England head coach Eddie Jones has thrown a curveball ahead of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations by revealing that Jack Nowell could play in the back row.
The Exeter winger was named among a 35-man squad on Thursday for the start of the Championship as the Red Rose look to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish.
Jones subsequently suggested he is considering challenging the traditional playbook by potentially using Nowell at openside flanker and fielding nine forwards.
Nowell has also previously operated at fullback and centre for club and country, but the Australian believes he has the ability and skillset to thrive as a hybrid flanker.
“Jack’s a great player and is going to be the new breed of player,” said Jones, insisting that left-field thinking is required for England to succeed. “He’s definitely an option at seven.
“He has great ball-carrying, great tackling skill and puts his head over the ball. He’s a tough little bloke. He’s a great option for us – he can play wing, 13, 15 and seven.
“The game has changed. A game used to last 80 minutes, now it lasts 100 minutes. The next change is you will have players who can play in the backs and forwards.”
And Jones, who has won two Championship titles with England during his reign, went on to explain that Nowell’s move could also see his athletic opensides be utilised in the backline.
“Jack Nowell is the one who stands out,” he said. “Tom Curry and Sam Underhill could be the opposite – they are as quick as Nowell and could play in a number of positions on the field.
“There are great opportunities in the game to change it and we are looking at those opportunities. Maybe one of the opportunities is nine forwards.
“There is no reason why you can’t play nine forwards. The ninth forward could stand on the blindside wing. It’s going to happen. The game is going towards it. Exciting, isn’t it?
England open their campaign in Dublin against defending champions Ireland, who beat them last year to seal the Grand Slam, before welcoming France to Twickenham.
While Dylan Hartley and Chris Robshaw are both unavailable, the Vunipola brothers and Joe Launchbury are among those to return after missing the November Tests.
Jones also selected four uncapped players in the shape of Jack Singleton, Ben Earl, Dan Robson and Ollie Thorley and he said his squad is the strongest he has picked in his time in charge.
“We have always had good squads, but this is probably our strongest squad,” he said. “We have been lucky that we have a number of our senior players back.”