Rugby-Jones faces a familiar conundrum in English midfield

The news that Owen Farrell will miss the entire Six Nations with an ankle injury has left Eddie Jones with a selection headache in midfield, although he, and every England coach since the 2003 World Cup, is very familiar with the news.

England’s triumph 19 years ago against a team from Australia led by Jones included a world-class center partnership of Mike Tindall and Will Greenwood, who fit perfectly into the hole punch/space seeker template that nearly every team has since attempted to emulate. England’s best midfield since then has generally been Manu Tuilagi and “everyone”, but with Tuilagi also out with yet another injury, Jones cannot continue to base his plans around him and must make some tough choices for the Six Nations and next year’s World Cup.

Since the acquisition in 2016, Jones has tried out more than 20 midfield combinations. Over the past few years, he has tended to use Farrell downtown, mostly outside of George Ford, with a variety of options at age 13. That was his plan for this championship, with Farrell providing a “stable influence” for international rookie Marcus Smith, which would give him a bit of a free hand to continue selecting a “footballer” like Henry Slade at 13-years-old. age.

Farrell’s absence will prompt a reconsideration. Smith is at his best for England champion Harlequins with the force of nature that is South African Andre Esterhuizen outside of him and if Jones wants to try and replicate that setup he has a player in similar form in the form of Mark Atkinson. Jones gave the 31-year-old his only cap so far as a substitute against Tonga in November, but he looks likely to have a long shot at the World Cup and perhaps a lower ranking of Jones as a result.

“We can move Sladey (Henry Slade) from 13 to 12 in one place,” Jones said when discussing his options at Wednesday’s Six Nations launch. Slade, a regular at 13 but too often unable to replicate his club form there, gave one of his best performances in an England shirt when he stepped into the inside center as Tuilagi went on early in November’s win. South Africa limped.

“It’s important for every 10 in the world, be it Marcus Smith or Finn Russell or Romain Ntamack for France, that the 12 is a good communicator and takes some of the pressure off the 10 in terms of giving good information and assist in the defensive role,” Jones added. Slade at age 12 might open the door for Harlequins’ Joe Marchant, also impressive against South Africa, but who seems to see Jones more as a winger and for a while could a Smith-Slade-Marchant trio make England fans salivate, the head coach might consider it’s a little light on the ball.

Jones has often spoken of the “tricks of combinations” when selecting a team, and with his current penchant for positions on the pitch that are interchangeable, the make-up of his back three will also affect his midfield. The Australian has also routinely rejected the idea that club combinations are useful at international level, but he also has the radical option of a clean sweep from Harlequins in the form of Smith, Marchant and uncapped Luke Northmore, who he said on Wednesday would not be there. looked. misplaced” in his first week of training.

Moving the returning Jack Nowell to the centers was also an opportunity for Jones, although it now seems unlikely with the news that Jonny May will miss the Six Nations, paving the way for Nowell to return to the wing and for the first time to play since the 2019 World Cup. Jones will name his team for the opening game on February 5, away to Scotland on February 3.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

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