England's wing dilemma
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: With Chris Ashton ruled out of England’s game with Wales on Saturday due to a calf strain, Eddie Jones is going to be forced into making changes once again to his back three.
Jack Nowell started on the wing in the tournament opener against Ireland, before making way for Ashton against France, with Jonny May and Elliot Daly the two constants in the group so far in the 2019 Six Nations.
That change from Nowell to Ashton surprised many, with the Exeter Chief impressing in Dublin, but it was a selection tailored toward the opposition being faced, a tactic which has worked well for England so far in the competition. With Ashton out this week, it raises the question of whether or not Jones has a tactical ace up his sleeve for the impending threat of Wales.
Nowell could come back into the starting XV, with all the benefits that he will bring to England’s kick chase and contact area work, whilst the other options in the squad are Bath’s Joe Cokanasiga and uncapped Gloucester wing Ollie Thorley.
Both Cokanasiga and Thorley used their opportunities back at their Premiership clubs to advantageous effect on the weekend, with Cokanasiga showing off his rare physical gifts and excellent finishing ability in his side’s win over Newcastle Falcons, whilst Thorley tormented the Exeter defence with elusive counter-attacks and clinical play in broken field situations.
With Thorley and Cokanasiga having scores of 86 and 84 on attack in the RPI respectively, figures which outstrip Nowell’s mark of 79, there is no denying the offensive ability that both players bring to the mix, but away from home, against a team as formidable as Wales, it could well be their abilities in other areas that decide the selection.
Cokanasiga has his display against Australia in the autumn in his back pocket, where he showed not only that he can defend competently at international level, but also that he can be a weapon for England in the kick chase and their ability to win back contested balls. Thorley doesn’t lack for energy or work rate in these areas at the Premiership level with Gloucester, but they are, for now, an unknown quantity in the international arena.
That all being said, Nowell has a proven track record against top-class international opposition of being able to do just that and, with that experience, form and all-round game all in place, would seem like the right fit to take on Wales in Cardiff, before Cokanasiga or Thorley could potentially get some playing time in the home tests against Italy and Scotland.
The final alternative could be to move Daly to wing, with Mike Brown coming in at a fullback – or even taking up a berth on the wing – something which a fit Leigh Halfpenny could have possibly prompted from Jones, but the Australian has seemed committed to his decision to move Daly to fullback over the last 12 months.
By Alex Shaw, RugbyPass