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Harry Randall the key to Eddie Jones masterplan to combat Wales | Six Nations 2022

There would seem no immediate link, at first glance, between the quicksilver Harry Randall, England’s starting scrum-half against Wales, and Jack Leach, the bespectacled Somerset and England left-arm spinner. In the constantly whirring mind of Eddie Jones, though, a significant connection exists which is set to shape the outcome of Saturday’s pivotal Six Nations fixture at Twickenham.

As an avid cricket fan Jones took his usual keen interest in the recent Ashes series, not least the calculated way in which Australia sought to hit Leach out of the attack early in the series at The Gabba. This week Jones has dug out those clips again to illustrate to his squad the importance of meticulous, smart preparation and the effect it can have on major sporting outcomes.

The point was less about Australia’s plethora of left-handers deliberately trying to dent Leach’s confidence – which they successfully achieved – and more the broader importance of having a plan in place at international level. “That didn’t happen by chance,” said Jones, having announced perhaps the best balanced England starting XV available to him. “That was a plan by the Australian team’s leadership to get Leach out of the attack. They didn’t want him in there and they wanted to make sure England’s four medium pacers had to keep bowling.”

Which is a not dissimilar rationale to the one Jones has applied to his selection this week, prior to the hammer blow of Manu Tuilagi’s hamstring strain which has now ruled him out of contention. His analysis of Wales has reinforced his view of a team who are tough to put away in tight games, as shown by a series of close contests in recent times and again against Scotland in Cardiff last week.

The Jones plan, therefore, is to rush out and grasp the early initiative via a combination of pace, power and purpose. Hence the choice of Randall ahead of Ben Youngs, who must now wait to overhaul Jason Leonard’s record as England’s most-capped player from the bench. Randall is nothing if not rapid and England’s second-half go-slow against Italy in Rome with Youngs on the pitch has also trumped any sentimental feelings.

The layers of tactical nuance, though, do not end there. England are already well aware of Wales’s preference for keeping the ball infield against them rather than supplying them with plenty of lineout possession from which they so often build. The aerial skills of Dan Biggar and Liam Williams are further incentives to hoist the ball skywards and seek to compete, with a hard-working defence in support.

Dan Biggar’s aerial skills are well known.
Dan Biggar’s aerial skills are well known. Photograph: Ben Evans/Huw Evans/REX/Shutterstock

Factor in Jones’s belief that the first 20 minutes are an increasingly prime time to attack in the modern game and the head coach believes supporters would be wise to take their seats early. “You generally find that, if you can get some good quality ball early, the defences are not as quickly set,” confirmed Jones. “The first 20 minutes of a Test match is always the quickest. I think the stat is that 78% of teams who score the first try win the Test, so it is really important for us to have a fast start. We have to get out of the blocks pretty quickly.”

And if that fails, Jones also has Plan B waiting. Modern stats indicate a tendency for more lineouts to occur late in games, for which Jamie George’s throwing accuracy is perfectly suited. It leaves Luke Cowan-Dickie to roar from the start alongside the equally rumbustious Ellis Genge, with Joe Marler on hand to inject extra second-half scrummaging oomph if needed. Youngs, while disappointed not to be starting, is also no stranger to last-quarter pressure while Elliot Daly has been a late thorn in Welsh sides in the past.

Much time and effort, furthermore, continues to be spent on enhancing England’s leadership depth, with Simon Scott, a former Royal Marines officer and corporate leadership consultant, and the former national captain Will Carling helping to improve both communication and the squad’s operational structure.

Quick Guide

England v Wales: Six Nations teams

Show

England v Wales teams, 4.45pm GMT kick-off, Saturday 26 February

England (TBC): Steward; Malins, Slade, ????, Nowell; Smith, Randall; Genge, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler, Ewels, Itoje, Lawes (capt), Curry, Dombrandt. Replacements: George, Marler, Stuart, Isiekwe, Simmonds, Youngs, Ford, Daly.

Wales: L Williams; Cuthbert, Watkin, Tompkins, Adams; Biggar (capt), T Williams; W Jones, Elias, Francis, Rowlands, Beard, Moriarty, Basham, Faletau. Replacements: Lake, G Thomas, Brown, S Davies, Morgan, Hardy, Anscombe, J Davies.

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The upshot, slightly counter-intuitively, is that England now boast no fewer than four official vice captains supporting Courtney Lawes – Tom Curry, Henry Slade, Genge and Cowan-Dickie – with the Owen Farrell-George Ford decision-making axis no longer holding the balance of power. Where precisely that will leave Farrell when he is back from injury remains an interesting question but the more collegiate approach encouraged by Scott appears to suit all concerned.

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“Simon brings a very modern perspective of leadership to help create an environment where the players can grow,” explained Jones. “He’s a corporate guy who loves his rugby. Communication is one thing [but] it’s about being intentional in your planning. Nothing ever happens unless you plan it.”

On the aforementioned Scott’s website his personal mantra sounds simple enough: to help “ordinary people to achieve extraordinary performance over and over again through deliberate, rigorous, quality practice – and to stay cheerful, even in adversity”. England have endured a touch of the latter in this championship so far but, if they win well this weekend, their title destiny will still be very much in their own hands. Could it be that the English mists – both tactical and mental – are finally beginning to clear?

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