England ring the changes but sense of purpose remains on point

Eddie Jones’s team seek 11th win of the calendar year as Fiji come to Twickenham

England’s Nathan Hughes is tackled by Springbok Faf de Klerk at Twickenham. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

England’s Nathan Hughes is tackled by Springbok Faf de Klerk at Twickenham. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

 

England v Fiji

Twikenham

Sky Sports 2, Saturday, 2.30

From Eddie Jones’s perspective every England match is a signpost to the same destination. The identity of the opposition matters less than his side’s readiness for the 2019 World Cup in Japan and, in particular, the desire of his players to keep improving. “It’s only Fiji” is not a mindset Jones is prepared to tolerate from anyone involved.

Perhaps for that reason the coach has crunched a few numbers this week as Bath’s uncapped replacement lock Charlie Ewels seeks to become the 1,385th player to represent England. “Out of those 1,385, there have only been 31 great players,” Jones said. “The 31 great players are the ones who’ve won the World Cup.

“Greatness is defined by winning major trophies – and I want players who want to be great. That means every player who gets his first cap at the moment in England has a 1-in-50 chance of being a great player. We want to change that ratio.”

Given rugby union’s World Cup did not exist before 1987 Jones’s statistics are slightly skewed but his point is instantly clear. Those starting players who have had scant opportunity to impress him before now, such as Alex Goode, Semesa Rokoduguni and Teimana Harrison, will all be expected to grasp this golden chance.

Fringe players

“We don’t think this is a one-off chance for these fringe players,” Jones said. “Every player has an opportunity to get on the path to being a great player. We are looking to increase the depth of the squad.”

Harrison will be particularly grateful, having been hauled off 30 minutes into his last outing for England in Sydney in June. With Billy Vunipola belatedly declared fit, it means Nathan Hughes is once more on the bench but his fellow Fiji-born squad member Rokoduguni will be invited to run at the visitors from the start.

“I think he’ll add such a different style of play to what England are used to,” predicted his Bath club-mate Jonathan Joseph. “He’s really got that raw x-factor that not a lot of players have.”

Elliot Daly owes his outing on the left wing to Jonny May’s relative lack of top level match fitness since returning from a long-term knee injury. Jones will need a versatile player in his World Cup squad and wants to see how the 24-year-old Wasp fares against Fiji’s powerful runners.

Exposed

“You won’t get a better opportunity as a winger than against Fiji because you have to be right on top of your game,” Jones said. “If you are not on top of your game, you are going to be exposed.”

It is still hard to see England failing to chalk up their 11th victory of this calendar year. Owen Farrell is also set to move past the 500-point mark in Test rugby, with Jonny Wilkinson suggesting he will “be surprised and disappointed” if the 25-year-old does not overhaul his distant English record of 1,179. Jones has also hailed Farrell, along with the captain Dylan Hartley, as “the emotional soul” of this England team.

The team sheet may be different but the collective sense of purpose remains unchanged

ENGLAND: A Goode; S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford, B Youngs; M Vunipola, D Hartley (capt), D Cole, J Launchbury, C Lawes, C Robshaw, T Harrison, B Vunipola. Replacements: J George, J Marler, K Sinckler, C Ewels, NHughes, D Care, B Te’o, H Slade.

FIJI: M Talebula; B Masilevu, A Tikoirotuma, A Vulivuli, N Nadolo; J Matavesi, S Vularika; C Ma’afu, S Koto Vuli, M Saulo, A Ratuniyarawa, L Nakarawa, D Waqaniburotu, P Yato, A Qera (capt). Replacements: T Talemaitoga, P Ravai, L Atalifo, N Soqeta, N Dawai, E Radrodro, N Matawalu, K Murimurivalu.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).

Guardian Service

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