Eddie Jones has named an exciting side to face Italy in Newcastle tonight, resting a number of core individuals whilst maintaining the spine (George, B. Vunipola, Youngs and Farrell) that is likely to be his first choice in Japan.
In naming Anthony Watson at full black, flanked by McConnochie and May on the wings, Jones has selected an absolutely rapid back three. Whilst Watson lacks the kicking abilities of Elliot Daly, the suspicion is he may be a safer option in defence and under the high ball – his performance will therefore be intriguing, as he could yet replace Daly from Jones’ preferred XV.
Meanwhile, with Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph injured, Joe Marchant has been selected at outside centre, alongside Piers Francis at 12. Francis has played fly half throughout his career, so again Jones appears to be favouring a dual playmaker combination, whether it be Ford and Farrell, Farrell and Francis or Farrell and Slade, in midfield.
Making his first test start, Marchant, so impressive in England’s 2016 U20’s World Cup win, will be looking to cap an excellent season with a strong performance. His playing style, reminiscent of Jonathan Joseph, is dynamic, elusive and entertaining. Physically strong, composed and an excellent reader of the game, he is sure to be a regular international in coming years.
Billy Vunipola plays his fourth consecutive warm up game, despite his recent injury risks, with the two Sale loose forwards Mark Wilson and Tom Curry, on the flanks. Wilson will be an intriguing watch, playing in his hometown, he has a potential to unseat Sam Underhill due to his greater ability as a line out option.
“We are delighted to be playing against Italy, one of our traditional Six Nations rivals and the game for us is another important step to develop our game fitness and game strategy,” Jones said earlier this week. “We have gone with a mix and match selection policy to develop our adaptability and the team’s ability to cope with any situation.”
This versatility will undoubtedly be key come Japan, and after Manu Tuilagi’s destruction of Ireland last week, there is a sense Jones is forcing his players not to rely solely on the front foot momentum that Tuilagi inevitably secures.
Jones went on, “we are excited to be playing in Newcastle. We are playing at an iconic football ground [St. James Park] and we know the area is an important one for rugby in the northern part of England. We are looking forward to seeing and playing in front of the fans.”
Notably, in the pack, Joe Marler and Dan Cole, frozen out earlier in the World Cup cycle, return to the starting fifteen together. Behind them Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes have an opportunity to recommence their classy second row partnership. Lawes’ destructive physicality allied with Launchbury’s relentless work rate has proved a quality combination time and time again; second row is one position England enjoy a wealth of resources.
Charlie Ewells and Matt Kvesic are included on the bench, two players, along with Marchant who did not make the final 31 man World Cup squad.
For all the selection subplots however, this match is unlikely to be played at test match intensity, and their will be a reluctance to risk injury from all sides.
Written by Joe Ronan