England head coach Eddie Jones has rejected criticism of a conservative team selection against Scotland by insisting his only objective is to win tomorrow’s RBS Six Nations opener at Murrayfield.
All but four of the matchday 23 were in last autumn’s World Cup squad – among the quartet is captain Dylan Hartley who missed out only for disciplinary reasons – and there is not a single debutant in the starting XV.
Jack Clifford, Paul Hill and Ollie Devoto will win their first caps off the bench in the Calcutta Cup clash, but Hill and Devoto are present only because of injuries to preferred options in their positions.
Uncapped pair Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly have been overlooked despite being in outstanding form for their clubs, prompting Toulon back row Steffon Armitage to warn that Jones is sending out the wrong message to England’s aspiring internationals.
But in picking a side containing 512 caps – Leeds Tykes Academy product Danny Care will start at scrum-half – Jones has made it clear his only objective is to topple the Scots
“Selection is about picking the best 23 for the game and we feel this is the best 23 for this game,” Jones said. “You can describe it any way you want, but our mission is to go up there and win the Calcutta Cup. This is not about giving people opportunities, it’s about winning Test matches.
“The pressure is on the team to play well. If we’re good enough we’ll win the game. If we’re not good enough we won’t win.
“I’m not looking at a different England team. I started two months ago with a clean sheet of paper. I’ve selected a team to play a certain way against Scotland. We know that Murrayfield will be a tough old affair – it always is.
“The forecast is for rain and strong winds. Ball movement will be difficult, so we’ve picked what we see as the right 23. The stats show you need around 560 caps to be Six Nations champions. We’ve got 512. Experience is always going to be important.”
The clamour to pick Itoje and Daly has been ignored, but Jones insists their time will come.
Itoje, 21, has been a force in Saracens’ second-row but alongside Daly, who has been setting the Aviva Premiership and Europe alight with his athleticism at outside centre, he will only travel to Edinburgh as a reserve.
“With Itoje and Daly, it just goes to show the health of English rugby if they’re not being picked. We’re lucky,” said Jones, who revealed that England trained in Hyde Park last Saturday.
“They’ll get picked when they’re ready to play Test rugby. There are different things that a Test rugby player needs to do compared to a club rugby player.
“We’re developing that with those two players. They’ll be 60-Test players for England.”
Jones has announced the appointment of three vice-captains to support Hartley, who will lead England throughout the Six Nations, in centre Owen Farrell, full-back Mike Brown and No 8 Billy Vunipola.
“When you look at people to support your captain, you’re looking at a variety of characters in a variety of positions and I think they’ll work well,” Jones said.
“Billy is a young guy who hasn’t had a lot of leadership responsibilities but is a really key player at No 8.
“Owen is as tough as nails, a really good speaker. Mike Brown is more of a quiet, assassin type and a very committed guy. I think those three have a nice blend.”
England conducted yesterday’s training session at their Surrey camp in matchday strips instead of the change kit they would normally use.
“It’s about getting used to the colour, making sure we recognise the jumpers. It’s just a little thing that sometimes helps,” said Jones, who responded bluntly when asked about a claim made by Scotland’s New-Zealand born wing Sean Maitland that he “hates” the English.
“Brainwashing is a fantastic thing. Goodness me. Whose hand was behind his back?” Jones said.