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Tom May Column: Why Eddie Jones Made Those Crucial Selection Decisions

Eddie Jones is a rugby ‘tinkerer’, always fiddling with selection and trying to find the smallest of differences in his team through adaptation and slight changes in selection. It fits with his style and keeps all of the players honest and has helped create the environment within the England camp that has served them so well.

He’s at pains to stress that no one player is indispensable. Well this weekend, some have been dispensed with. Let’s face it, the performance in Edinburgh was an absolute stinker and if ever there was a game for players to be concerned about their places it would have been this week. What makes it even worse from a players’ perspective is they would have had the extra week to think about it rather than getting another shot the following weekend.

Jamie George for Dylan Hartley

A large number of fans have been calling for Jamie George to have his chance in an England shirt from the off and Hartley’s ‘tight calf’ has given the industrious Saracen a chance that he will be relishing. England may well miss a level of aggression which might be needed against the French and potentially some leadership qualities, but that said, very little was on show from anyone in Edinburgh so perhaps George would have had his moment in Paris this weekend anyway.

He gets through a huge amount of work and contributes in all facets of the game, especially through his running lines which consistently make valuable dents in opposition defences. Let’s see how that starting role suits him. George’s bench spot incidentally has been filled by arguably the most in-form hooker in Luke Cowan-Dickie and the pair combined make England more powerful and explosive in this position.

Anthony Watson & Elliot Daly for Mike Brown.

Once again, this is a selection many would have like to have seen made earlier but I think Brown has been playing well in the England 15 shirt. He was outstanding against Wales and this is the first time that he has found himself dropped by Jones who is a big fan.

England’s attack really lacked bite in Scotland and even though they had large periods of time with the ball in hand, they were blunt in attack. With Watson moving to full-back they give themselves an injection of pace and counter-attacking threat. Kick poorly (which the French can and do regularly) and the opposition will be punished. He often doesn’t get the credit that Brown does for his work in the air but Watson has improved in this area and can defuse dangerous situations – forget the first high ball he completely miss-judged in Edinburg, please. I’m excited to see what he can bring to England in a massive pressure game, a must win.

Elliot Daly hasn’t played too much rugby of late and comes straight back into the England starting XV. He gives Jones options all over the field as a second receiver, deadly left footed kicker and an incredible finisher. Just look at what he did down in Cardiff last season. His ability to appear on the shoulder of ball players and his intelligent running lines which time and again pierce the defence make him a go to for Eddie Jones.

As back threes go, it has to be up there as one of the quickest in world rugby. Even though there is more than a 50% chance of rain in Paris on Saturday this trio will threaten every time they have the ball in hand. Exactly what Eddie Jones wants and potentially might need to keep his side in the tournament.

Ben Te’o for Jonathan Joseph

Even though Eddie Jones has cited Mathieu Bastareaud as one of the reasons that he has selected Te’o, this might have been one of the selections he would have chosen to make should it have been against other opposition anyway.

The 13 slot is an incredible important position on the field, not only is it the hardest defensively to get right but so much of a side’s attacking potency comes in and around the channels that the outside centres patrol. Against Italy I thought Te’o did his job well and sucked in defenders which allowed space for the runners in the back line. It wasn’t glitz and glamour, more hard yards but he needs to do the same again in Paris.

The French have the potential to capitulate defensively at times and he will be central to dragging defenders out of position through his physical presence and his offloading capabilities. He may not have the footwork or pace of Joseph but he will relish the chance to try and physically dominate the French centre. After his performance against Italy last time out it’s clear he will be central to France’s game plan.

Joseph either hasn’t used his speed or footwork or hasn’t been able to use them during the opening rounds of the 6 Nations and has largely been unable to contribute as effectively as we have seen in an England shirt. Frustratingly some of the best performances from him in international rugby seem to have come the game following a match when he has missed out on selection.

As team changes go, these may well have been expected anyway at some point during the tournament but perhaps we may now read more into it after a poor performance against Scotland. England need to bounce back or they are in danger of losing the chance to win the 6 Nations, should Ireland win with a bonus point, England will need all of the attacking nouse they can muster.

Author: Tom May

Tom May enjoyed a 19-year rugby career at the very top. He represented England, Newcastle Falcons, Toulon, Northampton Saints and London Welsh . Since retiring, Tom has worked for ESPN, BT Sport and Pundit Arena.

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