SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Same old faces have England stuck in the past

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Same old faces for a side that is stuck in the past… England’s answer to rediscovering their World Cup semi-final showing against New Zealand is NOT down to picking the same players

  • Eleven of the World Cup final XV who lost against South Africa start on Saturday 
  • England are trying to rediscover their semi-final showing against New Zealand
  • However, this does not require England’s Eddie Jones to pick the same players
  • England show no tempo, no urgency, no control and still box kick far too much 

England will beat Italy on Saturday with any combination they send out. They will come out breathing fire after copping plenty of criticism this week and the Italians are in for a testing day — but this team seems like a throwback to the Japan World Cup. They are not evolving.

Eleven of the World Cup final XV who lost against South Africa start again on Saturday and that number would be 14 out of 15 if Manu Tuilagi and Sam Underhill weren’t injured, and George Kruis wasn’t unavailable because he’s playing in Japan.

You could argue that the only change in selection since that defeat is a straight choice between Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George at hooker. On this occasion, Cowan-Dickie gets the nod.

Eleven of the World Cup final XV who lost against South Africa will start again on Saturday

England are trying to rediscover their semi-final showing against New Zealand but the emphasis must be on replicating that style of play. It does not require picking the same players.

The team to play Italy is strong. And it was a strong side on paper against Scotland last week — but they just didn’t do themselves justice. There was no tempo, no urgency, no control and still too much mindless box kicking and kicking by rote.

Consequently, Owen Farrell ignored a seven-on-three overlap on one occasion and kicked the ball because he is programmed to do it. He would never do that for Saracens because one of their great qualities is knowing when to apply the killer blow and go wide.

It would be 14 of that World Cup final 15 if Manu Tuilagi (pictured) and Sam Underhill were fit

England’s George Kruis (pictured) is now unavailable for selection as he’s playing in Japan 

As for the specific changes this week, you have to feel for Ollie Lawrence, who must be mystified as to what England want from him. 

Last week Eddie was upping the ante and saying that after a couple of outings it was time to prove himself, yet he didn’t receive a pass for 63 minutes and then he was off. Now he’s been dropped from the 23.

Elite sport is ruthless and there is no need to apologise for that but where is the logic? There is no way of judging his qualities because England have scarcely involved him in their plan.  

He’s received 10 passes in four Tests. Farrell will probably receive 10 passes in the first half-hour at No 12 on Saturday. This tells you that England deep down are not clear what they want in midfield, how they want to play. Perhaps Lawrence isn’t a like-for-like replacement for Tuilagi at 12, but who is?

I would have liked to see winger Paolo Odogwu given a go, but he’s not even on the bench. Nor is scrum-half Harry Randall.

The only change since that World Cup final defeat has seen Luke Cowan-Dickie (left) come in

You have to feel for Ollie Lawrence, who must be mystified as to what England want from him

If you can’t get these players involved against Italy at home, two-and-a-half years from a World Cup, when can you?

In the back row, Mark Wilson was very quiet in the battle up front against Scotland, so he can have few arguments about being dropped, but Billy Vunipola was even further off the pace and is retained. 

England have gone for a monster back row by replacing Wilson with second row Courtney Lawes, so it’s not difficult to predict how England will go about their work up front.

But I would look at the pack and see possibilities against them. If Italy can secure possession from scrums or the breakdown, a quick scrum-half — and lively Stephen Varney is one of their few positives — could have a good day against a huge back row.

I would have liked to see winger Paolo Odogwu given a go, but he’s not even on the bench

However, I still believe England will be Six Nations champions but they must win four games

I still believe England will be Six Nations champions but they must win four games while picking up bonus points and a big points difference. Now is the time for England to put in a strong display. I would have been tempted to start with new personnel but Eddie is trusting his favourites.

Finally, a word of caution. Farrell will have steam coming out of his ears. He is a great competitor and will want to lead from the front.

That’s great but it needs to be channelled. That sending-off for his tackle on Wasps fly-half Charlie Atkinson last September might have dented his confidence more than we realise, another unwanted element of a difficult year for him with the Sarries situation, Covid and very little rugby. He doesn’t have to ‘prove everybody wrong’ in the first 10 minutes.

Eighty minutes of showcasing his skills is what’s required.




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