rugby. However, what we witnessed last weekend was an unashamed power game.
Nevertheless, as long as Eddie Jones looks to evolve England’s style of play over a period of time, there is nothing wrong with going back to basics and rebuilding from the ground up. It was therefore expected that the Australian born coach would announce a line up that suggested the introduction of a more subtle approach this weekend.
This is pertinent given the fact that England were drawn against the two leading candidates for the Wooden Spoon in their opening games. Consequently, England will face Ireland, Wales and France without allowing themselves the scope for proper experimentation against either Scotland and Italy.
2. Owen Farrell and George Ford
Although it must be said that England have struggled at inside centre for some time, the selection of both Owen Farrell and George Ford for the second consecutive week is a little strange on two fronts.
Firstly, the combination failed to inspire confidence last weekend, and secondly, Ford is currently suffering through a period of poor form. Indeed, it would seem far more logical to select a player such as Danny Cipriani, if Jones wants to continue to employ a dual pivot.
Apart from Ford’s form, Farrell does not provide England with enough creativity from the 12 jersey to justify his inclusion there. Nevertheless, if the coach is to persist with employing two playmakers, like many others, I would love to see Henry Slade play at either 10 or 12 at some point in the future.
3. Maro Itoje and Jack Clifford
It was understandable why Jones chose not to select inexperienced players such as Maro Itoje and Jack Clifford in his starting line up against Scotland. The white hot atmosphere and the apparent rise of Scottish rugby ensured a pragmatic selection.
However this weekend’s clash provided Jones with the ideal opportunity to start at least one of the two players. Both players offer mobility, something Jones had spoken about during the week, along with tempo and energy.
Indeed as Italy looked to move the ball against France, Clifford could have excelled in the open spaces in the wider channels. Given their limited game time, it would therefore suggest that neither player will be at the forefront of the coach’s mind during England’s run in against Ireland, Wales and France.
4. Chris Robshaw and James Haskell
Although the World Cup highlighted England’s need for a genuine openside, Eddie Jones has once again opted for Chris Robshaw and James Haskell at six and seven respectively. While their inclusion suits the game plan Jones seems to be employing, against better opponents, England could suffer from familiar failings.
Their work rate aside, both Robshaw and Haskell have and will struggle against the likes of Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Sean O’Brien. It is therefore surprising that somebody like Matt Kvesic has been dropped out of the squad completely this weekend.
Therefore like many of his other selections, Jones has allowed himself little room for manoeuver before the showdown with Ireland.
5. Eddie Jones’ Gamesmanship
Since Warren Gatland’s appointment as Wales coach, supporters have consistently been critical of the gamesmanship shown by him. The Kiwi coach seems to revel in controversy, as supporters of opposition teams react to well aimed insults in his pre game press conferences.
However it was the turn of Eddie Jones to take centre stage this week, when he told reporters that England were going to ‘smack’ Italy and ‘give them a good hiding’. Was there any need for those comments? Would he be as vocal if England were preparing to play New Zealand?
As a result, Jones has shown little respect for Italy and only served to highlight the arrogant jibe often thrown at the England team and supporters.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena