Analysis: Jones ready to ring the changes against Italy

If you look back over England’s previous three Championships, Eddie Jones has proven he is happy to tinker and look at some other options against Italy.

If you look back over England’s previous three Championships, Eddie Jones has proven he is happy to tinker and look at some other options against Italy.

Back in his first ever Guinness Six Nations in 2016, a certain Maro Itoje made his international bow against the Azzurri in Rome.

A year later and Ben Te’o and Danny Care were promoted from finishers to starters at Twickenham.

Then in 2018, England opened up their campaign in Rome so Jones was not ‘tinkering’ per se, but still Sam Simmonds got only his second ever start at No.8 and Alec Hepburn made his debut off the bench.

All of which means that this year, as England look to reset for Round Four in a Championship that is still very much alive, we can expect a few new faces.

Dan Robson’s maiden Championship in the Red Rose has been a quiet one so far.

The No.9 sat on the bench for the full 80 minutes behind Ben Youngs both in Dublin and in Cardiff.

He did get 11 minutes off the bench in Le Crunch for his debut, but expect him to get a few more than that this time around.

Against the Azzurri, Jones might even be tempted to give the Wasps No.9 his first start and a chance to prove his worth in a Rugby World Cup year.

Robson’s fleet-footed style has made him a nightmare for defenders both domestically and in Europe.

Now Jones will get a chance to see if the No.9 can cut it at the very top level.

There are other men also eager for a chance in this England side that started the Championship so brightly before the Cardiff defeat.

There is a school of thought that the players who lost the Cardiff game must be given a chance to set the record straight a fortnight later.

But as discussed, Jones has proven willing to roll the dice against Italy and there are people like Luke Cowan-Dickie eager to prove themselves.

Cowan-Dickie has only played 23 minutes so far at hooker in the 2019 Championship and is still awaiting his first Test start.

For a man who made his debut for his country all the way back in 2015, his tally of only nine Test caps so far is surprisingly low.

Undoubtedly injuries have played their part, as has the form of Jamie George in back-up to Dylan Hartley for much of the Jones reign.

But Hartley’s injury has opened the door and Cowan-Dickie needs the minutes to prove he can walk through it.

The same can be said for Charlie Ewels, struggling to break into a second row that includes Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes.

But with Lawes out and Itoje struggling, now could be the chance Ewels has been waiting for.

Then there is Joe Cokanasiga, the powerhouse winger awaiting his first Championship start.

Two tries in two Tests this autumn against Japan and Australia proved he is ready for this level, but injury slowed his rise at the start of this year.

However, he came off the bench for a cameo in Cardiff and a match-up with Italy seems as good a chance as any to test him out again.

And with Chris Ashton still out and Jack Nowell and Jonny May injury worries, there could even be room for an Ollie Thorley debut this weekend in the back three

That is all without mentioning prop Ellis Genge who only has eight minutes to his name so far this year and flanker Brad Shields who has even less at four.

There are plenty of players chomping at the bit, now is the time for Jones to release them.

But on top of those new exciting players who might well unlock England’s new attacking arsenal, it was also interesting to note a few older faces also included in camp for the start of this week.

Jonathan Joseph and Chris Robshaw have both been bedrocks of the Jones’ era – and in particular their back to back Championship wins in 2016 and 2017 – before injury struck.

The duo missed much of 2018 but are now back fit and firing for their clubs and were reintroduced to training at Pennyhill Park this week.

They were released back to their clubs on Tuesday night so will miss out against Italy but could still have a role to play in the final weeks of this year’s Guinness Six Nations.

Robshaw, at 32, looks to be playing as well as ever for a Quins side on a five-match winning streak in the league.

“Physically he’s probably as good as we’ve seen him,” said England coach Neil Hatley this week.

And Joseph, whose Bath side lost to Quins this past weekend, crossed for a try in the reverse fixture against the London club and is also back in the fold.

Their experience – with Dan Cole also in line to this weekend against Italy – is vital in a squad missing Hartley, Mako Vunipola, Lawes and potentially Itoje as well.

England were caught cold in 2017 by some innovative breakdown work from Italy that flummoxed them in the first half.

But this time around, John Mitchell and England’s defence will be ready for them.

“They’ll come with something. There is no doubt about that. Let’s hope they come with something positive,” he said.

“You want to be tested in various aspects of your game. There’s a big tournament down the road and we haven’t got too many minutes left before then so we have got to adapt to different challenges that come, and whatever comes next weekend we have got to be ready for.

“One of the things that sticks in the mind is: expect the unexpected. That creates a challenge to be alert and to understand the implications of what that unexpected might be and make sure that we can prepare as well as we can for those unexpected situations that might come.”