Untouchables no more
Elliot Daly has been a mainstay at international level, starting in 30 of England’s last 34 Test matches at fullback, only missing three games through injury and one World Cup warm-up fixture.
However, this run will come to an end on Saturday. Daly will take up an unfamiliar seat on the Twickenham subs bench when England meet France, with Eddie Jones instead handing a full debut to 24-year-old Max Malins.
Joining Daly on the bench will be Saracens and Lions teammate Jamie George, with Luke Cowan-Dickie starting at hooker.
Eddie Jones has never been afraid to freshen up his squad or bring bolters into his sides, but he has always retained a core of ‘untouchables’ – a group of trusted lieutenants who have his implicit trust and whose place in the side is never in doubt.
Until now, that is. Dropping Daly and George suggests Jones has recognised things are going stale, and that his side have been on a downward curve since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.
It is also unlikely to be a coincidence that Daly and George are Saracens stalwarts. England’s Saracens cohort have all struggled in the Six Nations – even Maro Itoje has mainly caught the eye for his high penalty count.
Malins, who takes Daly’s number 15 jersey on Saturday, is also on the books at Saracens. However, he’s currently on loan at Bristol Bears, where he has caught the eye under Pat Lam.
Maybe, for England, form could be about to trump reputation.
Number of the day
29 – Days off between Six Nations fixtures for Scotland. Refreshed or rusty?
Quote of the day
“I know as long as we get the win, that’s all that matters, but I still couldn’t sleep for two days afterwards.” – Louis Rees-Zammit after missing out on a try against England.
The team of the tournament, so far. . .
15 Stuart Hogg – Scotland’s backline lynchpin.
14 Louis Rees-Zammit – The future is here and he’s lightning fast.
13 Gael Fickou – Has starred at 12, defensive glue and forward orchestrator.
12 Robbie Henshaw – If in doubt, give it to Robbie.
11 Anthony Watson – Operating on the opposite flank but back to his best.
10 Matthieu Jalibert -Ntamack will have a job getting the 10 jersey back.
9 Antoine Dupont – The best nine in the world, if not the best player.
1 Wyn Jones – Anchored an improving Welsh set-piece.
2 Julien Marchand – Physical specimen, pace and power.
3 Tomas Francis – Tackle, after tackle, after tackle.
4 Maro Itoje – Penalty conceding machine, but you’d still want him on side.
5 Iain Henderson – Leadership has shone through in adversity.
6 Hamish Watson – Never tires on both sides of the ball.
7 Charles Ollivon – Captain fantastique, try scorer extraordinaire.
8 Taulupe Faletau – The best eight in the business.
On this day – March 13th 2005 – Scotland 22 Wales 46
Wales travel to Italy this weekend looking to complete the penultimate leg of the Grand Slam. Pull it off and it will be a record fourth Grand Slam for Alun Wyn Jones, and his fifth Championship.
The Welsh turned into serial trophy winners under Warren Gatland – but the roots of their recent success can be found in 2005.
Before 2005, Wales were without a Grand Slam since 1978, or a Championship win since 1994. The late 90s and early 00s were a miserable time for Welsh rugby, with wooden spoons in 1995 and 2003.
But in 2005, something clicked. They beat England 11-9 on the opening weekend and never looked back.
A 46-22 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on the penultimate weekend – with Shane and Rhys Williams rampant – left them one game from the Holy Grail. A 32-20 victory over Ireland in Cardiff followed a week later. The wait was over.
Earls returns for Ireland
Among Andy Farrell’s changes for Sunday’s trip to Murrayfield was the reintroduction of Keith Earls on the wing, with Jordan Larmour dropping to the bench.
The Scots are the side Earls has met the least in the Six Nations during his 91-cap career. Sunday will be his 10th meeting with Scotland, behind Wales (14), England, France and Italy (all 11).
Earls failed to score in his first four meetings with Scotland but his record has improved since – he has five tries in nine games, including a brace in last December’s Autumn Nations Cup play-off in Dublin.
Italy are the only side Earls has scored more tries against (nine) – Ireland will need his eye for the line as well as his aerial expertise in Edinburgh.