Eddie Jones Options to Solve Backrow Crisis
Six Nations 2017: Eddie Jones's options to solve back-row crisis
Imagine if Wales were stripped of Taulupe Faletua, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric. Or Ireland without Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony.
Losing one of those world-class players is bad enough, but all three? This is the prospect facing Eddie Jones with the news Tom Wood is a major doubt to face Wales in Cardiff because of a shoulder injury.
England’s strength in depth the combination of Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw and James Haskell has become Jones's first choice back-row triumverate and all three are likely to be unavailable.
To add to Jones's worries, Vunipola's replacement at No 8, Nathan Hughes, has a knee issue picked up during last Saturday's narrow victory over France.
It means England face the prospect of fielding what tantamounts to a rookie back row against a feared Wales trio of Warburton, Tipuric and Ross Moriarty or Faletau.
So, what are Jones's options?
Fortunately, England are blessed with enviable back row strength in depth. The most likely England back-row threesome will be Maro Itoje at six, Jack Clifford at seven and Hughes, providing he is passed fit, at eight. Playing Itoje at blindside is not ideal, as his performance against France showed. He was a solid 6/10 until he got moved back into the second row late on, when Jones started using his substitutes bench, and his rating shot up.
Ideally, Jones would start Itoje at lock, play Clifford at six and James Haskell at openside, but the Wasps flanker is not deemed fit enough to start, having only just returned to the squad as a replacement after playing just 53 minutes since injuring a toe in June. Jones will instead expect him to deliver another impressive cameo, as he did against the French.
Teimana Harrison is another option at seven, but has been released back to Northampton with Jones still not convinced he has the necessary grunt to take on the Welsh. He may, though, earn a quick recall if Hughes gets bad news.
England's back row strength in depth
Imagine everyone was fit and available, these are the players Eddie Jones could choose from:
Blindside flanker: Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood, Jonathan Haskell, Jack Clifford, Dave Ewers, Maro Itoje, Don Armand, Mark Wilson, Guy Thompson, Will Fraser, Mitch Lees, Calum Clark.
Openside flanker: James Haskell, Tom Wood, Teimana Harrison, Jack Clifford, Sam Underhill, Mike Williams, Sam Jones, Will Evans, Jackson Wray, Brendon O'Connor, Luke Wallace, Matt Kvesic.
No 8: Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes, Ben Morgan, Josh Beaumont, Thomas Waldrom, Mark Wilson, Jack Clifford.
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