Forward thinking: Eddie Jones reveals unorthodox idea to field nine forwards ahead of England's Six Nations campaign

 
Michael Searles
England Squad Announcement
Eddie Jones claimed beating Ireland on February 2 wouldn't make England the best team in the world (Source: Getty)

Eddie Jones is no stranger to causing a stir, and in his first media appearance of a World Cup year he was at it again.


The England head coach said on Thursday, as he named his squad for the Six Nations opener against Ireland on 2 February, that he is considering turning conventional wisdom on its head by fielding nine forwards – a reaction to what he sees as rugby's increasing tactical orthodoxy.

Jones believes that major changes are on the game's horizon and that a new era will increasingly be characterised by players who can easily interchange between the backs and forwards.

“I reckon there's great opportunities in the game to change it at the moment and we are having a look at how we can do that and maybe one of the opportunities is to play nine forwards," Jones said.

His remarks may have raised eyebrows among the assembled media, but it is a stunt the Australian has pulled off before.


During his spell in charge of Japan, Jones deployed an extra forward outside of the traditional eight in his team's final 2015 World Cup warm-up against Georgia.

A flanker, Hendrik Tui, played at No11 as Japan won 13-10 and Jones said he sees the blindside wing position as the area to deploy an additional forward.

A new breed of player

For England, it is Sam Underhill and Tom Curry who Jones feels have the potential to do a job in that position, and in fact play in a number of roles.

“There's no reason why you can't play nine forwards. [The ninth forward] could stand at blindside wing. I would 100 per cent consider it if Sam Underhill was fit,” Jones said.

“If you look at Curry and Underhill, they are as quick as Jack Nowell, they could play in a number of positions on the field.”

It's not just the forwards who have the capacity to be interchangeable with the backs though, according to Jones. The 58-year-old claims that, of the current crop of backs, Nowell has the ability to play in the back row among a number of different roles.

“Nowell is an option at playing seven. He's going to be the new breed of player, I tell you. The game's changed,” Jones said. “He's got great ball carry, great tackling and skill, puts his head over the ball, tough little bloke. He can play wing, No13, No15, No7 for us.

“He's probably down at Exeter now training as a winger, but I'm serious, I reckon there are opportunities to change the game because it's become so orthodox. We want to be really good at the core things in the game, but look at the opportunities where we can change it.”

The Australian was coy about if and when he would be testing out his maverick ideas, saying only that it could “possibly” be against Ireland. When asked if it was an option for the World Cup, he simply said: “Why not?”

Bid to be the best

The trip to Ireland ensures Jones and England have the toughest possible start to this World Cup year and it is a game that will, rightly or wrongly, be used as a yardstick for how the side are progressing in the lead-up to the tournament in Japan.

But despite the game's significance, the head coach played down what a win against the world's No2 side could mean.

“A win will not mean we are the best in the world," he said. "We want to be the best team in the world on the 2 November 2019 at approximately 9:45pm – that's the only time that interests us.”

Whether Jones is planning to deploy some of his more unorthodox ideas against Ireland or at any point during the year will have to remain a mystery for now.