There has rarely been anything settled and conventional about Eddie Jones. That is the way it has always been. That is the way he prefers it to be, the value of unpredictability, the chaos theory in action, all designed to keep everyone, including himself, on their toes. It’s a strategy that has seen him through three World Cups and with a decent degree of credit to be fair. Jones is not afraid of picking relative unknowns. High-risk for some...
Putting faith in form and hunger for others. So, in come rookies, uncapped Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie and Wales debutant, Northampton flanker, Lewis Ludlam. No Ben Te’o either, presumably for disciplinary reasons after his dust-up with Mike Brown (another, more expected absentee).
That’s an internal judgment call, although five cap Northampton centre, Piers Francis, has a lot riding on his shoulders if he is to punch across the gainline in the manner that Te’o can or to bring his own brand of deceptive guile to that midfield area.
But this squad raises eyebrows at half-back in particular. After 129 players named in various squads since he took over almost four years ago, the England head coach has still not seen enough worth in any of the chosen back-up scrum-halves along the way, opting instead to place his faith in a 32-year-old rookie, Gloucester’s Willi Heinz, as the only regular support to Ben Youngs.
No Ben Spencer. No Dan Robson. No Richard Wigglesworth. And, of course, these months past, no Danny Care either. Heinz vaults the lot of them. If either of them were to get crocked on the eve of a game, then George Ford will be expected to step into the breach. Big call.
And if Heinz were that good, why has he not been a regular presence over the last couple of years? He did have a good outing against Wales on Sunday, showing the sort of leadership and game management that Jones cherishes. At this exalted level, though, he is unproven.
As are others. Three players, Ludlam, Heinz and hooker, Jack Singleton, have only one cap each with McConnochie only set to make his first test start against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday. There is only an average of 32 caps per player across the squad with only a total of 64 caps from previous World Cups among the entire squad. This England party is one of potential rather than of the tried and trusted.
Of course any 31-man squad will have a potential fault line. You cannot cover all bases. Jones has opted for three hookers and only five props even though there is no specialist player who is adept on both sides of the scrum. Lewis Ludlam has been a late runner to this point, taking advantage of injury issues that have affected former Hurricanes captain, Brad Shields, who was considered a near certainty for World Cup duty after moving from New Zealand last summer. Ludlam, fierce and unflinching, is raw. Te’o, too, falls into the category of someone who came to England to tilt at the World Cup. Some dreams are shattered while others are shaped.
Jones has opted for versatility elsewhere. Among the six back three players are the likes of Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell who can both play in the centre. There will still be concern over the state of the ankle injury sustained by Nowell in the Premiership Final in June. The actual deadline for submitting squads to Rugby World Cup is September 8th.
Jones has made his call early. These are the men he backs. There is a lot riding on their shoulders. They have it all to prove.