Eddie Jones benches Smith and Dombrandt for England v Tonga

Jones benches Smith and Dombrandt for England v Tonga
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With respect to Tonga, this will be England’s easiest assignment of the winter. This England v Tonga is a match for the taking, though attacking talents like Alex Dombrandt and Marcus Smith being left on the bench will confuse many England fans in the side announced this Thursday.

Owen Farrell comes back at fly-half with Manu Tuilagi providing the muscular presence outside him to counter the heavy-hitting Tongans. Courtney Lawes is rewarded for his outstanding British Lions form with a starting slot in England’s back row. Freddie Steward and Adam Radwan form a rapid back three alongside Jonny May. There is a lot to like about this England team but it is not exactly the statement of a ‘new’ England we were hoping for.

Smith and Dombrandt are not trusted…yet

Alex Dombrandt and Marcus Smith will have to bide their time for a bit longer. It is a surprise for many that they are benched in favour of familiarity and size. Jonny Hill is the winner hereby partnering Maro Itoje in the second row to allow Courtney Lawes to take his place in the back row. All understandable selections but at the cost of skill and ball movement that the likes of Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt can provide.

It seems that Jones cannot shake off his desire to beat up teams from the off. Scotland showed last weekend that pace and ball movement will open up Tonga just as much as a rolling maul.

With what is a relatively ‘sober’ team selection, Jones will surely not wish to tinker too much before the arrival of South Africa and Australia. Meaning that Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds could be warming the bench come the 2022 Six Nations.

Simmonds is still on the outer in England set-up

Poor old Sam Simmonds cannot catch a cold with Eddie Jones and the England set-up. In Eddie Jones’s defence, he could not ignore Sam Simmonds missing two tackles that led to tries during London Irish’s upset win over Exeter a few weeks ago. It is hugely tough on the extraordinarily talented Simmonds but water-tight defence is a prerequisite for an Eddie Jones starting spot. This is why Alex Dombrandt is ahead of Simmonds as his defence has improved significantly without denting his attacking threat.

It is still a surprise that Sam Simmonds can’t even challenge for a bench spot though.¬†England fans will hope that Simmonds has an absolute stormer for the Exeter Chiefs against Newcastle on Saturday. He is still a huge asset for England rugby and for their chances of winning the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Farrell has to hit the ground running

Owen Farrell’s recent form for Saracens will raise hopes that he can finally ignite England’s backline after a lean few years. He has not been helped by the do we/don’t we partnership with his great mate George Ford. Farrell has the keys to England’s attacking potential alongside Ben Youngs on Saturday and they both have to hit the ground running.

Eddie Jones, true to form, has gone against everyone’s logic by benching Marcus Smith for England v Tonga and reverting to the tried and tested Youngs and Farrell. If that call was known at the team’s training this week, the below image could have seen young Marcus Smith questioning the call (from his body language).

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Farrell and Youngs are world-class players on their day and have proved it many times over during their illustrious careers but old-father time is ticking. It looks likely that they will have Tonga, Australia and South Africa to prove that they can both make the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Radwan and Steward boost England’s attack

It is great to see Freddie Steward and Adam Radwan slot into England’s back three. Jonny May, Radwan and Steward give England some serious gas. Henry Slade and Owen Farell will be charged with the responsibility of providing decent ball to them. Radwan could be England’s equivalent to South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe with his dancing feet. He will also add an extra dimension to England’s broken field running alongside May.

Freddie Steward thoroughly deserves his call up on the back of Leicester’s stellar start this season. He is a big body, who moves well and is solid under the high ball. With the unlucky Anthony Watson out long-term and Max Malins also injured, Steward has a wonderful opportunity to cement his place as England’s full-back.

George and Slade with plenty to prove

Nobody can say that Jamie George has not earned his spot back at hooker. He has been an unstoppable force for Saracens since his return from British Lions duty. Being left out of the original training squad was probably the kick up the backside that George needed. This is where Eddie Jones deserves great credit. Jamie George, the Vunipola brothers and George Ford are all playing terrific rugby since their ommission. An injury to Luke Cowan-Dickie has given George another opportunity and one he must take on Saturday.

Henry Slade is an interesting conundrum for England rugby. On his day, there is no better outside centre in Europe. However, he has struggled for consistency since he tore through defences in the 2019 Six Nations. Slade was ignored by the Lions in the summer and was not at his best against Canada and the USA. November will give Slade a chance to get back to his best alongside Manu Tuilagi. Tuilagi’s ability to make hard yards will give Slade a chance to work some space for England’s backline.

‘No excuses’ for England v Tonga

Tonga were not great against Scotland last weekend. Defensively they were a shambles allowing Scotland to rip them open at will. Admittedly it was tough on them not having some of their best players available. Tonga will be better on Saturday but England will be expected to put a decent score on them. England, unfortunately, finds themselves in a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.

An underwhelming 2021 Six Nations has put more pressure on Eddie Jones and England to perform. Jones has chosen a team that has a familiar and dependable look about them for England v Tonga. Will it signal an exciting transformation of this England rugby team with two years to go before the World Cup? Saturday will tell us a bit more about where England stand.

 

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