Thursday 12 September 2019 6:13 pm

George Ford has given Eddie Jones a dilemma with his excellent World Cup warm-up

I wasn’t convinced to start with but it seems Eddie Jones has been pretty crafty by selecting his 31-man squad as early as he did. 

It has given those going to the World Cup an extra four weeks to prepare for the tournament, rather than wasting emotional energy on fighting to make it.

There are some risks to this strategy because it can leave players feeling relieved to be going, rather than revved up as they should be. 

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And despite them having a good, well balanced and settled squad, there were signs of the players being too relaxed in England’s slow and sluggish performance against Italy last weekend. Although they ran out 37-0 winners it was a pretty ordinary display. 

George Ford came on in the second half and changed England’s attack. He’s played extremely well during these warm-up matches and given Jones a selection conundrum ahead of their opening game against Tonga next weekend.

Owen Farrell started the match at fly-half and the back line looked uninspiring throughout the first half. He has to start at the World Cup because of his quality and the fact he’s captain, but it could be at inside-centre following Ford’s performances.

I suspect that will be the case, with Manu Tuilagi at No13 and Joe Cokanasiga and Jonny May on the wings. 

George Ford could start at fly-half with Owen Farrell at No12 following excellent World Cup warm-up

At full-back, Anthony Watson is England’s best option. However, he’s still playing his way in following that horrendous achilles tear against Ireland in the Six Nations last year.

Elliot Daly is more of a natural No13 than full-back, but he’s so talented that he has the versatility to play just about anywhere across the back line. 

It’s 50-50 between those two, though I think Daly will get the nod due to his ability to kick from 60 metres. 

Having that option on the field is a big advantage as the opposition will have to be wary about giving away penalties and being too aggressive at the breakdown even in their own half.

Major concerns

The lack of options at scrum-half and No8 is still a concern for me, though. Typically in a World Cup squad there would be three scrum-halfs, an out-and-out No8 and a back-up who also plays No6. 

England are spread a bit thin. Billy Vunipola is irreplaceable and his back-up, Mark Wilson, is a natural No6. 

Meanwhile, Ben Youngs has been disappointing so far. He won man of the match against Italy, but it was a pretty average performance from England. 

On the face of it Willi Heinz has played better, but Youngs is world class and when he plays well he creates so many options for the team.

If I was an international side with any guile, I would be looking to get one of them off the pitch. I have some major concerns with Ford as the third choice.

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Among the forwards, I expect to see Sam Underhill and Tom Curry join Vunipola in the back row, while Saracens duo Maro Itoje and George Kruis will make up the second row. 

Jamie George should be first choice at hooker, while Kyle Sinckler has played his way into starting in the front row along with Joe Marler or Dan Cole in the absence of Mako Vunipola. It is another area where England have plenty of options.

They will need the whole squad if the are to go the distance. 

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn