Scotland will come to Twickenham next weekend and Eddie Jones will be keen to get an improved performance from his England side, so who should he pick?
Eddie Jones cut a frustrated figure after the Italy game and the ‘No Ruckgate’ affair meant he spent most of the post-match press conference trying to deflect attention away from his team by dredging up cricket’s underarm bowling controversy of 1981. But unlike Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice, from a couple of years later, he is not likely to ‘Rip it Up’ and start again when Scotland come to Twickenham on 11 March.
A bit of minor tinkering will probably be the order of the day and England could line up something like this. Eddie Jones will also be watching events at Newcastle, where Billy Vunipola, is due to feature and The Rec where Anthony Watson should be back for Bath, with his usual beady eye for the try-line.
Full-back: Mike Brown
Brown missed a tackle on centre Michele Campagnaro that led to an Italian try last weekend and there are suggestions the clock is ticking on his international career. If Scotland launch the ball into the air he is best-equipped player to deal with it and, as a stroppy so-and-so, will not want another poor afternoon on his CV or it could put him under threat longer term.
Wings: Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly
Stuart Lancaster used to talk about points of difference and Nowell has been a point of difference in one start, against Wales, and two hit-outs off the bench. The Exeter wing has had a pile of time off with injury this season but he is the real deal. Daly, also a talented cricketer, is the sort of bloke who can do everything to a high-standard – one of those annoyingly able people you used to envy at school but boy can he finish, kick and pass. Expect him to be moved off the wing sooner rather than later.
Centres: Owen Farrell and Ben Te’o
Owen Farrell had a rare off-day against the Italians with his kicking off the tee and out of hand but we can let him off this time and he will be raging to do better against the Scots. Te’o was played at 13 against Italy and when he got into the game he did some damage, scoring one try and making another. He looks set for a decent run in the squad and the chance to see more ball than he did last time out but Jonathan Joseph could be back as a starter for Ireland.
Fly-half: George Ford
Ford was another who was a bit under par against the Italians when he probably expected to play the game on the front foot but instead was another bloke to miss Campagnaro as the visitors sniffed an upset. Jones rates Ford very highly but the fly-half is unlikely to be on the front foot all afternoon next Saturday and knocking the Scots over the boundary.
Scrum-half: Ben Youngs
Danny Care picked a couple of moments to break through the Italians no-ruck policy, before he was replaced by Youngs, but he didn’t have anywhere else to go at some points when the link to his No.10 was cut off by blue shirts. Youngs has started 51 of his 68 games for England, Care 31 of 69, and the Leicester man should get the nod this time. Care can act as a ‘finisher’ – a new word in rugby’s lexicon thanks to Jones.
Props: Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole
Joe Marler did not have the best of days last weekend at Twickenham and Vunipola is ready to take back the starting place he made his own in the autumn. Likewise Dan Cole was a bit off-colour but he has got the credit in the bank – a phrase beloved of Lancaster – although Kyle Sinckler’s appearance off the bench was eye-catching and Old King Cole will be looking over his shoulder.
Hooker: Dylan Hartley (capt)
Not this finest hour against the Italians but Jones will stick with his skipper until his ‘project captaincy’ runs its course which may be as soon as the end of this Six Nations. Hartley offers plenty of devil, but the set-piece went wobbly last weekend and Jamie George doesn’t seem to have a bad game off the bench.
Locks: Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes
Launchbury has been England’s stand-out player in the Six Nations so far, he has copped a couple of man of the match gongs and he is a no-brainer to start. Lawes’ form dipped a bit against Italy but the pair had cracked on in the previous two games. Launchbury is now the player his boss at Wasps, Dai Young, told us all he would be a few years back – it is a shame at least one of England’s four decent locks will miss out on the British & Lions trip this summer.
Back row: Maro Itoje, James Haskell, Billy Vunipola
Itoje had his best game in the No.6 shirt for England, last week, but the same cannot be said for Hughes at No.8. If Billy Vunipola gets through his first game back, for Saracens, he has got to start as he is one of the England players approaching world class. England have missed his ability to get on the front foot, even from a standing start, ever since he was carted off against Argentina in November and if he is fit he should play from the off. James Haskell got a lot of unfair stick for the way he was talking to referee Romain Poite about the Italian tactics last Sunday but at least he was trying to work out what was going on. That showed leadership and England are still missing a bit of that according to Jones.
Bench: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Tom Wood, Nathan Hughes, Danny Care, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson