England to use Jack Nowell as a ninth forward in Six Nations 2019 opener
Eddie Jones is set to deploy so-called ‘ninth forward’ Jack Nowell against Ireland as England tool up for a battle at the breakdown.
Jones’ team are in no doubt what awaits them against the ‘fighting Irish’ in Saturday’s Six Nations opener, according to Ben Youngs.
“With Irish teams, you talk about the passion,” England’s scrum-half said. “But really they just love the fight, they are mad for the little fights. I am talking about the breakdown, the aerial stuff, the bits of the game that are just no-talent-required niggly stuff.”
It is a fortnight since Jones caused a stir by threatening to go into a game with nine forwards, earmarking Nowell as the player best suited to a hybrid role – such is his ability under the high ball and strength and power over it.
Exeter’s Jack ‘of all trades’ is expected to be named on the wing when the XV is announced on Thursday, in place of the injured Joe Cokanasiga, in a back-three comprising Jonny May and fullback Elliot Daly. But he will be given more of a roving brief, to compete for the ball in those ‘little fights’ which Youngs is so convinced will decide this heavyweight contest.
“Ireland have a huge amount of guys who can jackal and get over the ball, they’ve got a pressure-in-defence system that puts you under pressure,” said Owen Farrell’s halfback partner.
“It’s a huge strength of theirs and it’s caused us problems in the past.
“It all comes down to momentum. If you are on the front foot it’s a lot harder for them to compete. So, it’s really important we get momentum and sustain it.”
With possession, this is an England team with the potential to wreak havoc — Manu Tuilagi, set for his first Six Nations start since 2013, Mako and Billy Vunipola are all game-breakers with ball in hand.
Without it though, they will have the devil’s own job to trouble an Irish side which has won 18 of its last 19 and picked up pretty much every trinket going.
Daly has yet to provide compelling evidence that he is a Test fullback, too often in the autumn looking uncertain under the high ball. But the England management are desperate for him to succeed and forwards coach Steve Borthwick cut him some slack by insisting the aerial contest is a team skill – others have to “get around the catcher and help him”.
Possible England team: Daly; Nowell, Slade, Tuilagi, May; Farrell (capt), Youngs; M Vunipola, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Lawes, Wilson, Curry, B Vunipola.
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