‘Never saw that coming’: Is this Jones’ boldest call of his England career?
While there has always been a debate with England surrounding the likes of Owen Farrell, Marcus Smith and George Ford, or Tom Curry, Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds, there has been one player that Eddie Jones has always trusted through thick and thin probably more than any other player and that is Ben Youngs.
Even when someone like Danny Care was in the England squad, Jones was always loath to trust anyone in the No9 shirt other than the Leicester Tigers star, so much so that he only took two scrum-halves to the World Cup, with the other being the wildly inexperienced Willi Heinz, knowing that Youngs was going to be his go-to No9.
So Jones’ decision to start Bristol Bears’ Harry Randall at No9 against Wales this weekend in the Six Nations is monumental. Yes, Randall started against Italy, but Wales is a different kettle of fish entirely. This is a landmark game where Youngs will become England’s most capped player ever if he comes on, but it could also be a sign of changing times.
This is a decision that has delighted many England fans, as the combination of the 24-year-old Randall and the 23-year-old Marcus Smith has been on the cards for years, but fans have only seen it against Canada and the USA in the summer. The pressure is much higher now, but Jones has put his faith in the young half-back pairing.
Youngs will still be at the forefront of Jones’ plans for the coming years, but this may signal a sea change at scrum-half for the first time in his tenure with England. He flirted with Raffi Quirke and Alex Mitchell in the autumn, but it looks as though Jones has lined up his successor to Youngs in Randall.
15. Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 7 caps)
14. Max Malins (Saracens, 12 caps)
13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 45 caps) (VC)
12. Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 46 caps)
11. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 36 caps)
10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 7 caps)
9. Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, 3 caps)
1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 33 caps) (VC)
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 33 caps) (VC)
3. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 49 caps)
4. Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 28 caps)
5. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 53 caps)
6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 90 caps) (C)
7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 38 caps) (VC)
8. Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins, 6 caps)
16. Jamie George (Saracens, 63 caps)
17. Joe Marler (Harlequins, 76 caps)
18. Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 17 caps)
19. Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 5 caps)
20. Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 11 caps)
21. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 114 caps)
22. George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 79 caps)
23. Elliot Daly (Saracens, 54 caps)
Take a look at what England fans have said:
Great to see Tuilagi and Lawes back. Any team with those two in the starting lineup will be hard to beat. It’s going to be a physical battle! Pleased Randall & Dombrandt also retain their starting jerseys. Two players who will absolutely thrive off the big occasion. #ENGvWAL https://t.co/viJ89lnCN6
— Maggie Alphonsi MBE (@MaggieAlphonsi) February 24, 2022
Randall starting, never saw that coming after Jones’s 9 selections over last 5 years. Biggest game of his life. Let’s see what he can do
— Bob Depledge (@RJDhowzat) February 24, 2022
Randall over Youngs is a massive call! Keen to see how he plays in a big game like this. He plays well he keeps the 9 shirt for the rest of the tournament
— Harvey (@harveypthomas) February 24, 2022
Harry Randall starting ahead of Youngs, that is a huge decision
— Jack Bishop (@JackBish13) February 24, 2022
Randall starting over Youngs is a huge statement. Trio of Dombrandt, Smith and Manu should be fun and the return of Lawes is great news. https://t.co/dBPni3d5A8
— Ryan Sidle (@Sidler28) February 24, 2022
— Matt Croot (@CrootMatt) February 24, 2022
Dombrandt, Randall, Smith & Tuilagi is an absolutely lethal 8-9-10-12 combo… filthy
— TR (@rommyctowland) February 24, 2022
Randall, Smith, Tuilagi, Slade. I can get behind that
— Dan Abbott (@DanAbbott_BC) February 24, 2022