Eddie Jones is keen to have a good look at new recruits in the warm-ups ahead of the World Cup, and after missing out last weekend through injury, what a baptism of fire it will be for Ruaridh McConnochie in Cardiff on Saturday.
Barring glaring omissions in Danny Cipriani and Alex Goode, Jones has committed to picking on form throughout his tenure and it certainly makes for an exciting time.
Former Sevens player McConnochie has been a revelation in the Premiership for Bath, so it’s time to see what he’s got on debut inside the intimidating atmosphere of the Principality Stadium.
England were exceptional in beating Wales 33-19 at Twickenham last week and Jones is now trying to strike the difficult balance between looking at newer faces and giving the established players minutes. He’s made three changes in total, saying he wants to explore different combinations.
I’d be amazed if England got to Japan next month without suffering any more injuries, so you need to have options – and Jones’s 31-man squad is packed full of exhilarating ones.
Thinking back to the last time England won the World Cup in Australia in 2003, the squad was very settled, with Jason Robinson the only slight curveball. Everyone knew their place under Clive Woodward.
There’s a different feel to the current crop, with the likes of McConnochie, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Piers Francis, Lewis Ludlam and Willi Heinz auditioning.
Saturday in front of a vociferous home crowd and against a Wales side who had won 14 straight matches before last weekend’s loss is the perfect test for them.
They’ve been picked on their stand-out performances for their clubs. They now need to bring that same zest with them into the international arena.
This week I read with interest about World Rugby’s idea to outlaw tackling above the waist. The law will be trialled in an effort to make the game safer, which is of course paramount.
The principle is sound and, if implemented at the 2023 World Cup as is being suggested, it would be for the good of the sport.
I’m intrigued about the effects such a change would have. I imagine it would make the game faster, with more offloads and tries as players will be harder to bring down. Conversely, it’s conceivable that it would produce a more stop-start game, with last-ditch tackles and penalties for breaching the rules coming frequently.
One thing is for sure: size and strength would become an even bigger advantage. Just imagine trying to bring down Billy Vunipola or Manu Tuilagi from the waist down.
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