Eddie Jones opted for the tried and tested when picking his team to face Wales, but the seeds of generational change are seen on his bench, where he selected his first England player to have been born this century.
George Martin, the Leicester Tigers’ blindside/lock, was born in June 2001, and was a surprise inclusion in England’s squad when Jack Willis suffered his season-ending knee injury against Italy.
It was expected that Martin — like so many other youngsters under Jones — would initially be involved as an observer, not a participant, but another injury, to Courtney Lawes’s pec, has led to him getting a place on a heavy-duty bench containing six forwards.
“He’s very much an old-fashioned six — good defensive ability, carries the ball hard and is also a lineout option and with time he may mature to be able to play lock as well,” said Jones.
“He’s got a big body on him and we’re so lucky he’s been well coached by Steve Borthwick at the Tigers so he comes in with a really good work ethic, good approach to his training and if he keeps working hard he’ll be a good player.”
With Sam Underhill and Joe Launchbury injured and George Kruis on sabbatical in Japan, the second and back rows — areas of depth for England — are being tested, not least because of Jones’s peculiar aversion to the charms of Alex Dombrandt and, especially, Sam Simmonds.
Starting on the blindside in place of Lawes is Mark Wilson, which changes the dynamic of England’s pack, as Jones explained on Thursday.
“Well, six, when we play Courtney there it’s more of a jumping, running role, but normally if it’s not Courtney we have more of a work-rate six, which is Mark Wilson,” he said. “So, a lot of a good defence, a lot of good clean outs, he will be a bit of a ‘glue’ player for the team.”
Wilson was withdrawn early in the defeat by Scotland, then overlooked against Italy. This shapes as a big game for the 31-year-old, as it does for his back-row colleague Billy Vunipola. The No8 was scathing of his performances in the week, but has been backed to come good.
“I think he is accepting that he has got plenty more in him and that’s a brilliant place to have him,” said captain Owen Farrell. “We’ve seen a brilliant side to him in training this week. I know he will be ready to show that on Saturday.”
With Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau making up a powerful and experienced back-row, Wilson, Vunipola and Tom Curry — and their youthful understudies on the bench — face a mighty challenge.
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