Thursday 7 March 2019 8:40 pm

Ollie Phillips: England will go route one and try a new tactic against Italy with Joe Cokanasiga and Ben Te’o back

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Italy head coach Conor O’Shea would have always been expecting a tough challenge at Twickenham on Saturday, but England’s line-up means they’re in for a torrid time.

The Italians’ game is based on heart and physicality and I think that’s part of the reason why Eddie Jones has made five changes to his starting XV.

With winger Joe Cokanasiga making his first start in the Six Nations and Ben Te’o recalled after injury to play alongside Manu Tuilagi at centre, England will be an imposing, scary presence.

England have shown they can play a kicking game of differing types in wins over Ireland and France, so I think Jones is now trying out a different strategy with this year's World Cup in mind.

O’Shea’s side sit bottom of the table and have lost all of their games so far, but they’re actually one of the best Italy teams I’ve seen for a long time.

It must be so frustrating for O’Shea because they are improving but they’re still miles off the pace of their opponents, three of whom are in the world’s top four.

Cokanasiga's return is exciting and well deserved, but Henry Slade can feel hard done by to drop to the bench. He hasn’t had enough games to cement himself as a shoo-in, but for me he’s the best option at No13.

With Jonathan Joseph now back in action for Bath, there’s a race on for the World Cup 33-man squad, because one of Te’o, Tuilagi, Slade and Joseph will miss out.

Te’o and Tuilagi start together for the first time in a partnership which is all about pace and power, not creativity. It’ll likely be route one rather than free-flowing rugby, but Italy present an opportunity to explore options.

That’s why I think Mark Wilson dropping to the bench is a sign of how well he’s done. Alongside Tom Curry, the Newcastle man has been outstanding in the back row and I believe he’ll be on the plane to the World Cup.

I’m not convinced by Brad Shields and if he doesn’t perform in what is basically an audition I don’t think we’ll see much more of him in an England shirt.

England Media Access
Dan Robson has got just 10 minutes off the bench against France so far in the Six Nations (Source: Getty)

With others being given opportunities I’m disappointed Jones hasn’t started Dan Robson. We all know Ben Youngs is a world-class scrum-half, so what’s the point in seeing him again?

Robson has played a total of just 10 minutes for England. Jones has missed a chance to see if he can deliver.

Another scrum-half selection issue will affect England this weekend. I believe Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has sent the wrong message by dropping captain Greig Laidlaw in favour of Ali Price to face Wales.

However, the return of Finn Russell’s creativity and flair at fly-half after concussion is huge because without him Scotland have been well below par.

Scotland haven’t turned into a bad team overnight so Wales can’t be complacent after the high of beating England; their Grand Slam hopes depend on it.

This weekend will either save England’s Six Nations chances or make it much harder. All they need now is a favour from Scotland.

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


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