Goode axed by Jones as Tuilagi earns re­call

Full-back’s Eng­land ca­reer in doubt af­ter sur­prise call ‘Fear­less’ mind­set key to ti­tle de­fence, says coach

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - By Gavin Mairs RUGBY NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Ed­die Jones yes­ter­day axed Pre­mier­ship player of the year Alex Goode from his Eng­land elite player squad – and then chal­lenged his squad not to be “scared of los­ing” ahead of the de­fence of their Six Na­tions crown.

Goode, the Sara­cens full-back, was the big­gest ca­su­alty as Jones re­called the fit-again Maro Itoje, Manu Tuilagi, An­thony Wat­son, James Haskell, Mike Wil­liams and An­thony Wat­son when nam­ing a 33-man squad for the two­day train­ing camp in Brighton start­ing to­mor­row.

Goode started Eng­land’s vic­tory over Fiji in Novem­ber af­ter an out­stand­ing sea­son for Sara­cens but his in­ter­na­tional fu­ture un­der Jones now looks in se­vere doubt af­ter the 28-year-old was also left out of the 45-man EPS squad as the head coach showed he is pre­pared to make tough de­ci­sions.

Har­lequins wing Mar­land Yarde, who started in the vic­to­ries over South Africa and Aus­tralia, takes Goode’s place in the EPS squad.

Jones clearly feels he has enough full-back op­tions fol­low­ing the re­turn of Wat­son, who missed the au­tumn Test cam­paign with a frac­tured jaw, and El­liot Daly, who played in the vic­to­ries over South Africa and Fiji be­fore he was sent off against Ar­gentina.

Tuilagi re­turns for the first time in nine months af­ter re­cov­er­ing from his lat­est groin prob­lem while Haskell, Eng­land’s player of the se­ries against Aus­tralia who has been side­lined for six months with a toe in­jury, is also on course to be fit for the Six Na­tions opener against France at Twick­en­ham on Feb 4.

The other no­table omis­sion was Le­ices­ter prop El­lis Genge, who was in­cluded on the tour of Aus­tralia and came on as a re­place­ment in the 27-13 vic­tory over Wales at Twick­en­ham last May.

The 21-year-old Genge had been seen as a prop of great po­ten­tial but Jones has in­stead handed a first call-up to Bath coun­ter­part Nathan Catt while the Wasps prop Matt Mul­lan is re­called to the squad.

Eng­land’s most re­cent train­ing camp in Brighton last Oc­to­ber ended in con­tro­versy as Wat­son, Jack Now­ell and Sam Jones all picked up in­juries, prompt­ing crit­i­cism of the in­ten­sity of the train­ing from Pre­mier­ship Rugby and the Rugby Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

Jones said to­mor­row’s camp would in­volve “or­gan­i­sa­tional work” for the Six Na­tions. But if that was a sig­nal to the Pre­mier­ship clubs that it would not be as in­tense as the Oc­to­ber get­to­gether, he had a strong mes­sage about the in­tent with which Eng­land would ap­proach the Six Na­tions.

“We have France first up who are one of the most im­proved sides in Europe,” Jones said. “They should have beaten Aus­tralia and could have beaten the All Blacks in Novem­ber, so they’ll come into the Six Na­tions with a lot of con­fi­dence.

“We’ve got to make sure that we use this train­ing camp to get an un­der­stand­ing of how we’re go­ing to beat France. We want to see a good at­ti­tude from the play­ers and, as al­ways, we’re look­ing for play­ers who are des­per­ate to play for Eng­land.

“The thing that struck me about last year’s Six Na­tions is that sides were scared to lose and we want to make sure in this Six Na­tions, right from the word go, that we’re dar­ing and we have the courage to play our game.”

Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der Wing/full-back Hur­ri­canes and New Zealand

Mil­ner-Skud­der has been in­jured for most of the last year but I have been so im­pressed with him. One on one, he is dev­as­tat­ing, partly be­cause he has this huge side­step and gen­uine pace to go with it, which means he can do real dam­age if he is given any space.

De­fend­ers have to fo­cus on him and sim­ply can­not af­ford to go one on one with him, and be­cause he draws in other de­fend­ers he of­ten makes space for oth­ers, which at in­ter­na­tional level is a pre­cious com­mod­ity.

New Zealand have some de­ci­sions to make in their back line but he is an out­stand­ing threat. He has that re­ally low cen­tre of grav­ity and, with a proper old-school side­step that re­minds me of Ger­ald Davies, he can get out of tack­les; even if de­fend­ers can stop him, they of­ten fail to bring him down so he will off­load and put men into space. That is why so many play­ers play off him.

He is also very strong over the ball at the break­down and an ex­cel­lent tack­ler who is ag­gres­sive and will try to knock peo­ple back. He is one of those very valu­able guys who can play more than one po­si­tion.

Just as the Lions will want to pick guys who can ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions of the Ki­wis, so the New Zealan­ders will pick on form, and as Mil­nerSkud­der will be given a chance to show­case his at­tack­ing tal­ents by a Wellington side who are play­ing im­pres­sive at­tack­ing rugby, I ex­pect him to have a big 2017.

Liam Wil­liams Full-back/wing Scar­lets and Wales

As with Mil­ner-Skud­der, Wil­liams can play at wing or full-back, and has a gen­uine side­step, which for a while I thought had dropped out of the game.

When de­fend­ers and de­fences are so well or­gan­ised, it may be the one piece of at­tack­ing skill that can alarm and frac­ture a de­fen­sive line. All of a sud­den you have de­fend­ers clutch­ing at straws be­cause of an un­ex­pected side­step.

Wil­liams also has ac­cel­er­a­tion to go with it, so it is not just that he can put you on your heels, it is that within three or four paces he is past you and into space.

