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'The‌ ‌balance‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌team‌ ‌isn't‌ ‌as‌ ‌good' - Why England's missing men leave Ireland with a big opportunity

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Eddie Jones' England team selections are coming under pressure. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Eddie Jones' England team selections are coming under pressure. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Eddie Jones' England team selections are coming under pressure. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

With‌ ‌Ireland‌ ‌naming an unchanged‌ side ‌for‌ ‌Sunday’s‌ ‌Triple Crown shot at England, bar the return of Caelan Doris to the bench, speculation has now turned to the section calls Eddie Jones might make.

Eyebrows have already been raised by the England coach's persistence with Sales Sharks' flanker Tom Curry in the number 8 role and the suspicion is that the experiment is set to continue.

But while that’s an issue for ex-Ireland man Luke Fitzgerald, it’s in another area of the pitch where a contentious selection is taking place that is causing England greater problems.

"I‌ ‌think‌ ‌he sounds‌ ‌like‌ ‌he‌ ‌wants‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌picking‌ ‌that‌ ‌team.‌ ‌That,‌ ‌to‌ ‌me‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌huge‌ mistake. It’s a‌ ‌mistake‌ ‌picking‌ ‌(George) Ford‌ ‌and‌ ‌(Owen) Farrell.‌ ‌You can't‌ ‌do‌ ‌that," Fitzgerald told The Left Wing, Independent.ie’s rugby podcast in association with Land Rover.

"It's‌ interesting‌ ‌to‌ ‌hear‌ ‌lots‌ ‌of‌ ‌people‌ ‌in‌ ‌England,‌ ‌such‌ ‌as‌ ‌Andy‌ ‌Goode being‌ ‌quite‌ ‌vocal‌ ‌on‌ ‌it‌ ‌as‌ ‌well.‌ I‌ ‌think‌ he's‌ ‌perfectly‌ ‌positioned‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌comment‌ ‌on‌ ‌that.‌ ‌He‌ ‌understands‌ ‌the‌ ‌game,‌ ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌10‌ ‌himself.‌ ‌‌

"When‌ ‌England‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌really,‌ ‌really‌ ‌successful‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌couple‌ ‌of‌ ‌years‌, they‌ ‌play‌ ‌their‌ ‌best‌ ‌rugby‌ ‌when‌ ‌they're‌ ‌dominating‌ ‌teams‌ ‌physically.‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌defensively,‌ ‌there's‌ ‌a‌ ‌big‌ ‌difference‌ ‌between‌ ‌Farrell‌ ‌at‌ ‌10‌ ‌versus‌ ‌12.‌ ‌He's‌ ‌susceptible‌ ‌to‌ ‌miss‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌at‌ ‌12‌ ‌or‌ ‌make‌ ‌a‌ ‌few‌ ‌rash‌ ‌errors‌ ‌there.‌

"It's‌ ‌a‌ ‌very‌ ‌different‌ ‌ball‌ ‌game‌ ‌playing‌ ‌at‌ ‌12‌ ‌than‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌at‌ ‌10.‌ ‌The‌ ‌tackles‌ ‌are‌ ‌different,‌ ‌they're‌ ‌more‌ ‌difficult.‌ ‌The‌ ‌footwork‌ ‌element‌ ‌is‌ ‌more‌ ‌difficult.‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌it's‌ ‌a‌ ‌mistake.‌"

The debate around Jones' decision to shoehorn both players into the same team certainly isn’t a new one, with many commentators arguing that England perform better when just one of them is in the team.

The question seemed to have been put to bed after both shone in the barnstorming World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks, only to rise again after England’s capitulation to South Africa in the final.

And with their Six Nations tilt off to a rocky start, Fitzgerald believes that Jones' stubbornness on the issue, and the absence of key ball-carries like Mako and Billy Vunipola, could open a window of opportunity that enables Ireland to pinch an unlikely Triple Crown.

"The‌ ‌balance‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌team‌ ‌isn't‌ ‌as‌ ‌good," he continued.

"Again‌ ‌I‌ ‌come‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌that‌ ‌physical‌ ‌element‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌game.‌ ‌All‌ ‌of‌ ‌those‌ ‌guys‌ ‌are‌ ‌physical‌ ‌specimens.‌ ‌They‌ ‌allow‌ ‌you‌ ‌to‌ ‌go‌ ‌forward,‌ ‌to‌ ‌pin‌ ‌teams‌ ‌back‌ defensively.‌ ‌In‌ ‌attack,‌ ‌they‌ ‌get‌ ‌you‌ ‌that‌ ‌extra‌ ‌yard‌ ‌or‌ ‌two‌ ‌that‌ ‌poses‌ ‌a‌ ‌very‌ ‌different‌ ‌problem‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌defending‌ ‌team.

"It‌ ‌gives‌ ‌people‌ ‌that‌ ‌extra‌ ‌little‌ ‌bit‌ ‌of‌ ‌time‌ ‌to‌ ‌go‌ ‌and‌ ‌make‌ ‌plays‌ ‌and‌ ‌to‌ ‌put‌ ‌guys‌ ‌like‌ ‌Johnny‌ ‌May‌ ‌in‌ ‌space.‌ ‌To‌ ‌put‌ ‌Tualigi‌ ‌on‌ ‌front‌-foot‌ ‌ball.‌ ‌

"And‌ ‌all‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌sudden‌ ‌it's‌ ‌really‌ ‌hard‌ ‌to‌ ‌arrest‌ ‌the‌ momentum‌ ‌back.‌ ‌That's‌ ‌what‌ ‌England‌ ‌have‌ ‌built ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌really‌ ‌really‌ ‌strong,‌ ‌all‌ ‌their‌ ‌performances‌ ‌are‌ ‌based‌ ‌around‌ ‌that‌ ‌physical‌ ‌battle.‌ ‌ ‌

"So‌ ‌that's‌ ‌why‌ I‌ ‌would‌ ‌argue that‌ ‌they‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌bit‌ ‌susceptible‌ ‌to‌ ‌a ‌big‌ ‌Irish‌ ‌performance‌ ‌and‌ ‌this‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌bit‌ ‌tighter‌ ‌than‌ ‌possibly‌ ‌we‌ ‌might‌ ‌have‌ ‌thought ‌going‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌tournament. Particularly‌ ‌if‌ ‌we‌ ‌were‌ ‌comparing‌ ‌both‌ ‌squads,‌ ‌post‌ World‌ ‌Cup.‌ ‌ ‌

"I‌ ‌see‌ ‌chinks‌ ‌there.‌ ‌I‌ ‌still‌ ‌think‌ ‌England‌ ‌will‌ ‌win‌ ‌it‌ ‌but‌ ‌I‌ ‌see‌ ‌chinks.‌"

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