(Reuters) – England coach Eddie Jones has scored a “huge own goal” ahead of next month’s Six Nations opener against Ireland by suggesting winger Jack Nowell could be deployed at number seven, former coach Clive Woodward said.
Jones, after naming a 35-man squad on Thursday for the opener away to Ireland on Feb. 2, said he was considering playing Nowell as an extra flanker, giving him nine forwards.
“This talk of using Jack Nowell as an extra forward or an outright number seven is a huge own goal,” 2003 World Cup-winning coach Woodward wrote in his Daily Mail column.
“This was his first press conference of 2019, a massive year for English rugby and he’s discussing something completely irrelevant.
“It may be Nowell is going to play more centrally without the ball rather than being left out wide. But, again, why telegraph this? Ireland will be tracking him now.”
Nowell has 31 caps for England and the British and Irish Lions with most having come playing on the wing, though he has filled in at fullback and centre.
England have faced a perennial problem at flanker since the departure of 2003 World Cup winner Neil Back and Jones described Exeter man Nowell as a new breed of player who could fill gaps in multiple positions.
However, Woodward said former Japan coach Jones should be more focused on what England are trying to achieve.
“The game’s structure is being turned on its head, but Eddie, you are not coaching Japan any more, trying to find a way to catch the opposition out,” he added.
“If it is a genuine theory, the practicalities are stacked against England. I am a fan of Nowell. His technique and grit are great, but I don’t believe he will be in the 23 for that Ireland game. And he should not have to reinvent himself now.
“I don’t think this group of England players are experienced enough collectively to handle this stuff… great coaches innovate but must also provide clarity of thought — which this isn’t.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)