Six Nations 2016: Possible Team to Play Italy
Jack Clifford looks to be in line to make his first start for England in one of up to four changes to the forwards to face Italy after Eddie Jones said that he was considering selecting a “faster pack” for his side’s second Six Nations match in Rome on Sunday.
The England coach, has retained a 25-man squad and raised the prospect of a big-name casualty in the back row as he also retained Josh Beaumont and Maro Itoje, with Wasps centre Elliot Daly and Gloucester’s Matt Kvesic released back to their clubs.
Clifford has been identified by Jones as a forward of huge potential and although he sees his long-term future as a No 8, he sees his short-term future as a seven, last month praising his “acceleration” and “physical power”, which is likely to lead to a shake-up of the back row.
Jones heaped praise on the defensive performance of James Haskell, who started at openside in the 15-9 win against Scotland on Saturday and it appears the Wasps flanker may be switched to his more familiar position of blindside flanker, with former England captain Chris Robshaw dropping to the bench.
Mako Vunipola, after an impressive cameo against Scotland, is also expected to start ahead of Joe Marler in the front row, while Courtney Lawes is likely to come into the side ahead of George Kruis.
“We’ll pick the best 23 for Italy so we could conceivably pick a faster pack,” Jones said. “We’re going to make some changes. We’ll pick a side more specifically for Italy and it will revolve around a number of positions. Our selection policy is to pick the best 23 and what I think is the best 23 to play Italy could be considerably different from the best 23 that played against Scotland.
Jones described Robshaw’s performance as “tidy. It was good, he’ll only get better”. But the head coach was pointedly rich in his praise for Haskell. “We don’t have a Test seven at the moment. Haskell did a super job at the weekend. He made 22 tackles. If McCaw makes 22 tackles, everyone raves about him. There is an obsession with turnovers here.
“We’re not obsessed with turn-overs. We’re obsessed with having a good defence, which we did against Scotland. We didn’t allow them to cross the line. And he was a genuine driving force as part of that defence. There is a rumour going round that James Haskell has got bad hands. That’s not true. He’s got terrible hands. But he used his hands really well. He was dynamite in defence.
“That was a great openside display, not in the traditional sense but in the way we are defending. It was first-class.”
Jones admitted that the breakdown was an area to improve from the display against Scotland but insisted it was not a major issue. “I don’t want to get obsessed by the breakdown. The breakdown is a product of the rest of the game.
“We got turned over when Billy Vunipola had to break to the right-hand side of a scrum and our right-hand flanker got caught on the scrum. Now that’s not a breakdown problem, it’s a scrum problem. Let’s just focus on what happened in the game.”
Kruis, one of England’s try-scorers on Saturday, was one of England’s outstanding forwards along with Billy Vunipola, but Jones is keen to also look at other options as part of his mission to develop three quality players per position. “It’s not related to how they played at the weekend,” the coach said. “We have to find depth, too.
“The one task at the weekend is to win the game – which is always the main task – but the second task is to develop options in each position. We need to go to the World Cup with three very good options in each position. We need to know clearly who is the first, second and third choice in each position.
“George Kruis, for instance, was outstanding at the weekend in the middle of the line-out. He called well, jumped well, and scrummed well. Who’s our second guy?
“We need to find out who is our second guy and who is our third guy and that’s the same for every position so that when we get to a World Cup, if someone is suspended or injured we know exactly who can jump in there. It won’t be dissimilar to the 23 we had against Scotland but the batting order might change.”
Jones will confirm his starting XV on Friday, with two players of the 25 to be named as travelling reserves.
Forwards: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Wasps), Paul Hill (Northampton Saints), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Josh Beaumont (Sale Sharks)
Backs: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby), Alex Goode (Saracens), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).
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