Ollie Lawrence has emerged as a rookie candidate to start for England in their Six Nations decision-maker against Italy in Rome on Saturday, as Eddie Jones mulls over a major midfield overhaul.
The 21-year-old Worcester center appears to be able to make its Test debut at the Stadio Olimpico, in the absence of two stalwarts from the back line.
Jones confirmed yesterday that fly-half George Ford will not be available as he is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, while Manu Tuilagi is out for months after a tear in the same part of his leg.
Ollie Lawrence plans to make his England debut against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico
For so long England’s 10-12-13 axis was in permanent motion, but the endless rotations in that area had given way to a period of stability.
In the national team’s last 10 tests, Ford, Captain Owen Farrell and Tuilagi had started together eight times.
But now Jones is gearing up to make forced changes for a game England must win with a bonus point for a chance at the championship title.
Youngster Lawrence has repeatedly displayed explosive power as he drew attention with Worcester and now appears to be considered someone who could replace Tuilagi as a destructive carrier who can unload.
Judging by Jones’ comments yesterday, after naming a 36-man squad, the newcomer could even be on his mind for a center-back starting role, based on the fact that Farrell is likely to return to fly-half in absence of Ford.
He described Lawrence as a ‘player with great potential’ and when asked what middle position he considers a natural fit for him, Jones said, ‘We had a selection debate about the need for a pass 12.
George Ford and Manu Tuilagi are England’s biggest absentees from winning the Six Nations
‘I had watched a game involving Jimmy Gopperth – a 10 playing 12. So I asked our analyst to go and see how many times Jimmy switched to Malakai Fekitoa. It was zero. Very rarely do you see the passing sequence 10 to 12 to 13.
‘The romantics want to see that. I come from a background where we would normally play a 10 out of 12 and I would still like to have that on the team. But the idea that 12 goes to 13 is very rarely seen.
Watch the next game and see how often it happens.
Captain Owen Farrell will likely take the field since he was on the pitch for Saracens last month
Essentially, centers, especially with emergency defense, are now players running – backs. Their chance to succeed is very rare, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be good passers-by.
If you pass the ball three times now, you generally have the defense on top of you. The ability to get a fourth stride is very difficult.
‘You will see that most rugby is now one-pass rugby. You only have 20 percent for two or three steps. You don’t have to be an Einstein to find out that it doesn’t happen often.
Joe Cokanasiga could also take on the Italians after spending 11 months with a knee injury
‘We will have to juggle things and play slightly differently. We want to make sure we stay ahead and try to think of ways to break through the stampede defenses. ‘
If Jones is considering a powerrunner at age 12, Lawrence would fit – though it depends in part on the makeup of England’s back row and whether the recalled Joe Cokanasiga, Bath’s giant Fijian-born wing, could be let go. wide.
The guy in charge knows he needs enough carriers who can break through the profit line and, without Tuilagi, he’s deficient in that regard.
Jacob Umaga is another new kid who has been rewarded after a strong Premiership season
There was some speculation yesterday that Wasps young playmaker Jacob Umaga could be deployed to start at 10. But far more likely, Farrell will be there for his first outing since getting banned for a high tackle early last month.
The skipper may be short on playing time, but Jones isn’t the least bit surprised, saying, “He’s the most professional player I’ve seen.
‘He is dedicated to his profession and works hard. I don’t know how many times Jonny Wilkinson kicked with him. He is a man with an incredible desire to win.
Jones has labeled George Furbank of Northampton as a future number 10 replacement for Farrell
“He wants to play for England, he wants to be the best captain we’ve had and he wants to be the best 10 we’ve had, or the best 12. Wherever he’s selected, he doesn’t mind.”
Jones was in trademark form yesterday – he flatly refused to explain the omission of influential Exeter brothers Sam and Joe Simmonds, claiming he sees struggling Northampton full-back George Furbank as a potential No. 10 test.
Unsurprisingly, he tried to downplay the hype surrounding Wasp flanker Jack Willis by claiming that he has a lot to prove in England training before qualifying for a debut. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen.