England made a disastrous start to their Six Nations campaign, with Grand Slam hopes extinguished on the opening weekend courtesy of the 24-17 defeat by France on Sunday. It took Jones’s side 55 minutes to get themselves on the scoreboard, by which time France had romped out to an unassailable 24-0 lead, and the England head coach had to face questions over his selection for their first game since the Rugby World Cup final defeat.
Jones had decided against calling up a recognised No 8, with both Alex Dombrandt of Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs’ Sam Simmonds omitted, with flanker Tom Curry instead deputising for the injured Billy Vunipola. Curry struggled to make a dent on the French defence along with his teammates, as without two-try wing Jonny May’s tally of 48 metres made, England averaged just eight metres carrying per person throughout the entire 80 minutes.
Yet Jones believes that the 21-year-old Sale Sharks forward remains the right man for the job while Vunipola recovers from hid latest injury setback and is set to stick with him in the No 8 shirt for Saturday’s trip to BT Murrayfield.
“I see him as a long term No 8 so I am prepared to accept some mistakes for him to learn and become a better No 8,” Jones said. “We don't have a one-game selection policy, just look at players like (Ellis) Genge and how long it has taken him to be a Test player – four years. They have to go through this apprenticeship and sometimes they go through some pain at the start of it.
“I think he (Curry) can be a Rodney So’oialo type player. A mobile, hard running No 8 that has ball skills. We can't find another Billy so we won't go down that track – we will find a different sort of player.
“We want this team to be a great team. To do this we need to have the ambition to make players great players. Tom is one of those players we feel can be an absolutely outstanding No 8. But it will take time.”
Jones has included both Anthony Watson and Manu Tuilagi in the squad that will return to Pennyhill Park on Tuesday, but while England are confident that the former will be available against Scotland after missing out last weekend due to a calf injury, Jones is sweating on the fitness of wrecking-ball centre Tuilagi.
The results of an MRI scan on his injured groin – which forced the 28-year-old off the field in the 16th minute of Sunday’s encounter – should reveal on Tuesday the extent of the damage, with fears of a lengthy lay-off always intensified with the Leicester back given his previous injury record.
But despite the doubt surrounding Tuilagi’s participation in the Calcutta Cup, Jones has not drafted in any reinforcements, meaning Jonathan Joseph would be expected to come into the side if required and Ollie Devoto and Fraser Dingwall the alternative options currently in the squad. Jones could look to Elliot Daly to fill the No 13 shirt, though the Australian has not played the Saracens back in the centre before and alongside George Ford and Owen Farrell it would leave England seriously light in midfield. Joe Marchant would have been a likely option had he not agreed to join Super Rugby side the Blues for the season, ruling him out of England contention in the process.
Part of Jones’s thinking to not make widespread changes is that England have just six days between their loss in Paris and the trip to Edinburgh, which comes at another stadium with painful memories. England’s last trip there ended in a chastening 25-13 defeat that triggered their five-Test losing streak, but Jones does not expect any lingering aftereffects from the opening weekend when England run out at Murrayfield.
“I’ve only got six days so I’m not in a position to do that,” Jones said. “I won’t need to motivate them. They’ll be motivated themselves. You saw our response in the second half. Motivation is not a problem for us.”
Watson’s availability would likely see the Bath flyer make his return at full-back, replacing last weekend’s debutant George Furbank after he struggled to settle at the Stade de France. Jones launched a passionate defence of the international rookie, claiming that he is more than happy to put an arm around his shoulder if necessary despite his tough-love reputation.
“I think coaching is about that mate, I think coaching is about helping players get better,” Jones said. “What do you think I’m going to do? Say ‘George you’re absolute rubbish get out of here, go back to Northampton, work in the shoe factory?’
“What am I going to say to him mate? Course I’m going to help him become a better player. And I thought he was good today.”
England squad vs Scotland
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Tom Dunn (Bath Rugby), Ben Earl (Saracens), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Jamie George (Saracens), Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Alex Moon (Northampton Saints), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Will Stuart (Bath Rugby), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)
Elliot Daly (Saracens) Ollie Devoto (Exeter Chiefs), Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), George Furbank (Northampton Saints), Willi Heinz (Gloucester Rugby), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Jacob Umaga (Wasps), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
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