Thursday 15 August 2019 9:53 pm

Ollie Phillips: England's World Cup hopefuls face baptism of fire in Cardiff against Wales

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. 

Read more: Ruaridh McConnochie represents Eddie Jones’s World Cup squad perfectly

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.

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: Eddie Jones, Head Coach of England looks on during the England Rugby World Cup squad announcement at Blaise High School on August 12, 2019 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Jones is keen to give new faces an opportunity to impress before the World Cup (Getty Images)

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. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11: Liam Williams of Wales tries to hold off Piers Francis of England during the 2019 Quilter International match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on August 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Francis (right) will start again at centre for England on Saturday (Getty Images)

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.

Sound principle

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.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11:  Gareth Anscombe of Wales offloads under pressure from Willi Heinz of England during the 2019 Quilter International match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on August 11, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
World Rugby are looking at changing tackling rules to protect players from injury (Getty Images)

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.

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

Main image credit: Getty Images