With only a year until the World Cup and a mounting injury list halting Eddie Jones’ bid to build consistency in his selection, England used their Autumn International clash against Japan to test the second-string.
It looked as if it would backfire, but the introduction of numerous star players helped England overturn the 10-15 half-time score to win 35-15.
England have a penalty problem
Throughout Eddie Jones’ reign, England have struggled with disciplinary issues, even when they were on an 18-game unbeaten run. Against Japan, a nation who England would expect to dominate, Jones’ side conceded 12 penalties.
It’s an issue that Jones just can’t seem to solve. Even a new defence coach, John Mitchell, has failed to stop England conceding silly penalties. Unless the pair can eradicate the issue quickly, England face an uphill battle to compete at the World Cup next year.
Cokanasiga can be the weapon Eddie Jones has always wanted
This time last year, Joe Cokanasiga had played only one Premiership game. Now, it looks as if he’s given Eddie Jones a real selection dilemma.
Jones has made no secret of his desire for a powerful ball carrier in his backline, previously calling up Cokanasiga in 2017, despite playing for London Irish in the second tier.
Cokanasiga looked promising on his international debut, playing a key role in Danny Care’s try and scoring his own in the second half, winning the ball in the air from Richard Wigglesworth’s box-kick before surging over.
His raw potential and power alone mean that Eddie Jones has a difficult decision to make.
England cannot cope without Owen Farrell
With Eddie Jones opting to rest Owen Farrell, George Ford was granted another opportunity to reignite his claim to be England’s starting fly-half. Unfortunately for the Leicester Tiger, he was unable to grasp control of the game, and England fell 15-10 behind at half-time.
Farrell was introduced from the bench at the interval, and the momentum shifted. With the Saracen alongside him in the back-line, Ford managed to push England into a lead.
Worryingly for England, Owen Farrell has no sufficient replacement. For all his attacking quality, George Ford struggles to control the game without the Saracen beside him, and the next option – Alex Lozowski – rarely plays at fly-half for his club.
Nobody knows who England’s back-up scrum-half is
At this point, it’s clear that Ben Youngs is England’s first choice scrum-half – he provides a combination of control and invention like few others in the game.
But beyond Youngs, it’s a far murkier picture. With Danny Care being rested for the tour of South Africa in the summer, Ben Spencer and Dan Robson were called up as replacements. Spencer had the edge, picked on the bench for all three Tests.
Now, with Robson injured and Care back in contention, Jones has a dilemma. It seems clear that Care is no longer capable of starting, and Ben Spencer has been dropped from the squad.
Richard Wigglesworth offers unrivalled control and was a substitute against Japan, but one must wonder whether Spencer and Robson are better options in the squad than the two veteran scrum-halves.