Ollie Lawrence has been handed a start alongside Henry Slade in the centres for England’s Six Nations opener; “We’d always like to dominate the opposition a little bit more,” head coach Jones said
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Eddie Jones wants to see his new midfield combination lead to a more dominant display from England when they kick off their 2021 Six Nations campaign against Scotland.
Head coach Jones has handed Ollie Lawrence a start at inside centre alongside Henry Slade for the Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham, with captain Owen Farrell moving to fly-half and No 10 George Ford dropping to the replacements bench.
Although pleased to see his side lift the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup titles last year, the Australian felt there was still room for improvement and believes Lawrence, who will make his first Six Nations start, and Slade’s playing styles will complement each other
“We played well enough to win the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup, but we’d always like to dominate the opposition a little bit more,” Jones told Sky Sports News.
“This is the best 23 for this weekend – we look at it as a squad of 23 and we feel like it’s a great combination for this weekend.
“For those two (Lawrence and Slade) it’s interchangeable positions. The number of times 10 passes to 12 who passes to 13 now in the game of rugby is very small.
“Ollie brings some good power running in the centres, and Slade has got sleight of foot and sleight of hand.”
Although shuffling the backs has been by choice, Jones has been forced into changes in the front row due to Kyle Sinckler being suspended, Mako Vunipola injured and Joe Marler withdrawing from the squad for personal reasons.
Will Stuart has been elevated to start in the front row with fellow prop Ellis Genge, who scored the game-clinching try in last year’s 13-6 win over Scotland at Murrayfield, and hooker Jamie George.
“It’s a great test of our strength,” Jones said. “Genge has been with us since 2016 and has been quietly going about his business – maybe not so quietly! – and really improving as a player.
“Will Stuart, over the last 12 months, has developed greatly.”
Jones is pleased with how the squad have adapted to life inside the Covid-secure bubble put in place to protect the players and staff, with England sports psychologist Dr Andrea Furst on hand to offer support to them as well.
The national team boss has consulted with football counterpart Gareth Southgate, plus coaches from the NBA, NFL and Australian Rules football as to how they have adapted to being in sporting bubbles as well.
“You can look at it in two ways,” Jones said. “Firstly, I’ve never seen the players so excited about wanting to play rugby.
“They love playing rugby, they love playing for England and they want to be part of this team, so there is that excitement and gratitude of being able to do what they love doing when other people can’t. Most people are locked in their homes so we’re lucky to be doing that.
“Our sports psych has been with us since the World Cup pretty much full time and she’s giving additional support to the players when needed.
“We’re trying to pick up the best bits from everywhere in the world and work out how we can maximise this situation.”