After England’s solid victory against a disappointing South African outfit, with glimpses of genuine world-class quality from the men in white at times, head coach Eddie Jones has some difficult decisions to make for next week’s match against definite underdogs Fiji.
We take a look at some of the options Jones could go for as his man management skills are tested to their limit over four consecutive weeks of demanding test rugby.
Option #1: The Status Quo
Greater challenges await England when they take on both Argentina and Australia, so the Aussie may decide to stick with the same team that played the Springboks this weekend.
It would give the team greater chances to develop the understanding needed in key units across the park: Launchbury and Lawes at lock, Robshaw and Wood in the back row, Farrell and Daly in the centres and the back three unit of May, Brown and Yarde.
Of course, many fans were disappointed with the latest outing from Marland Yarde, particularly when he was selected over the in-form Bath winger Semesa Rokoduguni. However, the Harlequins speedster’s kick chase was effective and it would be a surprise to see him dropped from the team for next week.
Yet picking the same team throughout all four internationals could risk further injuries when England are already struggling in a couple of positions, most notably at openside flanker.
Team: Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Marland Yarde, Mike Brown
Option #2: The Second Stringers
Joe Schmidt sprung a surprise by making 15 changes to the Ireland starting line up to face Canada this weekend. Such a move is unusual in modern professional rugby, but with his first choice players tired after a demanding fixture against the All Blacks and with the issues of jet lag and travelling to and from Chicago to be considered, it seemed a logical move.
The men in green’s 52-21 win over the Canucks despite fielding a genuine second string side will have given the New Zealander some food for thought over his team to take on the All Blacks in Dublin, particularly on the bench, but ultimately it gave his core players a break to recuperate for their most important fixture of their year.
In the case of England, in comparison to Canada they face a more demanding challenge in the physical and abrasive Fiji. At the World Cup the Fijians were competitive against the Red Rose for the majority of the opening fixture of the tournament against the host nation’s first choice team.
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Should Jones go down the route of selecting an almost entirely new team, it would ensure he has fresh legs for Argentina the following weekend, but with so many new combinations in the team and the danger of the Pumas, it would be a risk too far for the Australian to go the whole hog.
Team: Joe Marler, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Dave Attwood, Charlie Ewels, Nathan Hughes, Teimana Harrison, Josh Beaumont, Danny Care, Alex Lozowski, Jonny May, Ben Te’o, Jonathan Joseph, Semesa Rokoduguni, Alex Goode
Option #3: A Mixture
Jones could stick with the core of his team to face the Springboks but bring in a few more names to see what they can offer in a white shirt and in combination with his usual picks.
Tom Wood was solid enough against the Springboks, but looked like a blindside doing his best as a 6.5 rather than a genuine openside. The match against Fiji could be a good opportunity for Northampton Saints flanker Teimana Harrison to build up his confidence once more.
Kyle Sinckler made his test debut coming off the bench against the Springboks, but a powerful Fiji pack might be a good opportunity to measure his improving abilities at the set piece. His scrummaging is certainly an area that needs work.
Moreover, Rokoduguni needs a chance to shine given his tremendous club form and a second cap against the country of his birth might be the rest time to offer him a recall.
Team: Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, Kyle Sinckler, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw, Teimana Harrison, Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Semesa Rokoduguni, Mike Brown
Verdict: There are obvious risks if Eddie Jones sticks with his first team and missed opportunities to test the growing resources available to the head coach, but at the same time wholesale changes could be counter-productive when building for the dangers that both Argentina and Australia pose. Keeping new combinations intact while experimenting with some players in targeted positions may be the way forward.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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