SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Losing Manu Tuilagi is massive blow for England’s Six Nations campaign… but Eddie Jones has picked a superb starting XV to face Wales
- The loss of Manu Tuilagi is a huge blow for England’s Six Nations hopes
- However Eddie Jones has picked a superb starting 15 players to face Wales
- England kick-off against Wales at 4.45pm at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday
If I was Wales skipper Dan Biggar, this is the England line-up I would have least wanted to see yesterday.
At least it was until last night when the crushing news broke about Manu Tuilagi’s latest injury — another hamstring strain. Your heart goes out to him. Injuries are a part of sport but he seems to suffer way more than most
It’s a bitter disappointment because I loved the look of the England team announced earlier. With Manu restored, I fancied England to do some serious damage and my first reaction was fair play to Eddie Jones for finally fitting all the parts of the jigsaw into place.
Manu Tuilagi has been ruled out of England’s Six Nations opener against Wales on Saturday
It also emphasises yet again why England must identify and groom a long-term successor to Tuilagi — they cannot make plans based on Manu being around. His presence is an occasional bonus.
For this match, he was going to give England the balance they lacked. He would have been playing in his best position at 12 where the entire world recognises his threat and that allows Henry Slade to operate in his best position of 13. Take Manu out and the threat of the side looks totally different — with him, anything is possible.
Marcus Smith, meanwhile, clearly enjoys operating alongside a big unit at 12 — his combination with Springbok Andre Esterhuizen was key for Quins when they won the Premiership last season and will remain key as Quins develop as a team.
Now it’s back to temporary fixes. Does Slade go back to 12, where he rarely looks as effective, and is it Joe Marchant or Elliot Daly slotting in at 13?
The Sale Sharks and England centre suffered a hamstring strain earlier in the week
These are the calls Eddie must now make and he must not lose sight of the raison d’etre of the side he originally named; to play at a pace and tempo that Wales can’t live with. England can still accomplish that and claim a handsome win.
I’m delighted with the selection of Harry Randall, which I didn’t anticipate. Not that Randall didn’t do well against Italy — he was one of England’s best players — but I was convinced that for the Welsh at home Eddie would look to the experience of Ben Youngs, who in so doing would break Jason Leonard’s record of England appearances.
But no, he has opted for the high-tempo, jack-in-the-box energy of Randall and has backed that up with a team to take full advantage with their pace and ball handlers up front.
In the front row we have England’s two most athletic, explosive props Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, and the trick when you start with them is to make sure you play a game that suits their talents.
Courtney Lawes will captain England for their Six Nations game against Wales on the weekend
England also have a mobile back five and something tells me this is the game when Alex Dombrandt announces his arrival on the Test scene.
There will be attacking opportunities aplenty and he has such good hands and positional sense that the Quins No 8 will surely prosper.
I would still have Courtney Lawes at second row and Sam Simmonds at blindside flanker but that is a minor issue. This, at last, is a seriously good side.
But just when you want to say a ‘well done’ on selection, Jones comes up with another counterproductive gimmick that no doubt sprung from some leadership guru who has never coached rugby!
Why are four vice-captains listed? If you believe that every player needs to show leadership in some way, you would name 14 vice-captains!
Lawes is captain tomorrow, that’s all you need to know. Somebody should explain to Jones the adage ‘too many cooks’!