Jones happy to put his faith in injury-hit Te’o for Rome mission

England's Ben T'eo.
England's Ben T'eo.
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A sign of Eddie Jones’s unswerving belief in his England players is that, even when missing so many injured personnel, he has no qualms picking someone who has spent most of the season in the very same position – injured.

To many onlookers, selecting Ben Te’o at No 13 against Italy tomorrow, must seem like utter madness.

The Worcester Warriors centre has not played – for club or country – since mid-October and England are already deemed vulnerable given they are bereft of 16 players for the Six Nations opener.

With that in mind, you would think Jones would pack in as many of his fit and well mainstays into his starting XV as physically possible to minimise any potential for disruption or upset.

Let’s not forget, England are the only Six Nations side who have not yet been defeated by Italy since their tournament inception in 2000, something the Azzurri will be desperate to alter in Rome.

Yet, to make room for Te’o, Jones has decided to omit one of those reliable regulars in the shape of Jonathan Joseph.

The Bath centre started four of their five games in the last Six Nations which, of course, saw Jones oversee a second successive title success.

Te’o, meanwhile, has not played for England for almost a year, has only ever made one start – against Italy in last year’s “ruckgate” Six Nations game – since debuting in 2016 and in his seven club games this term Worcester have lost six.

The one they did win, he only played three minutes.

Nevertheless, all this matters little to Jones, whose confidence in the player is so steadfast.

Admittedly, a powerful ball-carrier, Te’o is the nearest thing England will get to the perennially-injured Manu Tuilagi and, if that is the style Jones wants, he sees the 31-year-old – who played two Tests for the British Lions against the All Blacks last summer – as the ideal candidate.

Furthermore, there can be no doubting the Auckland-born former Leinster player’s commitment, either; after surgery on his ankle, Te’o paid thousands of pounds out of his own pocket to head back to Australia in November and hire trainers and physios he knew from his time with Brisbane Broncos to plot a six-week rehab’ course.

The aim was to be ready for the Six Nations kick-off. It worked.

Still, it will be fascinating to see what impact the rugby league convert can have in the Stadio Olimpico.

For all their selection issues, Jones’s side remain favourites to lift what would be an historic third successive Six Nations title but, unsurprisingly, Ireland are not far behind in the odds.

They won all three autumn Tests and arrive in confident mood with a more expansive attacking gameplan that seems to suit their players.

With scrum-half Conor Murray and fly-half Johnny Sexton in such rich form they will sense this is an opportunity to reclaim the crown although they face a stern opening Test today in Paris.

Former Italy coach Jacques Brunel is in charges of Les Bleus for the first time after veteran Guy Noves was sacked in December. France, historically, have been such an irritatingly inconsistent side and have, in fact, not won the Six Nations since 2010.

Brunel looks to turn that around and he, too, is unafraid to make bold choices.

For instance, Bordeaux Begles’ Matthieu Jalibert – who is just 19 years-old and has only 15 appearances in France’s Top 14 league – will make his debut today, starting at fly-half.

There is talk he could be the new Frederic Michalak and the teenager is undoubtedly gifted but he will be targeted from the off by the wily Irish back-row.

Scotland are tipped by many to challenge this time around especially given the progress made under Gregor Townsend.

On the back of that stunning autumn win over Australia and almost shocking the All Blacks, their stock is high.

Granted, their form on the road in the Six Nations is abysmal and not only in Cardiff where they head today.

They have not beaten Wales there since 2002 but of 45 previous away games in the tournament, Scotland have won just six, with four of those victories being against annual strugglers Italy.

This afternoon may be the best time to start changing that record; Wales, like England, are beset by injury issues.

They are without nine senior players although it might work in their favour as, now, Warren Gatland has included 10 Scarlets players in his starting line-up .

As the in-form region and PRO12 title winners, that could bring much-needed continuity.

You cannot look much further than England and Ireland as potential tournament winners but if Scotland can win today and with the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield, who knows...