What im­pressed me most was that the best rugby I have seen him play was against New Zealand on tour last sum­mer when he was a gen­uine threat.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how he comes to the fore, al­though he needs other play­ers to try to put him into space and I am not sure whether his Wales team-mates are putting him in the right po­si­tions early enough just now. In New Zealand he was out­stand­ing out wide, and for me he is Wales’s best strike run­ner.

Wil­liams keeps a nat­u­ral width and is un­afraid of be­ing in the out­side 20 me­tres of the pitch. He is also very square when he runs and, with his side­step, he can at­tack both shoul­ders – and de­spite those Stan­ley Matthewsstyle legs, he is no slouch.

Be­cause he is so square-on to the de­fen­sive line and holds his width, he can come re­ally late on to an in­side run on the out­side shoul­der, which al­lows him to get his hands free so that oth­ers can play off him.

He can do some se­ri­ous dam­age against even the best teams and had the New Zealan­ders in that out­side chan­nel scram­bling to get af­ter him. He sees space early and re­trieves more of his own kicks than any­one, partly be­cause of his ex­e­cu­tion and abil­ity, but also be­cause he sees the space early.

He is a real heads-up player who reads run­ners re­ally well, and he times the way he comes on to a pass so well that de­fend­ers do not see him un­til re­ally late. When the team play to his strength he can run past de­fend­ers and across the gain­line with in­cred­i­ble fre­quency at in­ter­na­tional level.

He is a nat­u­ral ball-car­rier who will cause the All Blacks great prob­lems.

As with Leigh Half­penny back in 2013, if you kick badly to Wil­liams, he will al­ways beat the first man. War­ren Gat­land also knows him and knows what makes him tick, which is al­ways re­ally help­ful.

Tadhg Fur­long Tight­head prop Le­in­ster and Ire­land

The Ir­ish tight­head was hugely im­pres­sive in the au­tumn se­ries, and played re­ally well against not only New Zealand but also Aus­tralia. I sat back and thought: “Crikey, where has this guy come from?” He is still young, hav­ing just turned 24, but he was strong in the set-piece and, cru­cially, had the con­fi­dence to carry the ball and de­fended ex­cel­lently. He was not afraid of get­ting on the front foot, of get­ting his hands on the ball, of mak­ing tack­les, of tar­get­ing turnovers and be­ing ul­tra-ac­tive in the game. He does so much more than the set-piece and is con­stantly look­ing to put him­self in a po­si­tion to make an im­pact. He was one of the rea­sons why some of the ad­van­tages that New Zealand prob­a­bly an­tic­i­pated hav­ing against Ire­land sim­ply did not ma­te­ri­alise. Fur­long has only just come on the scene so it is early days, but I am al­ready look­ing for­ward to him play­ing in­ter­na­tional rugby again.

Hav­ing play­ers like him gives a coach so many op­tions in at­tack, but also in the de­fen­sive game be­cause young­sters like him work so hard off the ball. On cur­rent form, Rory Best could be the Lions hooker and that will help Fur­long’s cause.

Finn Rus­sell Stand-off Glasgow and Scot­land

This young stand-off has the X-fac­tor and I am sur­prised more peo­ple are not talk­ing about his Lions po­ten­tial. Gre­gor Townsend has done an amaz­ing job with him: he man­ages the game su­perbly, mixes it up bril­liantly, is dif­fi­cult to read, and he runs, passes and kicks well. He has a high work rate, gets into po­si­tions you do not ex­pect and gets there early, which means in phase play he is mak­ing breaks from ar­eas where you would not ex­pect him to be. One on one, if the de­fender is half a pace out of po­si­tion, Rus­sell will be through or able to off­load in the tackle. In de­fence he is very brave and loves the phys­i­cal side of the game; he even counter-rucks when he needs to. With good play­ers around him, he could per­form the same role Gre­gor filled for the 1997 Lions. Rus­sell picks up space early and will get the ball there quickly, which is one of the rea­sons Scot­land’s backs now func­tion so well. He is a con­fi­dent player who has a track record of step­ping up for the big games, as he did in last year’s World Cup, and op­po­si­tion de­fences would ig­nore him at their peril. He was out in New Zealand as a young­ster on the John MacPhail Schol­ar­ship and the Ki­wis rated him in­cred­i­bly highly; in fact some good judges of tal­ent out there reck­oned he would make a good All Blacks No 10. When Glasgow played Rac­ing 92 in back-to-back Cham­pi­ons Cup games, he was man of the match and com­pletely out­played Dan Carter.

Nathan Hughes No 8 Wasps and Eng­land

The Fiji-born, New Zealandraised Eng­land No 8 has still to prove him­self, but I thought he played well against Aus­tralia, and with Billy Vu­nipola in­jured, he is Eng­land’s most nat­u­ral ball­car­rier. Both Toby Fale­tau and Jamie Heaslip are good No 8s, but Hughes has an ex­tra dy­namism and the abil­ity to make hard yards in heavy traf­fic, which will make War­ren Gat­land look at him closely. He helps sides get on the front foot, and his abil­ity to gain ground with the ball in hand marks him out. He is com­fort­able on the ball, happy to be in the wide chan­nels and off­loads out of the tackle beau­ti­fully. He can also play on the flank or, at a pinch, in the sec­ond row, ver­sa­til­ity which could come in use­ful. If, in the Six Na­tions, Hughes shows the same dy­namism which has been so preva­lent at Wasps then Ed­die Jones has the depth in fire­power to cover the loss of Billy Vu­nipola.

Side­lined: Alex Goode has been left out of the 45-man elite player squad

Big tal­ents: (from top) Nathan Hughes, Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der, Liam Wil­liams, Finn Rus­sell and Tadgh Fur­long

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