CHRIS FOY: Eddie Jones has plenty to think about ahead of England's Six Nations campaign... with Owen Farrell absent and several spots in the starting XV still up for grabs

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Monday marks the start of England's preparations for this year's Six Nations Eddie Jones has lots to decide on, including how to replace captain Owen FarrellMeanwhile, the Premiership's new terrestrial TV deal is good news for the sportBristol's demolition of Scarlets on Saturday shows they have found their mojo

England start their Six Nations build-up in Brighton on Monday and Eddie Jones will be aware that filling the void left by Owen Farrell’s absence is far from the only priority matter he must address.

The captain’s injury has re-opened the door to George Ford and it will surely also mean another stand-in leadership stint for Courtney Lawes. Both men deserve these opportunities.

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But there is so much else to consider. England are in the midst of a transition phase which means very little is settled and certain.

Eddie Jones has plenty of decisions to make in the lead up to this year's Six Nations

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Eddie Jones has plenty of decisions to make in the lead up to this year’s Six Nations

Any attempt to write down a potential starting XV reveals that there are very few shoo-ins. Maro Itoje is one, Tom Curry is another, as is Kyle Sinckler — for now at least — and Ben Youngs remains the unchallenged No 1 scrum-half. Beyond that, most places are subject to debate. 

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Henry Slade is all but assured of a midfield start but his exact role depends on the availability of Farrell and Manu Tuilagi — who is closing in on another comeback.

Freddie Steward appears on the cusp of a long career as England’s pre-eminent full back but he is not yet untouchable — he is still finding his feet at Test level, albeit quickly.

Up front, Joe Marler’s set-piece prowess perhaps gives him a marginal edge over the rampaging Leicester captain, Ellis Genge, for the No 1 shirt but the loosehead prop selection will divide opinion, as will Jamie George versus Luke Cowan-Dickie at hooker.

Owen Farrell's injury means that Courtney Lawes is likely to have another leadership stint

Owen Farrell’s injury means that Courtney Lawes is likely to have another leadership stint

However, the key to England’s short-term fortunes appears to lie in how Jones and his assistants decide to proceed in the back five of the pack. This column would advocate the use of players in their primary habitat, especially in relation to the deployment of Tom Curry.

Jones has called for the Sale flanker to show better consistency if he wants to be truly world class but what would help that process is consistency of role.

Curry was at No 8 in the autumn and has flitted between the flanker berths but openside is his preferred position, so he should become entrenched there, until the next World Cup — with the option to fill in elsewhere only when in-game emergencies require it.

England have enough No 8 talent at their disposal to back one of the specialist contenders and it makes sense for Alex Dombrandt to be given that shot.

His hat-trick against Castres on Friday night continued a spell of fine form when he has led Harlequins with real authority. In tight games, he is fronting up.

Sale Sharks' Tom Curry was at No 8 in the autumn but open-side is his preferred position

Sale Sharks’ Tom Curry was at No 8 in the autumn but open-side is his preferred position

His telepathic club alliance with Marcus Smith could enhance the national team and it feels as if the time has come to find out if he can be a ‘Test match animal’.

With Sam Underhill injured again, it may be best to persist with Lawes at blindside although a switch to lock would help to create a remarkably mobile England pack. Alfie Barbeary has the all-round potential to make a dynamic impact from the bench.

Jones will know that achieving the right balance up front will be essential for a trip to Murrayfield on the opening weekend of the Six Nations.

Scotland have the forward pedigree to eclipse England if the visitors are depowered or disorganised, as was the case at Twickenham last year when the exploits of Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and Jonny Gray paved the way for an historic upset.

An ambush awaits in Edinburgh. Jones has 10 days for some hasty problem- solving, before naming a team capable of coping with a highly dangerous assignment. Replacing Farrell is merely one part of a big, unwieldy selection conundrum.

 

TV DEAL IS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION   

News that Premiership matches will be shown on terrestrial TV again is a vital step towards properly promoting the domestic game. The deal with ITV for highlights and live coverage of the final in June is a boost because, let’s be honest, the league has a microscopic profile among the wider public, outside of its traditional heartlands.

New Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor recognised the need to broaden awareness and he should be commended for prioritising this issue.

It is a good start, but there is much to do. It is high time for Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) to build connections and influence constructively and banish a pervading culture of secrecy.

Former WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips became Premiership Rugby chair last year

Former WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips became Premiership Rugby chair last year

The game needs good governance more than ever and PRL have often been perceived as being a divisive, aloof faction — in relation to player release for the Lions, the overhaul of European events, handling of salary cap investigations and a pay-for-entry attitude to promotion and expansion. 

These are still early days but maybe the new PRL hierarchy of Massie-Taylor and chairman Martyn Phillips can emerge as figures capable of driving reputational change.

 

BRISTOL BEARS ARE BACK  

Bristol are back. Whatever was troubling them, the Bears appear to have moved on, in fine style, judging by the manner of their 52-21 victory over the Scarlets in Llanelli.

The way they went through the gears to demolish their Welsh opponents had shades of the All Blacks’ blend of creativity and ruthlessness.

The tone had been set by Ioan Lloyd before he was forced off injured, to earn warm applause from the watching Wayne Pivac

The tone had been set by Ioan Lloyd before he was forced off injured, to earn warm applause from the watching Wayne Pivac 

Five tries in the last 18 minutes was quite some effort by Pat Lam’s men and two of Bristol’s strikes in that period were long-range works of art, full of off-loading brilliance. 

The tone had been set by Ioan Lloyd before he was forced off injured, to earn warm applause from the watching Wayne Pivac. Never mind clapping him, the Wales head coach should pick the electric rookie, who lined up at inside centre and can also operate at 10, on both wings or at full back. 

Granted, this versatility might mean he is not considered a specialist in any one position for now but the 20-year-old has rare attacking talent and is worthy of more Test caps — soon.

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