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Eddie Jones has called on his beleaguered England side to answer for their Six Nations defeat to Scotland by adopting the mindset and attitude of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
The colorful Australian coach was back on Saturday (AEDT) announcing six changes to the starting squad which lost 20-17 to Scotland in the opener last week, for Sunday’s clash with the Italy.
Jones dropped Ben Youngs to the bench and gave Harry Randall and Alex Dombrandt starts.
Jones was wild after the Calcutta Cup defeat for taking off Marcus Smith just after an hour with England ahead 17-10. England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, whose mastermind led to a penalty try for Scotland, also fell to the bench, although Jones said it had nothing to do with his game-winning yellow card.
Italy should present an easier way back for England, who finished fifth ahead of their Sunday rivals last campaign.
“We want to be ruthless,” Jones said in his pre-game press conference.
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“We have a chance on Sunday to atone for what we did last Saturday. We can only do that by being really ruthless and having this vision of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston. That kind of image in your head where you really want to tackle them.
“When you look at the quality of our bench, it speaks to the strength of the team. We have what would be considered a very young and inexperienced team. That’s around 350 caps, which is half the number of caps you need in your squad to win a World Cup. We have a good mix for this game of a young and dynamic starting XV and a more worldly and experienced finishing eight.
“It is possible that the round of 16 will have the opportunity to be Ali above Liston. We want to be aggressive. We want to take opportunities as they arise, rather than play a style We really tried to create a “New England” style of rugby.
Jones will hope to see Smith and Dombrandt dominate as they have been in club rugby with the Harelquins.
“We want to see Dombrandt play in a game that we think will really suit him,” Jones said. “Italy tends to be more open and unstructured type games, so we think it’s a great game for him to start at No.8. He’s not an orthodox No.8 – it’s is a free No. 8.
“It’s the kind of game that’s going to have quite a bit of space, so it’ll suit him. Alex runs Marcus’ inside balls very well. We see certain styles fit together and they certainly have that understanding. I’m sure that will happen on Sunday.
Jones described Randall as “a livewire halfback, he’s very good at the broken game. He has a good solid pass on him and his kicking game is improving.
In other changes, Jones has now reshuffled his backline with Jack Nowell coming on the left wing for the first start since March 2019 and Joe Marchant adopting the more familiar outside-centre position.
“These matches are called test matches because the opposition is testing you,” Jones said. “It’s not a festival game. We know it will be a tough game. And the players are encouraged to be aggressive.
“We think that’s the way forward for England and we want to seize the opportunities and that’s probably what disappointed me the most against Scotland. We want to light up Rome. [Against Scotland] we did not take these opportunities because they took advantage of them. What you can’t afford to do against Italy is to have an image in your head that it’s going to be an easy game.
Jones said he was pleased with his team’s response this week.
“They were extremely disappointed after the game,” Jones said.
“The problem with these situations is that there is a lot of outside noise, a lot of opinions, a lot of judgment on the players, and it is important that the team understands what is important, what we have to rather than being seduced by other comments Staying committed to the team is most important.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 11, 2022
England team: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Marcus Smith, Harry Randall, Alex Dombrandt, Tom Curry, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Charlie Ewels, Will Stuart, Jamie George, Ellis Genge. Res: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Ollie Chessum, Sam Simmonds, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Elliot Daly.