SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England need to put Italy to the sword with a ruthless performance in Rome… but with France the benchmark for this group, Eddie Jones must nail down important positions and his style to beat them
- I feel it is France who England need to measure themselves against now
- Three years out from the World Cup, hosts France are my tip to win the trophy
- From this point onwards, England need to match them in all departments
- But Eddie Jones still has a lot of doubts in some key positions in his current XV
All my coaching life, and now working in the media, I have viewed the Southern Hemisphere giants as the Test benchmark. Beat them regularly, especially away from Twickenham, and you will eventually be the world’s best.
As we look forward to the final weekend of the much-delayed 2020 Six Nations, however, I feel it is France who England need to measure themselves against.
Three years out from the World Cup and France, on home soil, are my tip to win it. From this point, England need to match them in all departments.
It is France who Ollie Lawrence, Owen Farrell and England must measure themselves against
Three years out from the World Cup and France, on home soil, are my tip to win the tournament
The French aren’t the finished article but I see an exceptional generation of brilliant players — forwards and backs — maturing together.
Once Fabian Galthie and Shaun Edwards sort out a few loose cannons up front and get on top of the discipline issue they are going to be formidable.
I see potentially the world’s best half-back pairing in Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, a fantastic centre pairing of Virimi Vakatawa and Gael Fickou, try-scorers like Teddy Thomas and magic players like Thomas Ramos. In the forwards, led by the amazing Camille Chat, they are big, athletic and nasty.
There are still creases to iron out but France are only going one way, as we saw in their convincing win over Wales on Saturday.
I see potentially the world’s best half-back pairing in Antoine Dupont (left) and Romain Ntamack (right) and they showed as much in victory over Wales on Saturday
All that means this is a very important time for England. Eddie Jones and his squad need to raise their game way above what we saw in last year’s World Cup and land some punches to dent France’s confidence.
Two European trophies won against French clubs earlier this month was a great start and winning this oddest of all Six Nations would be another. England need to bow out with a totally ruthless performance in Rome to set either Ireland or France a stiff task when they meet later that evening in Paris.
Those two sides at the Stade will have a big advantage knowing exactly what is required. This is something of a weakness in the Super Saturday format but let’s not quibble as it should make for engrossing viewing.
England seem some way from knowing what their ‘Gun XV’ is. Important positions are not nailed down like they are in France and nor is the style.
The first task is to put Italy to the sword, then the Autumn Cup is an opportunity to figure out answers to these big questions…
Important positions are not nailed down in Eddie Jones’ England side like they are for France
Who is going to be England’s scrum-half?
Dan Robson is the form player and has been for a while. Is there any good reason to delay his re-introduction when Ben Youngs — great servant that he has been — is not going to be the playmaker England need in three years? England need Robson’s pace and tempo and Robson needs more caps.
Fly-half? For me Owen Farrell is a world class fly-half and a Test class No 12, so England must consider him at No 10. That means he and George Ford go head to head for the same spot but there is another contender — Exeter’s captain Joe Simmonds, who is emerging as the most deadly goal kicker in professional rugby.
The centres? Henry Slade is now the first name on the England team sheet and the back division needs to be built around him at 13. That means he needs a 12 who is not Farrell and, for the foreseeable future, not the injured Manu Tuilagi.
I’m hearing very good things about Ollie Lawrence and Ollie Devoto is pushing.
Dan Robson is the form player and has been for a while and England need his pace and tempo
Up front, although Jamie George’s form is fine, Luke Cowan-Dickie has developed into a major player and there could be a change at hooker when the Exeter man is fit again.
But the two big calls Jones needs to make are lock and No 8.
Maro Itoje is the best lock in the world but England need to nail down who his partner is. We have had George Kruis — now in Japan — Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, and Jones also likes Bath lock Charlie Ewels. What’s his first-choice pairing?
Finally to No 8. Billy Vunipola hasn’t reached the heights for a while and based on the speed of opposition back rows, I believe his place is under threat. England have back-row players coming out of the woodwork but who is the natural No 8?
England need to nail down a partner for Maro Itoje while Billy Vunipola’s place is under threat
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