Whatever you think of Eddie Jones’ decision to refer to his bench as ‘finishers’, there can be do doubting they have made a huge contribution when called upon in England’s opening two Six Nations games.
As we enter the fallow week before next Sunday’s game against Italy, a lot of people are calling for players such as Jamie George, Danny Care and Ben Te’o to be given a chance as ‘starters’.
I was against making extensive changes after England’s ineffectual display against France on the opening weekend and thankfully the team responded by raising their performance against Wales – the result was an uncompromising test match that England took by the slimmest of margins.
Ireland show the way
The reason why I would back changes for the Italy game is partly due to the result of the Italy/Ireland match last weekend.
Ireland thrashed Italy 63-10, securing a bonus point in the process. With England still to travel to Dublin on the final weekend, this bonus point – and the decisive scoreline – could become all-important.
Particularly when we see Wales failed to secure the necessary fourth try themselves in their match against Italy.
England will win this match (oh oh… I have jinxed it now). But they need to do more than just edge a tight encounter. It needs to be looked at through the lens of the necessary four-try victory, which means it can’t be used in an effort to get players like Dylan Hartley, Ben Youngs and Jonathan Joseph back to their best.
If Hartley was sure of a starting berth back at Northampton, I would have suggested sending him home for some game time. But as that looks unlikely, he will have to settle for being part of the finishers this week.
Ireland’s victory was built around an aggressive and direct performance from key members of their team, such as hat-trick-hero CJ Stander. He looks like he would carry through a brick wall if asked to by his teammates. He showed England exactly what they will need to do if they are to register a similar victory.
For me, this means Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler and Ben Te’o should start. They will offer the direct carrying and power England have lacked so far, while the tactical and set-piece security offered by the players they are replacing is less vital. Danny Care should also come in to provide a zip from the breakdown and get this England team on the front foot.
What about Haskell?
The one player I would resist starting is James Haskell. That goes against what I said last week, but the fact Eddie Jones did not start him against Wales, instead opting for Jack Clifford, raised some red flags.
The toe injury he suffered is clearly still being carefully managed and they want to avoid a flare-up similar to that he suffered in the Wasps game against Zebre. He must be fit out side of that – the lengths they put Dylan Hartley through to prove his match fitness show they are not gambling on players having the stamina for a test match.
So what do you think? Time to give the ‘finishers’ a start?
My team for the Italy game:
1 Marler; 2 George; 3 Sinckler; 4 Launchbury; 5 Lawes; 6 Itoje; 7 Clifford; 8 Hughes; 9 Care; 10 Ford; 11 Daly; 12 Farrell; 13 Te’o; 14 Nowell; 15 Brown
16 Hartley; 17 Mullan; 18 Cole; 19 Wood; 20 Haskell; 21 Youngs; 22 Joseph; 23 May
By Henry Ker