After England’s Calcutta Cup catastrophe, Sportsmail’s experts including SIR CLIVE WOODWARD picked their dream teams for Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with Italy – with Jack Willis, Harry Randall, Max Malins and Paolo Odogwu knocking on the door
- Tom Curry and Jack Willis should be given opportunity to boss the breakdown
- It’s an ideal time to pick a daring back line featuring winger Paolo Odogwu
- There’s no substitute for real gas and Max Malins has been been in superb form
Saturday’s dismal defeat by Scotland at Twickenham raised big questions about England head coach Eddie Jones and his squad.
Jones’ pragmatic style of rugby has long been a cause for concern despite recent success and the lack of creativity was alarming.
Here, Sportsmail’s experts highlight the players who they believe can rejuvenate England with power, pace and dynamism.
SIR CLIVE WOODWARD
England are coming off not only the worst performance in the history of English rugby, they have clearly not recovered from the World Cup no-show and a totally forgettable 2020.
So this is actually the team — or something like it — I would have been developing over the last 12 months and totally geared to going head-to-head with France at Twickenham on March 13. It would prove that France do not have a monopoly of brilliant young players. How exciting would that be.
In the back row, it’s time for Tom Curry and Jack Willis (above) to boss the breakdown
I have not selected any Saracens players bar Maro Itoje, who can clearly perform off the back of almost no game time. The Sarries contingent should have been allowed to play in the Top 14 on short-term contracts. It’s difficult for them and I’m not sure, bar Itoje, they are in the right headspace at present. Maro captains my team.
This team are all about pace, great ball handling, getting on the front foot and adventure. I would name only five on the bench, for safety purposes, because I would make it quite clear nobody would be coming off unless they were injured. I must be totally convinced every player is fit for 80 minutes — if not, they don’t play. That’s the deal.
Max Malins and Piers O’Conor have been in excellent form for Bristol and have real gas. There is no substitute for it.
Marcus Smith has the ability to terrify defences and is currently the best goal-kicker in world rugby. Trying to mark him and Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall would be a nightmare. England must challenge teams with their tempo and speed of ball from every phase. Jonny May keeps his place but only because Joe Cockanasiga is not fully fit.
I want Alex Dombrandt in my team for his ball-carrying, handling and try-scoring nous but I’m greedy, so I also want the sheer gas and dynamism of Sam Simmonds at No 8. So I’m asking Dombrandt to put his scrum cap on and move to lock. A big ask but the Quins skipper can handle it. He has no choice!
In the back row, it’s time for Tom Curry and Jack Willis to boss the breakdown. This England team need lightning-quick ball and will thrive on turnover possession.
The England pack were eclipsed by Scotland, so it makes sense to bring in pedigree reinforcements up front. It would be unfair to expect Mako Vunipola to go straight into the starting front row after a long lay-off, so he can come off the bench, but Kyle Sinckler must be immediately reinstated.
Courtney Lawes can also generate precious momentum, defensive ferocity and aerial prowess —while Sam Simmonds’ supreme form for Exeter warrants a call to wear No 8. The Chief has X-factor talent, but Eddie Jones won’t countenance a perceived physicality deficit, although having Curry and Ben Earl on the flanks would ensure ample back-row power and dynamism.
Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall could form a terrifying combination with Marcus Smith
This is a home banker, so it’s an ideal time to pick a daring back line, with starts for the uncapped Randall and Paolo Odogwu, and Malins replacing the out-of-sorts Elliot Daly. Bring back George Ford at No 10, with orders to provide ammunition so that the under-used centre pairing of Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade can fire shots at last. Itoje is more than capable of leading.
Last Saturday, England could have stuck a young Jonah Lomu on the wing and made him look bang average.
You can have the most talented players in the world, but if you can’t get the ball to them then they will spend 80 minutes standing idle.
There’s no substitute for real gas and Max Malins has been been in excellent form for Bristol
The likes of May, Daly and Watson have the ability to carve up defences, given half a chance. There is a case for starting Malins at full-back, but instead I would give all of England’s outside backs another shot against Italy.
See how they fare outside a new half-back combination — and a fresh tactical script with no over-coached kick-chase.
Let Ford play instinctively at No 10 and use the Italy match to see what Randall can offer.
The fresh-faced front-row pairing of Ellis Genge and Will Stuart should not be tossed on to the scrapheap. They need Test starts to build confidence.
England need to find a back-up plan if Billy Vunipola is not firing at No 8 — and they have three of the most dynamic back-row forwards in Willis, Earl and Curry. Of course, England should beat Italy at Twickenham with their reserve team, so I would keep the same blueprint for Wales away in round three.
THIS is a team to fire a few shots. It is packed with pace. England are going to beat Italy easily, so why not explode into life with a technicolour outing after months of grey showings?
There is nothing to be gained seeing what Owen Farrell does, so he can have a week off, with Itoje installed as captain.
It’s an ideal time to pick a daring back line featuring Wasps winger Paolo Odogwu
Ford needs to be given licence to thrill and with Daly dropped, Anthony Watson is in more space. With the powerful Odogwu out wide, he has the armoury to cause havoc.
In the back row, Billy Vunipola is discarded in favour of all-out speed. Curry moves to No 6 with the jackal king Willis at No 7. Pacy and versatile Earl is a dynamic and in-form No 8.
Dan Robson has never been trusted to start, so here is his chance with Ben Youngs rested.
I would also hand Randall a debut off the bench. Lawrence deserves another shot, but only if he gets the ball.
Up front, Sinckler is back from his ban while Genge and Jamie George continue. Jonny Hill is retained as the grunt and lineout option.
We should be in for a cracker…
THE XVs OUR EXPERTS WOULD PICK AGAINST THE AZZURRI…
Sir Clive Woodward
Malins; Watson, O’Conor, Slade, May; Smith, Randall; Genge, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler; Itoje (capt), Dombrandt; J Willis, S Simmonds, T Curry.
Malins; Odogwu, Slade, Lawrence, May; Ford, Randall; Genge, George, Sinckler; Itoje (capt), Lawes; T Curry, S Simmonds, Earl.
Daly; Watson, Slade, Lawrence, May; Ford, Randall; Genge, George, Stuart; Itoje (capt), Hill; J Willis, T Curry, Earl.
Watson; May, Slade, Lawrence, Odogwu; Ford, Robson; Genge, George, Sinckler; Itoje (capt), Hill; T Curry, Earl, J Willis.
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